Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ryan Clooney or George Gosling?

Either way, I'm sold. I officially can't wait to see this.

Away I Go...

I'm taking a vacation to Asheville this weekend, and won't be posting regularly (not that I do on weekends anyway, but that's beside the point). I'll be back Monday with a review of Rango, as well as beginning speculation for the first Oscar predictions of the year! Can you believe the summer's drawing to a close? Anyway, enjoy your weekend!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Trailer Roundup: Soderbergh Double Feature

Steven Soderbergh is, without a doubt, one of America's most fascinating working directors. Ever since he made an international splash with his independent breakout sex, lies, and videotape (which took home prizes at Sundance, as well as the Palme d'Or at Cannes, in 1989), he's made an impressive and impressively diverse body of work ranging from the bizarre (Schizopolis) to the sexy (Out of Sight), to say nothing of Traffic (for which he won a directing Oscar) and Erin Brockovich. In the past decade, he's taken on high-profile commercial films (the Ocean's 11 films, The Informant!) to help finance more personal, independent projects (Bubble, The Girlfriend Experience, the two-part Che). Now, after announcing his retirement from filmmaking (after he finishes his Liberace biopic and Channing Tatum-starring male-stripper movie), the trailers for his next two films have been released. Check them out below.

Contagion (in theaters 9/9/11)

The first one up is Contagion, which looks like a throwback to the celeb-heavy disaster pics of the 1970s like Airport, The Towering Inferno, and Earthquake. But just take a look at the talent: Jude Law, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow and TEJ favorite Marion Cotillard all star in the film, which should lend it some real dramatic heft. I'm also pretty amazed that the trailer spoils the fact that a major character dies; it appears that nobody, however famous, is safe this time around. What's really going to make or break this film is Scott Z. Burns' script: will it present global destruction via virus in an exciting, terrifying new way or will it follow the cliche handbook? Time will tell if it lives up to it's promise, but in Soderbergh's hands, I doubt we need to worry too much.

Haywire (in theaters 1/20/12)

Haywire, like Contagion, looks to be an exercise in genre filmmaking, specifically the spy thriller. The narration in the trailer gives it a great low-rent thrill, and once again Soderbergh is working with a remarkable cast that includes Michael Douglas, Antonio Bandaras, Ewan McGregor, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender and MMA star Gina Carano. This looks like an action-packed thriller with plenty of twists and turns, though this will all depend on how much fun Soderbergh makes it and whether the story is able to hold up in all of the action. I'm looking forward to it.

As a bonus, check out these great posters for the films (thanks to Jose at Movies Kick Ass for showcasing them first).


RIP Amy Winehouse


I'm a few days late in this obituary, since it was announced that British singer Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home on Friday, though no cause of death has yet been announced. However, I did want to take a moment to memorialize the troubled, talented artist, a woman who had a much firmer grip on her creative output than she did on her life. Infamous for her struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, Winehouse was in and out of rehab for most of her career, which led to many cancelled tours and concert no-shows. However, despite her troubles, she released two great albums: Frank, her UK debut, and the instant classic Back to Black, a tour de force of Winehouse's gift at crafting timeless songs of heartbreak. Her whiskey-soaked vocals gave her songs, such as unlikely pop smash "Rehab," a gravitas that few other artists her age could achieve, and she backed them up with a Spectorian sound straight from the 1950s. Though she herself never recorded another finished album (her in-progress third album may be posthumously finished and released), she did pave the way for a number of neo-soul singers, most notably Duffy and Adele. She will be missed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Radio Daze Vol. 7: July/August 2011

Happy anniversary! It's been one year since the beginning of this series, and so far what have learned? Katy Perry is massively popular, with Teenage Dream providing a wealth of huge singles (five and counting). The club sound has dominated the top 10, but that doesn't mean a few surprises haven't cropped up (Adele, anyone?). These trends are still in effect in this entry, which features an interesting bunch at the top. Read on to find out.

This column is based on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated July 30, 2011.

1. "Party Rock Anthem," LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett & Goon Rock

What hath club culture wrought? I've written in this column before about my distaste of Ke$ha and her cheap-sounding beats paired with lazy Valley-girl psuedo-rapping about living la vida trashy (I will admit, though, that "Blow" has grown on me; it's trashy good instead of trash). Well luckily, LMFAO is here to make "TiK ToK" sound like Lord Byron. Beyond a stupid name, what LMFAO has to show is tinny, awful-sounding beats and incredibly busy production while "rapping" in a manner that is both offensive to the art of rapping and a general affront to music itself. Repeating that we're party rocking (apparently a theme of their's) in the house tonight and dancing all night in bargain-bin AutoTune does not a great song make, but should we really expect more from the guys who made "Shots," the soundtrack for sorority parties for years to come? These guys have made a killing off of slapping together various noises and knowing that the drunk clubbing girls of America will dance it all the way to number one. In a similar sense to President Bush's infamous declaration, mission accomplished. F

2. "Give Me Everything," Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer

Our first of three holdovers from Vol. 6 (there's always holdovers, you know). I have to admit that this is still a sort of guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, Pitbull takes some time out to advertise for Kodak, his rapping certainly lacks polish, and it's basically a remake of "I Gotta Feeling" with more sexual undertones. It's sugar, but it goes straight to sweet tooth, and the feeling is bliss. B

