Mar 25, 2010


The recent battle of health care legislation has brought some of the ugliest elements of the American political scene to the forefront.  I think I have heard more hateful comments tossed around via news sources and Facebook than any time since, well, the Fall of 2008.  It isn't enough to realize that someone thinks differently than you.  We must then berate and attack that person - ripping into them and their beliefs.  We call them morons and jerks and worse.  It doesn't matter which side of the aisle or the debate you are on - it seems like just accepted behavior to absolutely thrash the other side.

I hate this.  I get very upset at my friends online when they use their Facebook status to post inflammatory comments - or to insult other people.  I remember this happened with disturbing frequency during the last election - to the point where it severely damaged friendships outside of the virtual world.  I have lost so much respect for people based on their statements.  It isn't what they believe that bothers me.  I understand that people think differently - that is kind of what America is founded on.  It is the intolerance and outright hatred for the other side that really gets me irritated.  I remember reading during the election that one of my friends posted that they wish McCain had died in Vietnam.  I don't care what you think of the person, that is just vile.  And now, with this latest smackdown, we again get to see the hatefulness emerge.

More and more, I just shake my head at our political system.  It is not even close to what was intended by the Constitution.  Putting all political stances and beliefs aside for a moment (yes, for this that is necessary), we really need to examine what happened if we ever can hope to fix things.  This can't be fixed by switching ideology or party affiliation.  It affects every American.  And it is something that all of us need to get behind.

Our government was built with checks and balances in its foundation.  It also was created in a way to to ensure for an open exchange of ideas.  There was never supposed to be a class of "professional politicians."  The Congress had two Houses.  One was the House of Representatives.  This was supposed to be make up of the leaders of their communities who would come to Washington to serve their country for a short period of time.  The term was only two years for a reason.  It was so that doctors, soldiers, lawyers, accountants, ministers, teachers could take a short time away from their duties to bring their perspective to the nation's government.  It was not a stepping stone.  It was an end in itself.  This constant turnover was to help reflect the changing and growing needs of the country.  Person A would be elected, bringing a fresh perspective on his region's needs.  Two years later, Person A would return home and Person B would take his place - bringing with him the current perspective.  This allowed for a contant refreshing of the government.

It also brought constant turmoil and turnover - a complete lack of continuity.  So there was a second House - the Senate - which allowed for the upkeep of tradition and long term perspective.  These terms were six years long and rotated so the entire Senate never left at the same time - only 1/3 left at any time.  The Senate was the closest that we were supposed to have to "professional politicians" in DC.  These were elder statesmen who could bring a more knowledgeable perspective.  But they were not to lord it over the other house.  Maybe a particularly gifted Representative woud later move to the Senate.  But, again, it was never intended to have people site there for fifty years.  In addition, it was easy to get rid of some incompetent yahoo that managed to sneak into the mix.  He could just get removed on the next cycle - just two years away.  And it was hoped that by the time they hit the level of Senator, the boneheads would already be gone.

Committees were established to deal with particular issues.  My guess would be that these were filled by the people who understood those issues.  They would debate it and then present their bills and findings to the group as a whole to process and vote.  Fill the budgetary committee with business minded people. The foreign affairs committee would have former military people with international experience.  It made sense.  I am not going to understand some things as well, so don't put me in that group.

The Supreme Court was the truly long-term check.  The judges didn't have term limits.  They would stay there until death or retirement.  This allowed for one branch to be very stable - no turnover to speak of.  It guaranteed that there would be security that the Constitution would not be ignored with the constant changeover in the legislature.  The President was to help the operations and enacting of laws.  He gave leadership and vision.  It was a brilliant system that was established.

But the problem didn't take long to emerge.  People like power.  They like to be in charge.  And once they got it, they weren't too keen to give it up.  When this happens, the free flow of ideas and needs stops.  Instead the people in charge become more concerned about staying in charge, instead of helping the people they are representing.  Ambition takes over.  People come up with a plan for reaching their ultimate goal - state legislature to state cabinet to state governor to President.  Or state house to US House to US Senate to President.  Instead of taking a stand on an issue, you have to protect your position.  Taking a stand will make people angry.  So you hedge your bets - change your position so many times in different speeches that no one knows what you believe.  Or, better yet, never really say what you think.  Just offer cliches and platitudes and promises with no concrete plans at all.

Is it any wonder nothing gets done?  I mean, seriously, everyone is worried about job security.  People don't fill committee spots with the best people - they get filled based on favors and consideration for how it will help future elections.  Legislative members try to land on committees that will give them the experience and appearance they need for their future steps.  It is almost impossible to get an incumbent out of office.  They have to do something really stupid, or face someone with a ridiculous amount of money at their disposal.  It is less important now to have good ideas or a good mind.  You need to look good on camera, speak well, and manage your constant nauseating presence on every media source there is.

And with our party structure the way it is, things get more muddled.  I wrote about this before - how strange the combinations in different parties are.  Sometimes if you have a certain stance on a moral issue, you end up siding with people whose ethics make you ill.  This was true in the Republican party recently.  They had a huge rash of scandals that took down a bunch of their up and coming members.  It became obvious that these people were picked due to their stance on abortion or their ability to win an election - while completely ignoring the fact that these guys were complete dirtbags with no ethics.  With the explosion of media coverage and the ease of becoming a celebrity, being elected is a quick way to fame.  And fame is a quick way to get elected.

I just finished reading Game Change by John Hellemann and Mark Halperin.  It was a fascinating book about the 2008 Presidential election - and an amazingly well written one.  It was as exciting as a novel.  There were some points where I didn't want to put it down because it was so intriguing.  It also was very fair.  Honestly, it made everyone look like a complete idiot and/or jerk.  The best of them came off as self-absorbed and petty and vulgar.  The worst were incompetent, untrustworthy, delusional, and clueless.  Obama won due to his incredible organization and preparation, his mind boggling amount of money, his celebrity, and his gentle treatment by the press.  Clinton lost because, for some unexplained reason, a lot of people didn't like her - and because she couldn't shake the spectre of Bill.  And McCain lost because he was the worst Presidential nominee since they used to campaign by horseback.  (Seriously, it is embarrassing to see what passed for a Presidential effort by the GOP.)

Is that the way to choose our leaders?  I know that by even writing that last paragraph, some people will be in an uproar.  "Obama won because he was the best choice!  He is going to bring change!"  I am not insulting him, I am just commenting on the process.  He always had a plan to get elected - and he executed it brilliantly.  And, I do give him credit because he recognized the futility caused by the Congressional logjam - even going so far as considering leaving and becoming Governor of Illinois to be able to "actually get things done."  I just think that we have missed the boat.  Fine, we want Obama to be the one to cast vision and execute.  But think about the fact that in the last fifteen months he has really only been able to pass two meaningful things - the bailout and the health care reform.  And this was even though he had a super-majority in Congress for most of that first year.

Congress has become reliant on parliamentary tricks - like the filibuster and rider amendments and death by committee.  Nothing really gets done.  And it doesn't matter what side you back, you can't be happy with this.  I really wish that the anger generated in our country by the handling of the economy, the war, health care, and ethics will cause us to look differently at the people we are putting up for office.  We should actually hold them accountable for their actions.  They should represent US.  There is no way that legislation that is opposed by SEVENTY PERCENT of the populous should pass.  And there is no way that we should be giving money to save the butt of some multi-billionaire who stupidly wouldn't improve his business and grow with the times.  If the elected officials do a crappy job, vote them out.  Send someone who will do it right.  Don't get swayed by a name and a commercial and a fake tan (Charlie Crist, I'm looking in your general direction).  Do your homework.  I would love to see some real Americans take Congress back by getting rid of the professionals.  Let's have a return to how it should be.  Don't let these guys and gals get rich and fat off our tax money, their campaign funds, and lobbyists. Use the tools at our disposal to elect quality people - use the internet, social networking, grass roots efforts.  Stop being so vicious with each other.  It isn't that the structure is broken - it is that the execution is not there.  We don't even know how it should look, since we haven't seen it done right.  So let's reclaim government.  If not, we will just keep going in circles and fighting with each other.

Mar 24, 2010

Percy Jackson: The Formula Thief

I know that I haven't been posting as much on this blog lately.  I apologize profusely.  Honestly, since I began my food efforts - and subsequently began the Darth Fatso blog - most of my writing efforts have been directed over there.  That just is predominant in my mind.  Many times things I want to post here end up working themselves into that site - or they seem to be frivolous compared to the "big issue" posts over there.  So, I feel as if I have neglected this blog (and, through the magic of RSS, my Facebook Notes as well.)  I will try to be more conscious of this, but I make no promises.

Last week, whilst in Orlando, I had the rare opportunity to actually attend a movie in a theater.  It has been a pretty dry season for movies in Staplesville.  I haven't been able to go as often as I would like.  (I promise this will change in May with IRON MAN 2!!!!)  For now, I wait until the movie hits DVD or InDemand - and then I might get around to watching them.  [I did get to see Up in the Air and Julie and Julia finally on DVd - my posts for those will eventually work their way onto my Rotten Tomatoes Site.]  This time, though, I actually got to go see Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.  I had read the books this year, and really wanted to catch the film.

The concept of Percy Jackson (I am shortening it, since the other title is as long as a Mexican nobleman's) is pretty cool.  Basically, the premise goes that the ancient Greek gods still exist.  They move their influence to the center of the world's culture.  At one point, that was Greece.  Then it became Rome.  Later it was Europe.  Now it is America.  And, like in olden times, the gods still can't keep their pants on.  So they have these half human/ half god kids - called demigods.  In the books, it was kind of neat to see how the gods have updated their wardrobes and everything - as well as how the ancient mythology was worked into modern society.

The stories were entertaining, for sure.  I have always been a sucker for Greek mythology.  I remember reading the entire Bullfinch's Mythology when I was in high school.  In college I took Classic Mythology as a class in my senior year.  So I knew most of the characters and stories referenced in the books.  I didn't necessarily like some of the themes and beliefs reflected in the books, but for the most part they were a fun read.

As with every movie based on a beloved book, there are going to be issues.  The film deviated pretty widely from the book.  They changed scenes, outfits, explanations, major plot points.  One of the scenes I was most looking forward to from the book (the St. Louis Arch scene) was completely changed and moved to Nashville.  Usually, I would love the addition of one of my favorite cities.  In this case, though, I was a little peeved.  Even the casting of the main characters was vastly different.  In the book, the kids are all in middle school.  In the movie, they were at least juniors.  (Not to mention the female lead didn't look anything like her novel description - and actually seemed like an amalgam of the two largest female roles.)  But, on its own, the movie was very entertaining.