3. "Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)," Katy Perry

A part of writing this column over the past year has been forcing myself to listen to songs and artists that I had previously dismissed, and as a result I've had to retract previous statements about them. Katy Perry is the best example of this. Her first set of singles, from her first album, did very little for me: she was an enfant terrible more concerned with saying and doing provocative things in her music than actually crafting interesting and, let's just say it, good songs (not unlike her contemporary, Lady Gaga). But then came her Teenage Dream album, which is far from classic but is fun and actually pretty good, with some really solid pop songs such as "California Gurls," "E.T.," and "Firework," her best yet. But they're not all winners. "Last Friday Night" finds Perry recalling the events of the previous Friday, which involved too many shots, maxing out credit cards, and threesomes. Aside from a hokey chant break, followed by a rockin' sax solo, the song is essentially a remake of her own "Waking Up in Vegas." You're better than that, Katy. However, the video is pretty amazing, I Love the '80s distilled into eight minutes (plus cameos by Rebecca Black, Darren Criss, Kenny G, Hanson, Corey Feldman and Debbie Gibson). B-

4. "Rolling in the Deep," Adele

I maintain that this song, the second holdover, is astonishing to see sandwiched between Katy Perry and Nicki Minaj. My hat's off to Adele's banner year, and I still dig the gospel roll of this song. But is this going to be her one big song? None of her other singles have charted this high yet, but could that be because she hasn't released anymore? I'd hate to see her go down as a one-hit wonder. A-

5. "Super Bass," Nicki Minaj

Among pop stars, there really is no one else quite like Nicki Minaj. She sings and raps, often in the same song on her album, Pink Friday. She can go from spitting a fierce rap to singing a lilting R&B song to recording bubblegum pop like "Super Bass." Like her multiple "personalities," Minaj traffics in a variety of musical styles, and astonishingly she mostly succeeds in all of them. Take "Super Bass" for example. This is not typical fare from a female rapper, but Minaj attacks the material with gusto, starting with a spitfire rap before going into that booming chorus. Yet she also showcases vulnerability, something that has been missing in hip-hop for a long time. In the process, she makes a serious case for herself as a pop star, and legitimizes herself as a crossover phenomenon. With "Super Bass," Minaj has pulled off an incredible feat: she's created music that really unites. And it's the kind of song that only someone has wholly, truly unique as Minaj could pull off. A

6. "How to Love," Lil Wayne

Following Minaj in this edition is her Young Money collaborator, Lil Wayne. Wayne is, without a doubt, the most innovative rapper working today. Just look at his output over the last four years: a slew of free mixtapes, followed by a proper album in Tha Carter III, which itself was a grab-bag of various styles that showcased his enormous talents. He followed that up with Rebirth, which found Wayne boldly experimenting in rock (a noble, if ultimately failing, experiment). Then came I Am Not a Human Being, a spaced-out collection of tracks that built the hype as he left prison. Now, in preparation for the upcoming Tha Carter IV, he's released "6'7'," essentially a freestyle in lieu of "A Milli," "John," a huge rap radio hit with Rick Ross, and now "How to Love," which is the closest we'll probably ever get to a ballad from Wayne. The song finds him singing, in AutoTune, about a woman who just can't bring herself to love a man after all the abuse, rejection, and failed relationships she's been through. It's an unusually insightful song, with Wayne not promising to be a lover but rather a friend for her to sympathize with. It's amazing that this deep into his career, he's still finding new ways to surprise us. A

7. "The Edge of Glory," Lady Gaga

RIP Clarence Clemmons. A+

8. "Good Life," OneRepublic

OneRepublic has an interesting story. Producer Ryan Tedder puts a band together, and with the help of producer Timbaland create a smash hit in "Apologize." Like Cobra Starship, I don't think the band was supposed to go too far beyond that, but then came more singles, an album, a second album, and more hits. "Good Life" finds the band in it's usually not-completely-organic pop-rock mode, but that's not necessarily a complaint. Tedder sings in his decent-enough tenor about living a good life of waking up in London with no memory and being able to travel the world whenever he wants, while the cheery, atmospheric music (complete with whistle!) truly makes it sound like fun. It's easy as middle-class folk to dismiss songs in which artists flaunt their privilege, but I don't always take offense at it. Sometimes there's nothing wrong with gentle, inoffensive escapism like this. A-

9. "Tonight Tonight," Hot Chelle Rae

Hot Chelle Rae surely was formed for one reason and one reason alone: to be even more obnoxious than Train. And I'm happy to report that they succeed completely at this. They started by choosing a ridiculous name, reportedly inspired by a Myspace user who harassed them (geez, that's kind of mean-spirited, don't you think?). Then they came up with "Tonight Tonight," a synth-heavy answer to "Hey, Soul Sister" as frontman Nash Overstreet (potentially related to Glee's CHORD OVERSTREET!?) does his best Pat Monihan. The song reeks of tongue-in-cheek wit meant to be ironic but comes off as gratingly annoying, complete with references to dancing on the Hollywood sign and Zach Galifinakis. And all of this is designed to unite the world under one song, an anthem to the obnoxiousness that his Hot Chelle Rae. I've heard before that the Black Eyed Peas are musical evil personified. I disagree; that evil wants to party on roof top, top of the world. F

10. "Skyscraper," Demi Lovato

Demi Lovato is pretty much the perfect Disney kid. She didn't go off the rails with reported drug and alcohol abuse (see: Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus), nor did she become something of sentient press machine (Shia Labeouf), nor did she ditch the company to frolick with the latest teen pop idol (Selena Gomez). That's not to say she's been perfectly complacent; she was recently released from rehab, where she was treating eating disorders. But with that problem, none of the blame was placed on her; she became a victim of stardom in a way that didn't earn the chastisement of the entertainment community (as happens when drugs and alcohol are involved), but instead aroused sympathy. Which is what makes her new single, "Skyscraper," seem so bizarre. It's a Mariah Carey-esque ballad, complete with piano and rousing strings, that takes down her haters and proclaims that despite what everyone is saying, she will rise above. Yet there are not many "haters," and for the most part, as I said, the press has been sympathetic toward her. So why pick a song like "Skyscraper?" As a song, it's the kind of overblown melodrama that Dianne Warren or Linda Perry would have written, and Lovato does not have the pipes to make her vocals work. Still, here's hoping her troubles are behind her, and that maybe that means she can make more interesting pop that this. C

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Elusive Oscar

There's one last thing that I need to say about Harry Potter before we move on to other cinematic ponderings. It has to do with the Sasha Stone article I mentioned in my reflections piece, the one about the Oscar chances for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2. In the article Stone spends a bit of time blasting the new Best Picture voting system (perfectly understandable, though I don't think it's quite as cataclysmic as she makes it sound), and then wonders if DH2 really has a chance at nabbing a "let's honor the whole series" Best Picture nomination. Stone makes some really interesting points, especially about the very important role that financial success plays in snagging Best Picture and how Oscar voters do have a degree of genre-phobia (action, sci-fi, horror, etc.).

However, I have disagree that DH2 has much of chance at a nomination. For one thing, though it is one of the best-reviewed films of the year so far (it tops my list), it hasn't necessarily had much competition. With the fall bringing more traditional Oscar-bait projects (not mention promising-sounding), DH2 will likely be forgotten by many voters. For another, in the new system you absolutely must have number-one votes, and DH2 is not a film that will top many lists. Sure, we may remember it as one of the year's best, but will it be among THE best? Of course, this is early speculation, but I just don't see it lasting through the grueling Oscar season.

There's also the matter of the fact that none of the other Potter films have been nominated for Best Picture. Last year, Toy Story 3 became the first part-three of a series to be nominated without the other entries doing so; that's the latest in a series to be nominated. HP2 is part eight. In fact, the Potter franchise has only racked up nine nominations TOTAL, with no wins. Three of those nominations were for Stuart Craig and Stephanie McMillan's art direction, and two for John William's scores. The franchise has no nominations in acting, writing, directing, editing, or, obviously, picture. That history is going to be a tall task to overcome.

So what do I make of this "honoring the series" bit? I think that DH2 will earn a handful more nominations than usual, particularly for Visual Effects, Sound Editing/Mixing, and perhaps even Cinematography (it deserves a nomination there), and perhaps even the series only win, for Art Direction; they really like Stuart Craig, so that seems most likely, to say nothing of the genuinely impressive work he and McMillan did in destroying Hogwarts. But a Best Picture nomination? I wouldn't rule it out completely, but I'd say at this point it looks extremely unlikely.

"Death is But the Next Great Adventure:" Reflections on 10 Years of Harry Potter Films

There is a moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 where Harry ventures alone to meet Voldemort, and his fate, in the Forbidden Forest just outside of Hogwarts. Before he reaches him, however, he encounters the spirits of godfather Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), dear friend and former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), and parents James and Lily Potter (Adrian Rawlins and Geraldine Somerville, respectively). Harry asks them, "Why are you here? All of you?" He might as well be addressing the audience, and Lily's reply echoes that of the generation of Potterphiles who grew up with the boy wizard for the last 14 years: "We never left."

There are plenty of articles out there about why Potter fans are so passionate about this world of witchcraft and wizardry, and most draw the same conclusions: unlike Twilight, which is about romantic wish-fulfillment, Harry Potter has been a series that readers and movie-goers grew up on, not to gawk at and swoon over but because they have developed real relationships with the characters. In the books, author J.K. Rowling went to impressive lengths to deepen and layer her characters over the course of the series, allowing them to grow up and become complicated people. And indeed, as the audience grew up, the books did too, becoming more sophisticated, darker, and complex. That was the great miracle of the books: they included the audience, becoming a companion for an entire generation who were growing up in uncertain post-9/11 times.

My own experience with Harry Potter doesn't follow this narrative. For the first half of the series' existence, I was completely unaware of it. Pokemon had my attention at the time, and when it came to reading, I was hooked on tales of survival, such as My Side of the Mountain, Rascal, and Hatchet. When I was in fifth grade, my school tried to encourage teachers to play the audiobooks, less for the content (this is a conservative town, after all) and more for the fact that they were popular among kids our age and the school's name, Mary Potter Intermediate, rhymed (no joke). In my class, my teacher, Mr. Fuller, gave Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone a valiant try, but we just weren't interested in listening to a book on tape. Similarly, I didn't go to see either of the first two movies; in fall of 2001, I was much more interested in seeing Monsters, Inc. than I was in Harry Potter.

A few years later, my younger brother bought Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at a book fair, just after it had come out. He didn't read much of it, so one day I picked it up instead. Perhaps this wasn't the most traditional way to enter a series (it was the fourth book, after all), but within a few pages I was hooked. I zipped through the book, and immediately picked up the previous three entries. Though none of those stacked up to Goblet of Fire, I was now a convert, sucked in by the epic scale that never forgot the importance of smaller, character-driven moments. Yes, I pre-ordered the last three books, and spent three days of a week-long vacation to Myrtle Beach devouring Deathly Hallows.

The movies, on the other hand, were a different story. Again, I started deep into the saga: my first Potter movie was Prisoner of Azkaban, which I saw in theaters (it would later place tenth on my top 10 list for 2004). After seeing that, I caught the previous two on cable, and was less than impressed. From there, Azkaban would remain my favorite until Order of the Phoenix, which in turn would remain my favorite until Deathly Hallows Pt. 2.