There was a lot of action.  It was neat to see some of the characters brought to life.  And anything that puts Sean Bean and Kevin McKidd to work is alright in my book.  The climactic fight scene was wonderfully staged.  My friend, Tim, who went with me, at one point leaned over and said, "I hope they work a fight scene like this into the new Superman."  It was that good - some of the best aerial fighting I've seen.  I always try to give the movie a chance on its own, not weighing it down with the impossible to replicate book quality.  Over the years, I have seen a bunch of movies based on books I liked (Tom Clancy books, Stephen Coonts books, A Christmas Carol).  Some of them are big successes.  Others are huge embarrassing failures.  But I want the movie to have a shot on its own.  If I actually did that for Percy Jackson, it was an entertaining movie with some cool concepts.

But the fact is that there is something overshadowing Percy Jackson.  It isn't the books putting a shadow on the movies.  It isn't even really anything to do with Percy at all.  It is Harry Potter.

If you have read the Harry Potter books (which I finally did in December), you cannot help to compare Percy Jackson.  The Potter books came out first.  They presented a kid who had a secret he never knew about.  There was a mysterious and intriguing element of society that always had been labelled as mythology being brought to light as real.  A school existed to train the children with the secrets.  There was a big time bad guy that slowly was brought to life to wreck havoc.  And the books progressing from whimsical children's tales to dark good vs evil epics.  That formula plays out almost identically in Percy Jackson.  When I was reading the first book, I kept on thinking, "Man, it is like they switched magicians for mythology."  As I went on, the Percy books developed their own voice, but the spectre of the Potter works always was hanging over.

The problem was that Potter is so stinking good.  They are simply amazing books.  The worst book (in my opinion, that would be Chamber of Secrets or Prisoner of Azkaban) is better than most books out there - the literary equivalent of "worst Pixar movie."  So, when any series is compared to Potter, it is going to fail.  If Percy had come out first, it would have been great.  And then Potter would have been seen as the ripoff - only that it improved the formula.  Instead, Jackson is the inferior copy.  The same thing went for the movies.  The Potter films have been great across the board.  The worst one (again, Chamber or Azkaban) was supremely entertaining.  So the Percy movie had a built in handicap.  It wasn't just competing with its own books, it was competing with the highest grossing movie series in the world.  (Yes, you read that right.)  I remember after I watched the first Narnia movie, I said that if it had come out before Lord of the Rings, it would have been amazing.  Instead, it was still very good, but it seemed dated and grossly inferior to the LOTR trilogy.  It was kind of the same thing for Percy, due to the Potter films/books.

If The Lightning Thief had really delivered on its source material, it could have at least been in the vicinity of HP2 or HP3.  But it whiffed on several fronts.  The things they pulled out weakened the story.  The "Big Bad" of the books never was even introduced.  A lot of backstory between characters was erased.  Even the rules for the gods were changed.  And that is what was so hard to understand.  The director was none other that Chris Columbus - the very same person who brought Harry Potter to the big screen in the first two movies.  I remember after I finally read the first Potter book, I thought to myself, "Man, that book was almost a screenplay."  There wasn't a whole lot from the book left out in the movie.  Columbus had a daunting task in that first film - and he did an excellent job.  But when it came to Percy Jackson, he took some basic frameworks from the book and ditched the rest.  I can see where some of the story would be confusing.  It just seemed like it missed out on a great opportunity.

They were good books, and worth reading.  (Read them before Potter, if you haven't read those yet.)  The movie was fun and had some really good moments.  I hope they make the sequels, because I would like to see the other stories played out.  And there is going to need to be something to fill the void once the last Potter films are through next summer.  The big difference between those two series, though, will be that I will do my best to see the next Percy film - and there is no way I will miss the last Potters.

Mar 9, 2010


I have hesitated to write this post for fear that I would soon be eating my words, or unleash the vitriol of the most rabid fan base West of Skywalker Ranch.  But I finally have come to the place where I can hold in my opinions no longer.  (Maybe my bashing of what many people consider a justified Best Picture has empowered me.  Of course, I wonder how many of those people actually SAW said movie.)  The fact is that I am really having a hard time keeping my enthusiasm for Lost.  I know, it is hard to admit, but admission is the first step to recovery.

There was a time when I thought Lost was the best show on television.  It was touching and shocking and thrilling and mysterious.  And it was dang good.  It was also fun to dig around after the episode to discover hidden clues as to what actually happened.  I loved reading Doc Jensen's articles on that attempted to recap and cast theories on what was happening.  I would visit fan sites and review high-res pictures of confusing shots like the inside of the Hatch and the Orientation Film.  It was fun.

In the second season, the show seemed to lose its way a bit with the introduction (and ultimate obliteration) of the tail section.  In fact, I went so far as to say that Lost had ceded its title of "Best Show on TV" to Heroes - then in its super first season.  But, as Heroes lost its mojo in unforgivably tanking the season finale (never to regain it), Lost righted its ship.  There were moments where it was hard for me to stomach the violence in Lost, or the casual approach to the lives of characters.  I also began to be troubled by the way that Lost's producers would build up a big mystery, only to cast it aside in favor of a new reveal.

This last issue has actually become a very troubling habit.  The Lost seascape is littered with discarded stories that once seemed very important, but then just got flung away like a used vomit bag (The Numbers, Dharma, Desmond).  The fans put a great deal of time discussing things and trying to tie things together, only to see all their work nullified as a new season lurched forward.  Characters were just randomly and cruelly killed off before their lines were fully filled out (Rousseau, Mr. Happy, Eko, Libby).  And now, this last year, we have been promised answers!  Reveal!  Explanations!  Only, the answers are now about questions that we never even asked.  Or they are about storylines that just were brought up last season.  The whole Jacob/Man in Black battle wasn't even brought up until the Season Finale of Season Five.  Is it really the best time to be introducing a new mystery - in the second to last chapter?  
What has happened is that I have actually begun dreading Tuesday nights.  Watching Lost stresses me out so badly.  "So quit watching it, you dimwit!"  I have invested too much time watching and analyzing to quit now.  I keep hoping that by May, I will actually figure out all of what happened in the show.  So I plod on through.  It is a weird feeling - I feel like I HAVE to watch the show, just to get a sense of completion.  It is too far into the game to bail.