My fandom, though, didn't extend to the heights that many reached. I never went to the midnight release parties for the books. Nor did I attend the packed midnight premieres of the movies, joining fellow fans in the experience of seeing it for the first time. I've never owned a costume in any aspect (no Gryffindor ties for me). In fact, perhaps the nerdiest things I've done involving Potter were buying the Harry's textbook set (including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) and finding out which house at Hogwarts I'd be sorted into (Ravenclaw, every time). Perhaps this is because of my unorthodox, late discovery of the series. However, that doesn't mean it didn't resonate with me. I still came in at a time when I was roughly the same age as Harry, and I could relate to his struggles of growing up in a world of darkness and fear.

The films, to me, stand out in my memory more than the books (I mean, what else did you expect?). The films  managed to conjure up their own kind of magic, starting with the hiring of Steve Kloves to write seven of the eight films (Order of the Phoenix was written by Michael Goldenberg). Kloves has been the unsung hero of the films, adapting the stories in a way that pleases fans while cutting away various subplots from the books (S.P.E.W., anyone?) and focusing on the important parts of the narrative (well, apart from those Quidditch matches, which he wisely ditched after Goblet of Fire). Most impressively, he created his own details to the narrative, allowing the films to breath and create a slightly different story than that of the books. Moments that could have alienated the fanbase were instead wholeheartedly embraced. This is one of the franchise's greatest successes, and the reason why comparing the books to the films is a moot point:

Of course, that's not to denounce the efforts of the actors themselves. The casting of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson as the main trio could not have worked out better; each one of them has grown over the past decade as an actor and each has a promising career ahead of them. Stacking the adult cast with a litany of British thespians including Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, David Thewlis, Gary Oldman, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Brenden Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, and Kenneth Branagh was an impressive move; no wonder the kids developed into such great actors, working alongside a cast like this. Even those in smaller roles, like Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy and Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, have flourished. And let's not forget that Robert Pattinson owes his career to Potter, playing the crucial Cedric Diggory in Goblet of Fire.

In a recent article sizing up the Oscar chances of Deathly Hallows Pt. 2 (an argument that I disagree with; I'll be discussing this in an upcoming post), Awards Daily's Sasha Stone - a terrific writer, if you're not already reading her - writes, "The Harry Potter series has always had the problem of lacking a single consistent, visionary director behind the films." I strongly disagree that this is a problem. If the films had stuck with it's original director, that means we would have seen eight films directed by Chris Columbus, who handled the derivative Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Those two films were flimsy, relying way too heavily on "hey look, magic!" effects without really providing a sense that it was important. In fact, changing directors was one of the best things to happen to the series. Alfonso Cuaron brought darkness and maturity to the franchise when he took on Prisoner of Azkaban, and though he didn't make a perfect film (it still relied a bit too much on those same "magic!" bits), it was a step in the right direction. When Mike Newell took over for Goblet of Fire, he pushed it further, though not quite as successfully (it dragged more than any of them). David Yates, however, has proven to be the franchise's blessing. Helming the final four films, he brought the complexity, the maturity, and the sophistication to the series, including creating a two-part finale that, when seen back to back, is phenomenal. Changing directors didn't hurt the franchise; it probably saved it.

Of course, the series is over now. Though I'm a fan of it, I genuinely hope this is the last we see of Harry Potter. No books that continue the story, regardless of whether they're by Rowling or another author. And certainly no more movies, forging ahead to tell more stories. Hollywood currently has a problem with letting go of franchises, namely because making money is far more important than telling stories. This story came with an ending, and that ending has been presented. There's no need for more. Seeing as how Harry Potter is the highest-grossing franchise in history, no doubt Warner Brothers is looking for ways to keep their cash cow around (especially with their other big franchise, Batman, wrapping up next year). But hopefully, the studio will be wise and let this one go.

In the same scene mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Harry, fearing death but resolutely accepting it, asks the spirits of those who mattered most to him if they will be with him, staying by his side as he accepts his fate. And once again we, the audience who have a very real connection to the Boy Who Lived, who resign to ourselves that this is the last we'll see of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and the rest of the Hogwarts wizards, answer with Lily: "Always."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 (2011)

When you have a saga as long and beloved as Harry Potter, the finale is always the hardest part. Expectations are naturally at unspeakable highs, and it has to meet all of those expectations through providing closure that fits a number of different opinions. It's a monumental task, one that J.K. Rowling accomplished in the novels on which the movies are based. But that doesn't guarantee that the films will be equally accomplished: the films have differed greatly from the books, sticking with the important stuff but developing a narrative language of their own. And though it's not a perfect film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 is a fitting finale and, by far, the best film in the series.

The film begins right where Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1 left off: Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) now has the Elder Wand, and he's ready to finish the job he started so many years ago: killing Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe). Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson), however, are still seeking and destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes, objects that house pieces of his soul. Once they are all destroyed, Harry can finally kill Voldemort. However, their duel of fate will claim many others, and will take turns that neither party had ever expected.

The greatest magic trick that DH2 pulls off is showing how the films have matured over the years. I'll be writing more about this in a follow-up post on the entire series, but when you go back and look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, you can see just how far the series has come from a technical standpoint. Credit much of this to director David Yates, who's helmed every film since Order of the Phoenix, and a rotating set of cinematographers that, in the past, have included John Seale (The English Patient), Slawomir Idziak (Black Hawk Down), and Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie). Both parts of Deathly Hallows were shot by Eduardo Serra, who in this installment uses such dark palettes that the film is practically in black-and-white. And yet Yates and Serra create some of the most astonishing, breathtaking images that the series has seen. None of the early films would have dared include those magnificent shots of Harry's and Voldemort's eye, the former's being his right eye in the right side of the screen (the side of good), the latter's left eye in the left corner (the side of the Latin sinister, or evil). This is sophisticated work from a film about wizards.