There still are some great performances on Lost.  The shows are still very good.  I thought "The Substitute" a couple of weeks ago was a great episode.  Terry O'Quinn (Locke) and Michael Emerson (Ben) are just amazing actors - their stories always pull me in.  And surprisingly, Josh Holloway's Sawyer has gone from my least favorite character to my favorite (now that they got rid of Elizabeth Mitchell's Juliet).  I think from time to time I see the flashes of brilliance that once was the hallmark of Lost.  And I'm sure tonight's Ben-centric episode will be great.  But, I feel like the producers are so intent on keeping the mystery alive and building towards this huge revelation, that they actually have sacrificed some of what made the show so good.  At the beginning, it was about how would these seemingly random people survive on a bizarre island after a tragedy.  It was about the characters.  Now, though, it is about the mystery, the Island.  The characters are not trying to survive or escape.  They already got away and a bunch of them came back!  The Island is the main character.

The problem is, I wouldn't have watched a show about an Island.  Or its guardians or secrets.  I was drawn in by the people.  They were such powerful individuals with incredible stories.  It would be like Star Trek making a show where they focused on the ship.  "It's the touching tale of The Enterprise and its nacelles."  Uh, no.  It has actually gotten to the point where I don't even care what happens to the characters on Lost any more.  I should have been devastated by the turn Sayid took last week.  But, when the show ended, I just kind of was numb by all the violence.  I didn't even care.  I just wanted the show to end.  That is a BAD sign.  I really just want the show to end so I don't feel like I have to watch it any more.

Mysteries are good.  Shows need things to string along through their seasons for continuity and history.  I love seeing things referenced from seasons past in shows like How I Met Your Mother or Big Bang Theory.  It cracks me up.  And I appreciate mystery in a show.  But there has to be an ending point.  There has to be some payoff for the time invested.  The producers of the show have actually said that they don't plan on answering all of our questions.  What?  They weren't OUR questions.  They were THEIR questions that they led us to ask.  And now they aren't going to answer them?  I don't appreciate that.

I have gotten to the point where I look forward to Tuesday nights again.  But it isn't because of Lost.  It is because of USA's White Collar.  And I like Monday because of ABC's Castle.  And Wednesday for USA's Psych.  All three of those shows have mysteries and history and things to figure out over time.  But they also all have great characters, who are still the main focus of the show.  Castle hasn't made it where the mystery is the point of the show.  The mystery is laid out so that Castle, Beckett, and the cops figure it out.  The same with Psych.  White Collar has some "big story" mysteries that float through - but not at the expense of the tremendous interplay between the characters.  (USA's Royal Pains is another show in that vein.)  To most "critics," those four shows pale in comparison to the deepness and richness of Lost.  They aren't on par with the intricate construction of Lost.  At this point, though, I am quite content with the cozy stories presented by those shows - rather than the ornate, confusing, and empty mausoleum that is The Island.

Mar 8, 2010

Oscar 2010 Recap

So the Academy Awards were last night.  It was supposed to be a retooling of the event, to bring viewers back and to remember them why they love the movies.  I watch the Oscars every year, so I wasn't going to be drawn in by some goofy tricks.  When the ratings are released today, we'll see how things went over.  Awards shows across the board have been up sharply this year, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Oscars have a huge rating for last night.  But, let's look quickly at the things they tried to "bring in more viewers."

  • Two hosts - Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.  These two guys are masters at Saturday Night Live.  They should be able to wing it and handle the duties of host, right?  Well, they had some truly funny lines, gags, bits.  But mostly it was awkward and completely dependent on the teleprompter.  Alec especially never looked at the camera.  You know how experts say that modern tools like cell phones and pdas have actually hurt our memories, because now we never have to memorize anything?  I think the teleprompter is like that to actors.  SNL is rife with this issue every week.  The hosts were okay, but no better than anyone else lately.  PLUS, they were upstaged by Neil Patrick Harris from the very outset.  NPH has already shown what a great host he is at the Emmy's and Tony's.  Just give him the Oscar gig and let him have it until he makes a mistake.
  • A Tribute to Horror - Ummmmmm.  Okay, I know that Horror films are money makers and have huge fan loyalty.  But I, for one, detest horror films.  I don't watch them.  I have never been able to understand why people want to introduce those images and thoughts into their mind.  I think the real world can be horrifying enough.  I swear, the short clips of the Best Documentary category last night were terrifying enough to me.  Dolphin slaughtering, evil food producers, abandoned migrant children.  I don't need some scary guy with claws or a hockey mask to keep me up at night.
  • More Focus on Best Acting Awards - This one I don't get.  The whole ceremony is basically Hollywood patting itself on the back.  It is a bunch of rich, talented, beautiful people celebrating how rich, talented, and beautiful they are.  There are 24 awards.  They all are supposed to be important.  And the "most important" are reserved for the end - Picture and Director.  In addition, for years, Hollywood has been shifting to where it isn't a stigma to be up for Supporting Acting awards.  We have seen big stars win the supporting awards.  It isn't supposed to be a stepping stone any more.  So, this year, the Best Acting nominees are brought out at the beginning and introduced.  They we got those ridiculous fawning speeches about each person - complete with long lingering shots of them listening to this ego-feeding.  AND we got the clips of their roles.  AND then they got named.  It seemed a bit like overkill.  Sure, Tim Robbins' send up of Morgan Freeman was funny.  But we also had to put up with Peter Saaarsengaaaaaaard, Forrest Whittaker,  and Colin Farrell.  It just seemed like a bit much - elevating those awards over everything else in the evening.
  • "We're going to streamline the show!"  No more performing the Best Song nominees.  Instead, we are going to do a big dance number to emphasize the Best Score nominees!  (The dance was cool.)  And we're going to have five long fawning speeches.  And we're going to put the smaller award winners waaaaay in the back so that they have to walk forever to get on stage, and then look around trying to see how to get up on stage.  And we're going to have a really long memorial for John Hughes (which was touching) that ends with the on-stage appearance of a bunch of his famous stars.  (Was anyone else terrified by Judd Nelson?)  Way to streamline.
  • Younger Presenters.  The show promised that it would be using newer actors to present awards - presumably so that flocks of teenagers would watch the show to see Taylor Lautner.  So they trotted out Miley Cyrus, Amanda Seyfried, Lautner, Kristen Stewart, Zoe Saldana, Anna Kendrick, Carey Mulligan, Ryan Reynolds, and Chris Pine.  Some of them did fine - some of them were VERY awkward.  Maybe they have always waited to use older actors because they wouldn't be quivering while presenting.  And, we also had to put up with the always-weird Sean Penn and Quentin Tarantino.  As usual, a complete hit and miss deal.
  • History Making Awards.  They kept on mentioning how in the Best Director category, "We could have the first female winner or the first African-American winner  . . . or one of these white men oppressors could win."  That isn't what the said, but it came across pretty clear.  When they started doing that, I knew that Bigelow was going to win.  There was no way they were going to make that big of a deal over the potential for history making and then give it to James Cameron - the very definition of white male establishment.  It was like when Halle Berry was up for Best Actress and they invited all these African-Americans from history to the ceremony.  There was no way she was losing.  And I thought it was cemented by Barbara Streisand presenting the award.  It was kind of funny when she said, "For the first time, it could be a (gasp) woman."  You saw in her face that she wanted to add, "Which I should have won twice."  It is when a woman finally gets elected President - only having Hillary Clinton introduce her.  Kind of like that SNL sketch with Amy Poehler's Clinton and Tina Fey's Palin - where Clinton was incredulous at how the unknown Palin was further along that she was.  That was Babs last night.
  • Ten Best Picture Nominations.  This was to open up the category and bring attention to some films that would normally be neglected.  This was supposed to give voters the chance to acknowledge some more popular films that usually would have been left out.  It was a shameless attempt to guarantee that some popular resonating films would be in play, bringing in viewers.  This is where I have to drop out of bulleted mode.
I am glad they expanded to ten films, if only so that UP could get the nomination it should have gotten anyway.  I addressed this in an earlier post, but this whole concept didn't really make a big difference.  Everyone knew that the five extra films (Up, District 9, Blind Side, An Education, Inglorious Tarantinos) had no shot at winning Best Picture.  In fact, it was a three film race all year.  The only films that had any chance at all were The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Up in the Air.  And, this year, there was a legitimate big box office picture that already was going to be up for Best Picture.  They should have waited and trotted out the Big Ten in a year when the Top Five was a bunch of films no one had heard of.

Here's my beef.  The Hurt Locker is the lowest grossing Best Picture winner ever.  $14 million.  That means that maybe 1.5 million people saw the film.  How in the world can the best picture that came out in a year only draw 1.5 million people?  It just doesn't add up.  And The Hurt Locker wasn't a Christmas release that still will hang out in theaters for months after the ceremony.  It came out last Spring.  So it has had its chance.  It isn't going to add much more money to that total.  I just don't get how a movie that is good enough to be called the best of the year can resonate so poorly with viewers.  Something seems fishy to me.  I have always questioned the validity of Oscar nominations.  Shoot, I have tracked nominee grosses as far back as the year Titanic cleaned up.  I just have a problem with a movie winning Best Picture if no one saw it.  

I am NOT saying the highest grossing films should win - or even be nominated.  I don't want films like Transformers winning.  That is just ridiculous.  But, I honestly feel that if there is a movie with a huge box office that is ALSO a cultural hit and ALSO a high quality movie, it should be recognized for that.  This year they had a film like that.  LAST YEAR they had TWO films like that and completely ignored them (The Dark Knight, WALL-E).  They pulled the same junk on the first two Lord of the Rings films.  I know that people respond with, "This isn't the People's Choice Awards."  You're right.  But shouldn't the people have some choice?  I mean, you want us to go to the movies, support the movies, and then watch the awards shows - but our opinion doesn't matter when it comes to handing out trophies?  

Here's another example - how do movies that have made just about nothing get these acting nominations.  Every year it happens - usually with a older actor.  I remember it happened with Peter O'Toole and the movie Venus a few years ago.  This year, the movie The Last Station earned TWO acting nominations - for Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.  The movie had earned $355,000 as of the nomination.  It has earned $4.6 million now.  Seriously?  Of all the movies that came out last year, you are honestly going to tell me that two of the top twenty acting performances were in a movie with that little exposure?  You're going to tell me that enough people had SEEN IT when the nominations came out?  There are 6,000 Academy members.  Only the actors get to vote in acting categories.  You're going to tell me all the actors in the Academy had raced out to see The Last Station before the ballots were due?  Or did they just see that Christopher Plummer had done something they could nominate him for?  It doesn't add up.  Those numbers just don't add up!