The narrative, too, takes a much more liberal approach to adapting the books. Some of the events are out-of-order, and the interesting-in-the-book, not-so-much-on-screen side plot about the Dumbledore biography has been cut from both Deathly Hallows. Steve Kloves, who's written the script for every Potter film sans Order of the Phoenix, has done a great job at adapting the books, focusing on what drives the narrative forward and cutting a lot of the fat of the books. And though an unfortunate number of deaths of beloved characters occur off-screen, several fan favorites made it to screen, particularly, to the ecstatic applause of the people at my screening, Mrs. Weasley going all Ellen Ripley ("Not my daughter, you bitch!") on Bellatrix Lestrange (coincidently, I saw this the day after Aliens 25th anniversary).

The actors, too, have grown up significantly over the years, and everyone gets at least a moment to shine as they bid farewell to their characters (Warwick Davis gets to play Flitwick and Griphook one last time, with great aplomb; though I loved her big moment with Alan Rickman's Snape, the film definitely could have used more of Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall). Of course, Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson show that they are legitimate actors, and hold the screen well, and Fiennes hams it up enjoyably one last time as the Dark Lord. It's not the stuff that Oscar dreams are made of, but keep an eye on those kids: all of them have great futures ahead of them.

I have to admit that it's hard for me to be really objective about this movie. I was one of those kids who partially grew up on Harry Potter, and I do consider myself a fan of the series. So maybe the grade is a little inflated, but it's not dishonest. This final chapter really is a great piece of cinema, one that ends the most profitable franchise ever with a demand to be taken seriously as art too. I'd say it passes its N.E.W.T.s with flying colors. A

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Dark Knight! He Rises!

So here we go: the first teaser for The Dark Knight Rises debuted this week in front of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II (which no, I have not seen yet). Overall, as a trailer, there's really nothing too exciting here. Most of the footage is from the previous two Christopher Nolan helmed Batmans, and the new footage isn't exactly real enticing stuff. The main selling point here is that this is Nolan's last Batman film, the end of the trilogy that Warner Brothers is declaring "the end of the Dark Knight legend" like they're really not going to reboot the franchise again three years from now. Of course I have every intention of seeing this movie, but the trailer's definitely lacking, though no doubt it's set the Internet on fire today.
What do you think?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Emmy Nominations 2011

While the rest of the world has been clamoring over the release of the final Harry Potter film tomorrow, I've been anticipating the announcement of this year's Emmy nominations, the annual award show honoring the best in television*. This year's nominees list features plenty of returning players, as well as some interesting (and welcome) new faces. As I did last year, I'm only covering comedy, drama, and miniseries/TV movie categories here, and not the animated (though damn them for not nominating Archer for anything!), reality, or technical categories. If you're interested, you can find the full list of nominees here.

*As with any award show, this isn't some final declaration. Superlatives such as "best" are always subjective, and of course there are shows and performers in here that I like and don't like, as well as some that you like and don't like. Because of the volume of programs on television, it's impossible to nominate every little thing that's "good," so things, of course, get left out. Of the Big Four awards shows, the Tonys are really the most comprehensive, since only a handful of shows on Broadway are eligible each year relative to the hundreds of television programs (Emmys) and movies (Oscars) and the thousands of songs and albums (Grammys). So, yeah, things like popularity and name-recognition play a big role in the Emmys. They only pretend to be a meritocracy, so why don't we just play along? ;)

The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
The Office
Parks and Recreation
30 Rock

First off, hooray for Parks and Recreation! I've actually been catching the summer reruns of this show lately, and holy crap I'm sorry that I've been missing out on this. Of course, annual mainstays 30 Rock and The Office are nominated again, and these three shows mean that half the category is taken up by NBC. Note to Emmys: thanks for not going with Outsourced. Glee and reigning champ Modern Family are back, though each hit varying degrees of sophomore slump this year (the former much more than the latter). And The Big Bang Theory, the Chuck Lorre comedy that actually is good, finally broke through into this category. Notable snub: Louie. It was easily the best live-action comedy of the year, but perhaps it was just too small to get noticed?

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Johnny Galecki, The Big Bang Theory
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Louis C.K., Louie
Steve Carell, The Office
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock

I'm genuinely surprised that Louis C.K. pulled a nomination here, especially since his show missed out on Best Comedy Series. It's a good surprise, though, as is the inclusion of Matt LeBlanc, who played an exaggerated version of himself on Episodes (sort of an American answer to Extras). Johnny Galecki, too, is an interesting inclusion, and his nomination is evident that the voters really do like The Big Bang Theory. Past winners Jim Parsons and Alec Baldwin also make a return, as does Steve Carell, who's most likely to pick up his first trophy for his final season as Michael Scott. Notable snubs: Rob Lowe's attempt to cast himself as Parks and Recreation's lead didn't pan out. On the plus side: no Charlie Sheen!