So with the Best Picture issue, you have a monstrous movie up against a very small movie.  I haven't seen either film.  But, I've heard good things about both films.  I have heard The Hurt Locker was gripping and powerful.  I also have heard it was boring and stupid.  And I have heard Avatar was mesmerizing and jaw-dropping.  And I have heard the characters and story were weak and overpowered by the glitz.  So, you have movies with flaws all over.  (The only movie I didn't hear had a ton of flaws was Up in the Air.  The people I heard from about that said it was basically perfect.  Go figure.)  Somehow, the movie no one saw trumped the one almost everyone saw.  

Here is what I think of with movies when it comes to awards.  Not just, what was the best movie that year.  I also think, which movie is going to be remembered.  Which one is going to be memorable beyond this show?  This year, Avatar was the movie that was going to be remembered.  It made the biggest impact.  There were people ON THE RED CARPET breaking into interviews with Avatar people saying how many times they had seen the movie.  When does that happen?!?  The people at the Oscars had seen Avatar numerous times.  These voters were blown away by the film.  America was blown away by the film.  It took out the domestic box office record - something that people had wondered if it would ever fall.  It single-handedly legitimized 3-D movies.  But it left with 3 Oscars, one less than Terminator 2.  Huh?  How can a movie that has that much impact culturally, technologically, financially, and even in the industry walk away with just tech awards?  And then a movie that no one has even seen waltzes off with 6 Oscars.  It may have been the best movie (though I have my doubts), but I don't think it should have won.  

When it comes to the best movies, that is so subjective.  How do you differentiate between those movies?  All of them are good.  There are little things here and there.   But, you could make a case that any of the films could have won.  Look at a year where there really were some amazing nominees - 1994 for instance.  You had Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, and Shawshank Redemption - with Four Weddings and a Funeral inexplicably weaseling its way in.  Which of those four movies was best?  Well, Forrest Gump won.  But was it the best?  I would say it was the fourth best.  Pulp Fiction influenced so many films after it.  Shawshank has emerged as one of the most passionately appreciated.  And Quiz Show, even though most people haven't seen it, is an unbelievable movie that actually become more relevant over time.  But how are you supposed to really decide?  That year, the voters went with the more profitable and more industry friendly film.  But this year, they did the opposite.  They had several good choices and went with the least profitable and least memorable film.  Yes, it will be remembered because it was the first female director to win Best Director, but will the film itself be remembered?  Unfortunately, it will probably be memorable for the same reason as Shakespeare in Love - for winning over a more deserving film.

Mar 4, 2010

Dropping the Puck on Hockey

When it comes to sports, I have always been a football guy.  That has been my favorite sport since I was a kid.  I had favorite teams as young as Kindergarten.  I remember watching games with my dad when I was five or six years old.  (Something my children seem entirely opposed to.)  My brother was always more of a basketball fan.  And none of us liked baseball very much.

As I've aged, I still have been a football fan.  That is the one sport that I follow.  Fantasy football is the only sport I have enough knowledge of to play.  I tried fantasy baseball one year and quit after five weeks.  I have tried to get into basketball more.  When I lived in Orlando for college, I was the most into the roundball.  Shaq was on the Magic and they were challenging for the title.  UCF had a good team that went to the NCAA tournament.  And, most importantly, basketball was easily accessible.  In college, I also got into soccer.  The World Cup was in America in 1994 and Orlando was a host site.  I watched a TON of soccer that year.  I really enjoyed it.  But, after the World Cup, it went back to being tough to get into or even find.

In college, I also had a brief flirtation with hockey.  We had an IHL team in Orlando.  The mighty Orlando Solar Bears.  They actually were very good.  And it was a cheap outing - like four bucks a ticket.  We went to a few games and followed their playoff run as well.  I really liked the game.  But, like soccer, it was not easily accessible.  I moved to Tampa where the Lightning were located.  The Lightning are ACTUALLY located in Downtown Tampa.  "A matter of semantics?" you may ask.  "Uh, no," I would snarkily respond.  I lived over on the northeast side of Tampa.  Downtown Tampa is over on the southwest side on the way to St. Pete.  And to get there, you had to drive through the concrete version of the River Styx - the I-4 and I-275 interchange.  It just was not worth it to have to drive through some of the most heinous traffic you can imagine, fight through downtown gridlock, try to find a parking space where your car won't get towed or stolen, and then fork out tons of money to watch what was a truly horrifying hockey team.

Well, I have always enjoyed watching hockey.  And lately, my feelings about some other sports have been changing.  Baseball is dead to me.  I have never liked baseball very much, but it degenerated to where I never watch it.  Basketball is hit or miss.  I know that it makes me a bad person, but I pay attention to the NBA when Orlando is doing well.  And I watch the NCAA tournament sometimes - always if UCF makes it.  I love the Olympics.  So every two years I have that to look forward to.  And then there's football.  I still love football.  I like going to Jaguars games.  I watch UCF every time they are on tv - about five times a year.  And getting ESPN 360 with Comcast allows me to watch games online too.  But football has become a different game.  It makes so much money, it is hard to really get attached to it.  The players switch teams all the time.  The money is ridiculous.  And now there is talk of a lockout after this next season because they can't agree how to split up the $8 billion pot.  Yeah, I can relate.  Just the other day me and some buddies were fighting over how to split up $8 billion.  I just can't survive with just $2 billion.  Sheesh.

So after the Olympics, I realized that I could adopt a new sport to shower with attention and affection.  Hockey.  (Since there is not a professional curling league.)  I like watching hockey.  The Gold Medal US/Canada game was insane.  And it is so beautiful in high-def.  So I watched a couple of games on Versus HD this week.  And I can myself getting hooked.  There are some big things that makes hockey attractive to me.
  1. It is exciting.  You never know when something is going to happen.  You feel yourself tensing up the whole game - on the off chance that someone is going to whiz a puck under the goalie's legs.  And let's face it, the ending of a tie hockey game is unparalleled.  An overtime Game Seven of a hockey playoff series is the most stressful thing you can watch.
  2. It doesn't take forever.  This is something that I learned to appreciate down in Australia.  Rugby, Australian Rules Football, Soccer, Hockey.  They all have a pretty set time limit.  Baseball can take forever.  NFL games stretch one about forty minutes too long thanks to tv timeouts.  (Preseason games are much faster.)  I like being able to know that when I go to a game, or sit down to watch a game, I won't have to either sacrifice three and a half hours or miss chunks.  We went to a rugby match in Australia.  It was over in less than two hours.  Hockey is of that vein - reasonable time investment.
  3. Smaller fan base = more passionate fans.  As I said earlier, it is hard to be too passionate about the big three sports any more.  Unless you were born in a fanatical city and raised from birth as a team's fan, you probably have a kind of ambivalence to your favorite team.  It used to be you were a Red Sox fan or a Giants fan for life.  You cheered for no one else.  Your father and grandfather cheered for them.  Your kids would cheer for them.  Part of this was that sports coverage was very local until the playoffs, so it was hard to be a Raiders fan and live in Kentucky.  Now, though, kids can pick any team and be guaranteed to see them at least once on tv.  Their highlights will be shown just like every team.  Their merchandise can be ordered online.  And, with the parity out there in football, there is a good chance they will be in the running before too long (unless you are a Lions or Browns fan).  So the fans of these sports have multiple "favorite teams."  Players move around, so you don't get too invested.  And the money makes it impossible to relate.  Hockey fans, though, are a different breed.  You pick a team, you stick with it.  You cheer for them.  You are very invested.  Why?  Well, it is because if you don't, the league may fold.  The NHL isn't able to have the same view on life as the NFL.  They NEED their fans.  And the fans respond.  I like that.
So, I made the decision to become a hockey person.  I started watching some games, reading the NHL pages on ESPN.  I even downloaded the Versus Channel iPhone App so I could check scores and such. Now I just need a team.  Picking a team is hard.  It is kind of cool.  As a sports fan, you are supposed to stick with your team no matter what.  Good sports fans choose a team as a child (or have it thrust upon them by overbearing parents).  And then they stay with that until they die.  I am not a good sports fan.  I have switched teams over the years.  Why?  Because I have changed as a person and I don't care what sports fans think of me.  In the NFL I was a huge Cowboys fan until they did too much stuff I couldn't stomach.  So when I moved to Tampa, I switched to the Bucs.  Then they became the Florida Cowboys in their business dealings.  So, when I started going with my father-in-law to Jaguars games.  The team really resonated with me.  So I switched to Jacksonville, who I plan on staying with for good - unless they move to London.  In baseball, I was a Yankees fan my whole life.  I defended everything they did.  Until 26 players ended up on the Mitchell Steroid Report.  26 players on the same team accused of cheating?  Hmmmm.  So I dumped them and dumped baseball. I followed the Rays' run to the World Series, but I don't plan on getting back into "America's Pastime" again.  In the NBA, I was a Hawks fan because that is what I could watch on TBS.  I also liked Dominique Wilkens.  Then Jordan came along and I became a Bulls follower.  Once I moved to Orlando, I switched over to the Magic.  Actually, I have cheered for them for 18 years now.  And college sports, I was a UGA fan from age 5.  I added FSU when I thought I was going there and held onto them for about ten years.  But UCF became my team when I enrolled there.  And they still are my favorite team - in any sport.  UGA is my auxiliary team once UCF gets eliminated from competition (you know, when the season starts).  