Laura Linney, The Big C
Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope
Tina Fey, 30 Rock


Of course Linney got a nomination, as expected. For one thing, she's playing a cancer patient on a Showtime dramedy (I won't get into the whole comedy-vs.-drama on Showtime thing right now), and for another, she's Laura effin' Linney. McCarthy is certainly a surprising nod, probably benefiting from all the buzz surrounding her breakout role in Bridesmaids (if the movie came out around the time ballots were due, of course). I haven't actually seen an episode of Mike & Molly (which is also a Chuck Lorre production), so I don't actually know anything about her performance. I have seen some Raising Hope, however, and bully for the great Plimpton for landing a nomination here. In the returning field, last year's winner Falco will try to pick up another Emmy, while former SNL castmates Fey and Poehler will compete again. Notable snub: Toni Collette got nothing for what ended up being United States of Tara's final season. Also, have you noticed the Glee cast members have been dropping like flies this year? No Lea Michele here, and no Matthew Morrison in Best Actor (*sigh of relief*).

Chris Colfer, Glee
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men

Modern Family really took over the category this year, leaving little room for anyone else. The big story here is that Ed O'Neill scored the first Emmy nomination of his career, despite years of work on the god-awful Married...With Children (dear entertainment community, that's why he hadn't been nominated). Meanwhile, everyone else is returning to the category, including last year's recipient Stonestreet. And even though he's a perennial nominee (seriously, they practically reserve a spot for him every year), I feel that Cryer's nomination this year is more for putting up with Charlie Sheen's antics than anything else. Notable snub: no room for Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman ("I'm Ron fucking Swanson!"), Aziz Anseri, Chris Pratt, and/or Adam Scott? That's a shame.

Jane Lynch, Glee
Betty White, Hot in Cleveland
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock

This category, out of all the comedy ones, is the weakest. Lynch, who won last year, was nominated again, but her character of Sue Sylvester had an awful year, devolving into a sentient cartoon character. I understand a lot of people love Betty White, but this nomination seems more like, "hey look, it's Betty White!" more so than her performance. Bowen and Vergara both had good years on Modern Family, though the former also saw her character become less layered and more shrill in some episodes. Wiig will probably benefit from Bridesmaids as well, but she can still be borderline-grating on SNL. And one of these days Krakowski should win an Emmy for 30 Rock, but this year she was way too marginalized to earn recognition. Notable snub: Naya Rivera became the MVP of Glee this season, so why not throw her a nod as well?

Idris Elba, The Big C
Nathan Lane, Modern Family
Zach Galifinakis, Saturday Night Live
Justin Timberlake, Saturday Night Live
Matt Damon, 30 Rock
Will Arnett, 30 Rock


Congratulations to Elba, who's finally broken out this year after years of hard work. Lane was a delight on Modern Family, and I'm glad to see him here. Timberlake won this prize two years ago for hosting, so it will be interesting to see if he can do it again. Galifinakis is an interesting nod as well, and with Damon make up the "movie stars go on TV!" portion of this category. As for Arnett, well, he's the Jon Cryer of this category, getting nominated about every year for showing up as Devon Banks, Jack Donaghy's rival. Notable snubs: all of the guest stars who showed up in the last few episodes of The Office. Perhaps too much internal competition?

Kristen Chenoweth, Glee
Dot-Marie Jones, Glee
Gwyneth Paltrow, Glee
Cloris Leachman, Raising Hope
Tina Fey, Saturday Night Live
Elizabeth Banks, 30 Rock

The women of Glee made a big splash here, especially considering the massive press Paltrow got for her two-episode turn. Of course, the Emmys love K-Chen (don't we all?), and Jones is actually surprising to me since I didn't actually think much of her performance. Fey received another nod for returning to her SNL roots, and Banks really was great this year as the mother of Jack's child. And though I haven't actually seen Leachman's work on Raising Hope, no doubt it is hilarious. Notable snub: no nomination for Sherri Shepard, who hilariously played Tracy Jordan's wife in "Queen of Jordan" on 30 Rock?

Pamela Fryman, How I Met Your Mother ("Subway Wars")
Michael Alan Spiller, Modern Family ("Halloween")
Gail Mancuso, Modern Family ("Slow Down Your Neighbors")
Steve Levitan, Modern Family ("See You Next Fall")
Beth McCarthy-Miller, 30 Rock ("Live Show")

Modern Family really dominated this category, and it's notable that the three nominated directors were helming episodes that involved a lot of the show's trademark comedic precision (though only one of those, "Halloween," was an instant classic). I haven't seen How I Met Your Mother this year, so I can't say anything about Fryman's work, but McCarthy-Miller (a regular at 30 Rock) did a deft job at handling the live comedy episode, certainly no easy feat. Notable snubs: nobody from Glee was nominated this year. Though the show suffered in quality, there were some very well-directed episodes, including "Duets."

David Crane & Jeffrey Klarik, Episodes ("Episode 107")
Louis C.K., Louie ("Poker/Divorce")
Steve Levitan & Jeffrey Richman, Modern Family ("Caught in the Act")
Greg Daniels, The Office ("Good-Bye Michael")
Matt Hubbard, 30 Rock ("Reaganing")

There's a great variety of work here this year. I haven't seen Episodes, so I'll pass on judging it. Louie is tightly-written show, all the more impressive considering C.K. writes every episode himself, and "Poker/Divorce" is a terrific episode. "Caught in the Act" was on in reruns last night, and it's a well-written episode of Modern Family if not the best of the year. Of course, "Good-Bye Michael" is fondly remembered, and The Office always scores a writing nod. "Reaganing," though, was one of 30 Rock's best episodes this year, based on a strong, hilarious script that never overdoes its story. Notable snub: it may not have been eligible since it's animated, but Archer's "El Secuestro" was the single best half-hour of comedy I saw all year. Surely it could have earned a nomination.

Boardwalk Empire
Friday Night Lights
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
Mad Men

Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose! After years of being ignored, Friday Night Lights finally landed a Drama Series nod for its final season, something that many critically beloved series couldn't pull off (see: The Wire). However, here's an interesting statistic: The Sopranos is the only show to ever win this prize for it's final season. HBO made a huge comeback this year, scoring nods for both Boardwalk Empire and, perhaps somewhat more surprisingly (not really), Game of Thrones. The Good Wife, which fell in buzz this season, returned based on quality. And perennials Dexter and three-time reigning champion Mad Men made their returns. The big question this year is: can Mad Men join Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and The West Wing with four consecutive wins? Notable snub: Breaking Bad didn't air in the eligibility period, so that's why it's not there. But not nominating Justified, television's best show? That ain't right.

Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
Hugh Laurie, House
Timothy Olyphant, Justified
Jon Hamm, Mad Men


With three-time winner Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) ineligible, someone else finally has a chance to claim this trophy. Buscemi won the Golden Globe, and it's great to see the long-time character actor getting recognition as a (highly improbable) leading man. I can't tell you how glad I am to see the incredible Olyphant nominated for playing Raylan Givens; he's so good in the show. Annual nominees Hall, Laurie, and Hamm all return, hoping to grab their first win. And Chandler is back for his final turn as Coach Eric Taylor, the football coach/father that every football coach and father should aspire to be. Good for him. Notable snub: the show didn't last long, and didn't pick up a single nomination, but Lights Out's Holt McCallany was a joy to watch every week.

Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kathy Bates, Harry's Law
Mireille Enos, The Killing
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men

Perennial nominees Glenn Close and Kyra Sedgwick (last year's champ) missed their return this year, the former due to ineligibility and the latter rather surprisingly, which opened up several new spots. Those were taken by Bates, who's show was critically reviled so I'm surprised she was nominated, and Enos, who received good reviews even when her show didn't. Britton and Moss make triumphant returns, as does Margulies, who was favored to win last year. And with Hargitay supposedly leaving L&O after next year, this could be one of her last nominations. Notable snub: well, Sedgwick, for one, but they also ignored Golden Globe winner Katey Sagal's work on Sons of Anarchy again. What's it going to take to get her a nomination?

Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife
Walton Goggins, Justified
John Slattery, Mad Men
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age

There's a lot of turnover in this category compared to last year, considering that both Breaking Bad and Lost (RIP) were off the air. Slattery returned once again, and with last year's winner Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) out, he stands a good chance to be Mad Men's first acting winner. Cumming returns as well, as does Braugher, whose show is verging on cancellation. Dinklage is a terrific inclusion; though I haven't seen any Game of Thrones (damn you lack of HBO), he's a wonderful actor who's been receiving great notices for his role on the show. I'm surprised to see Charles here, though I don't watch much of The Good Wife so maybe he is worthy? And how great is it to see Goggins here again (he was previously nominated for The Shield), this time as the supposedly-reformed-criminal Boyd Crowder? Very. Notable snub: yes, it's campy, but there wasn't any room to include True Blood's Denis O'Hare? Just watch his infamous spine-ripping scene and tell me he doesn't deserve something.

Kelly MacDonald, Boardwalk Empire
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Margo Martindale, Justified
Michelle Forbes, The Killing
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men


First of all, let's get a hearty round of applause that Martindale was nominated for her seriously sinister matriarch Mags Bennett, the best part of this past season of Justified. Panjabi will attempt to defend her title again, and co-star Baranski picked up another nomination as well. Hendricks also picked up another well-deserved nomination for her underrated work on Mad Men. MacDonald and Forbes are the newcomers, and both are somewhat surprising to see here, given the nature of the shows (Boardwalk Empire isn't known for it's strong female roles, and The Killing suffered some major backlash as the season dragged on). Notable snub: Khandi Alexander of Treme; surely someone from the Treme cast will be nominated one day, right? Also, none of the Big Love ladies, as the show wrapped it's final season?

Bruce Dern, Big Love
Beau Bridges, Brothers & Sisters
Michael J. Fox, The Good Wife
Paul McCrane, Harry's Law
Jeremy Davies, Justified
Robert Morse, Mad Men


The most striking thing about these nominations is Bridges, who reminded me that Brothers & Sisters is still on the air (really?). It's great to see the excellent Davies nominated for Justified; he really was a fascinating character. Fox received a lot of kudos for his role on The Good Wife, and as for Morse, well, it's Cooper! I don't really have anything to say about Dern or McCrane, since I've seen neither show. Notable snub: there are others, but The Walking Dead had a great pair of guest turns from reliable actors Lennie James and Noah Emmerich. How about showing them some love?

Mary McDonnell, The Closer
Julia Stiles, Dexter
Loretta Devine, Grey's Anatomy
Randee Heller, Mad Men
Cara Buono, Mad Men
Joan Cusack, Shameless
Alfre Woodward, True Blood

I'm not incredibly familiar with any of these performances, so pardon me if I don't have much to say here. It's great to see Devine included here, and I'm excited to see Stiles whenever I can get my hands on season five of Dexter. Cusack and Woodward are obviously big names, though, and the latter was on True Blood, it's only acting nomination this year. Notable snub: any of the Law & Order: SVU guests, who almost always dominate this category but didn't land a single one this year.

Martin Scorsese, Boardwalk Empire ("Pilot")
Jeremy Podeswa, Boardwalk Empire ("Anastasia")
Neil Jordan, The Borgias ("The Poisoned Chalice/The Assassin")
Tim Van Patten, Game of Thrones ("Winter is Coming (Pilot)")
Patty Jenkins, The Killing ("Pilot")

The biggest name in this group, of course, is Scorsese, who directed the pilot of Boardwalk Empire and exec-produced the show. However, don't forget Jordan, who is most famous for writing/directing The Crying Game and helped create The Borgias. Otherwise, these are all shows that received high praise for their direction (well, The Killing did in the beginning of the season, at least), so it should be interesting to see how this one works out. Notable snub: no Mad Men? Egads!

Jason Katims, Friday Night Lights ("Always")
David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, Game of Thrones ("Baelor")
Veena Sud, The Killing ("Pilot")
Matthew Weiner, Mad Men ("The Suitcase")
Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton, Mad Men ("Blowing Smoke")

I'll be very surprised if Weiner doesn't take this one home for his tight, layered hour, considered by many to be one of Mad Men's finest. Otherwise, this is a who's who of well-written shows, from Friday Night Lights (always underrated in writing) to Game of Thrones (I haven't seen it, but I've heard the writing is incredible). Sud's nomination is probably the most unusual, since the lugubrious pacing of The Killing was mostly blamed on her (she's the showrunner as well), but this is just for the pilot, back when the show was praised ecstatically. Notable snub: no Lost this year, unfortunately, but after all that I've read about The Good Wife's writing staff, they didn't get anything this year?

Cinema Verite
Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)
The Kennedys
Mildred Pierce
Pillars of the Earth
Too Big to Fail

At what point does a miniseries stop being a miniseries? Downton Abbey recently received a second season, so doesn't that mean it's not a miniseries? Whatever. Notably, The Kennedys, which was blasted by critics, pulled a nomination, perhaps out of hype and perhaps out of a need to fill out the category. Otherwise, it's exactly what you'd expect, with plenty of HBO movies and miniseries filling out the category. Notable snub: After all the hullaballo, no Carlos?

Edgar Ramirez, Carlos
Greg Kinnear, The Kennedys
Barry Pepper, The Kennedys
Idris Elba, Luther
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
William Hurt, Too Big to Fail

I'm still confused about Carlos, since it's apparently eligible for last year's Oscars and this year's Emmys? Someone help, please. The category is stacked with famous names, including two from The Kennedys and no-longer-tied-to-CSI Fishburne. There's been a lot of buzz about Luther, so again congratulations to Elba for breaking out this year. Notable snub: Tommy Lee Jones or Samuel L. Jackson for The Sunset Limited. Were they just not the voters cup of tea this year?

Diane Lane, Cinema Verite
Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce
Taraji P. Henson, Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story
Jean Marsh, Upstairs Downstairs (Masterpiece)


Plenty of famous names here as well, mixed in with some not-as-well-known actresses. Lane, Winslet, and Henson are the marquees, and I've heard nothing but raves about Winslet's performance as the titular role of Mildred Pierce; perhaps she'll have an Emmy to go with her Oscar? I haven't seen any of these (I hardly ever do, since they're on pay cable, which I don't have), so I can't judge fairly. Notable snub: for all of their love for The Kennedys, they ignored Katie Holmes. Interesting.

Tom Wilkinson, The Kennedys
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce
Brian F. O'Byrne, Mildred Pierce
Paul Giamatti, Too Big to Fail
James Woods, Too Big to Fail

Again, plenty of movie stars here. All of these actors are reliable for a great performance, especially Broadway vet O'Byrne, who, you may or may not remember, was the only one bringing any real gravitas to FlashForward two years ago (anyone else miss the batshit lunacy of that show?). Notable snub: previous Emmy favorites James Gandolfini and Terry O'Quinn were eligible, but missed out on yet another nomination.

Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)
Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce
Melissa Leo, Mildred Pierce
Mare Winningham, Mildred Pierce
Eileen Atkins, Upstairs Downstairs (Masterpiece)


Fun fact: I'm a distant relative of Wood's through marriage, so like third cousins or something like that. Barely related, but still, and Evan, if you read this, congratulations! Many of these women are Oscar nominees and winners, most notably Leo and Smith, as well as Winningham (remember Georgia?). And Atkins has a long career of great small roles, so it's nice to see her recognized here. Notable snub: here, they actually did ignore Betty White, who appeared in Hallmark's The Lost Valentine.

Olivier Assayas, Carlos
Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, Cinema Verite
Brian Percival, Downton Abbey ("Part One")
Todd Haynes, Mildred Pierce
Curtis Hanson, Too Big to Fail

Look at all of those flashy names! Well, ok, maybe not to everyone, but cinephiles recognize the great Haynes, the wonderful Assayas, and the marvelous Berman & Pulcini. Of course, there's also Hanson, who continues to make interesting choices in his career. Percival's been working on miniseries in Britain for a while now, so it's good to see him here. Notable snub: no nominations for The Kennedys here either?

Julian Fellowes, Downton Abby (Masterpiece)
Todd Haynes & Jon Raymond, Mildred Pierce
Steven Moffat, Sherlock: A Study in Pink (Masterpiece)
Peter Gould, Too Big to Fail
Heidi Thomas, Upstairs Downstairs (Masterpiece)

Fellowes is a very high-profile name here, and it's not surprising that the man who wrote Gosford Park would return to the world of the wealthy and their servants. I also want to point out that, yes, that is the same Moffat who is currently the showrunner of Doctor Who and wrote my favorite episode of that show, "Blink." Notable snub: nothing for Cinema Verite?

Whew. That was long. So what do you think? Who do you think got snubbed/is the most deserving of their nomination?