But with hockey, I want to do things right and pick a team and stick with it.  I want to have this team to pass on to my sons.  It is a neat thought, to be an adult and think through your pick.  Kids pick teams based on who is on television or who looks more like a Storm Trooper.  Adults think through things and try to make an intelligent choice.  Bill Simmons of ESPN documented this process as a he chose a soccer team to root for over in England.  He had all these criteria and thoughtful approaches.  I am not that thorough or that sports savvy.  So my criteria are a bit goofier.
  • CITY ISSUES:  There are some cities that I detest every sports team they offer.  For example, the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics are all down at the bottom of of their respective leagues to me.  I wouldn't be caught dead cheering for a team from Boston.  The same for Detroit, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Miami.  Yes, Miami.  I hate Miami teams.  And, NYC has been added to that list.  I was a Yankees fan, but I find NYC teams and fans annoying, arrogant, entitled, and abrasive (for the most part).  So, that eliminates the Red Wings, Bruins, Capitals, Kings, Panthers, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils (by NYC association).  Bonus points for cities I like: Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas.
  • GEOGRAPHY:  I have never liked a Western Time Zone team.  Shoot, I've never liked a team in a Western Conference.  It is too difficult to follow them. In the NFL it is easier due to standard start times.  But having a game start at 10:30pm is ridiculous.  So I am not going to pick a West Coast team when I will be frustrated in following them.  (A bunch of these teams would also be knocked out by the next category anyway.)  Out goes the Kings, Sharks, Ducks, Canucks.
  • REAL TEAMS:  There are some places that just don't seem like they are a real team.  You know?  I find it hard to actually believe there is a team in Phoenix.  It seems wrong.  Don't ask for logic.  This is a real issue.  Bye to the Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Thrashers.  One half of the league down.
  • THE FUTURE:  I don't mean, "Is this team going to be good in the future?"  I mean, "Is this team going to exist in the future?"  Most of these teams have been eliminated already (Miami, looking at you).  Tampa would have been in this if not for the recent purchase by the owner of the (shudder) Boston Red Sox.  So the only two in this one now are the Oilers and Ottawa Senators.
  • NO SNAP:  These are those nameless teams that don't give you any hit of excitement when you think of them.  There is nothing to turn you off, per se.  But there is nothing to grab onto either.  You know?  Like the Buffalo Bills, Indiana Pacers, and 2/3 of Major League Baseball.  If I can't get excited about the team at all, I'm not going to force myself.  (There is no explanation for this.  So don't ask.)  Goodbye to the Stars, Wild, Maple Leafs, Blues, Flyers.
That leaves eight teams, by my count.  Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Colorado, Montreal, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and Tampa.  I guess that I can judge those teams individually, now.  These are the things that I will think about.  How much of my affection for those teams are from their players?  With how players change teams so much, this is not a good reason.  The Bucs went from being a great team of great players to a bunch of troublemakers in two seasons.  Is this a bandwagon thing?  I hate bandwagon.  They have splinters and stuff.  I won't pick a team on a bandwagon.  (Again.  You know, not like when I was a kid and picked the Cowboys, Bulldogs, and Yankees who all had been in the title hunt when I was five.)  Do I like their uniforms?  What about their mascots and logos?  I am a graphic designer.  If I can't get down with the color scheme and logos, I won't like them.  There's nothing worse than liking a team that has a stupid logo.  Any other lurking issues?  Any random benefits?  This is the "when all else fails" category.
  • BUFFALO SABRES:  Sweet uniforms and logo.  I like the color scheme.  Even their throwback unis are cool.  After the Olympics, like any other sports loving American, I love Ryan Miller - the Sabres' goalie.  This is not a good sign for future attraction to the team.  They are not a bandwagon team.  They need fans.  BUT, they are in freaking Buffalo.  And with all due respect to our dear friend and reader, Nila the Buffalo Bills diehard, I don't know if I can do Buffalo.  I don't think that matches too good.
  • CALGARY FLAMES: Good logo and uniform.  I don't know anyone on the team except Jerome Iginla, so I'm not relying on players.  It certainly isn't a bandwagon deal, since Calgary hasn't won a title since 1989.  I don't know where the draw even came from, but I am sympathetic to the team.  But, it is in CANADA.  I know I'm going to have trouble going to see any of these teams, but Canada?  That seems a bit hard to stomach.
  • CAROLINA HURRICANES:  Let me just say, Hurricanes is the STUPIDEST mascot ever.  I have no clue why we name teams after weather patterns.  (More proof to why Miami sucks - they have TWO teams named after weather.  The Heat and the Hurricanes.)  And why would Carolina name a team after a hurricane.  This is a state where one of the biggest storms ever did huge damage.  (Hurricane Hugo)  Their logo is stupid.  There is no over-reliance on players or on bandwagon tickets.  But, what  makes me keep them around instead of knocking them out on three of the above categories is accessibility.  There is a better than average chance that we will end up in Charlotte in three years for Heather's residency. (Orlando, Jacksonville, Charlotte are the front runners.)  That means I actually would have a great chance of following this team from close up.  Does that make up for their stupid logo?  Hmmmmm.
  • COLORADO AVALANCHE:  Good team with a winning tradition (you know, since they got to Colorado).  They have some good players, but no one that I'm hanging on.  This would be a good choice if I wanted someone who would be "in it" all the time.  Not too fond of their logo.  They have some cool uniforms, though.  I also don't like it when a mascot is not a plural item (SaintS, PantherS).  But I can handle it with the Magic.  There is the West Coast problem, though. And I just don't know if I'm feeling it.
  • MONTREAL CANADIANS:  You could say they are the Yankees of the NHL.  They have great ownership, classic uniforms and logos, the most titles in NHL history.  They are one of the oldest franchises in the NHL - formed in 1909.  They have had a rough stretch through the late 90s and early 00s, but they are kind of picking it back up.  Not really drawn to any players.  I loved Montreal when I visited and would like to go back.  It would be a solid, safe choice.  Like buying a Ford Taurus.  (Not sure if that is a good thing.)
  • NASHVILLE PREDATORS:  Now, this is a solid option.  I love Nashville.  It is one my favorite cities in America.  Any time there is a conference in Nashville, it becomes 20% more attractive to me.  They have a frickin AWESOME logo and uniform set.  As Kevin, a friend of mine, said, "Their mascot is a Saber Toothed Tiger!!! How can you beat that?"  That is a solid point, my friend.  They have eight Olympians on their team (from different countries).  Ryan Suter of the USA team is one.  Their goalie, Dan Ellis, has a great story and funny Twitter feed.  Their arena is really neat looking.  They are a newer team, so they are still establishing themselves and could use fans.  Their ownership is a complete wacky mess.  And their is a chance they could move at some point if the owners aren't happy with the Nashville area.  That's a BIG bummer.  But their current ownership is majority held by 30 businessmen in Nashville who fought to keep the team there.  Lots of positives.  Not a big fan of the moving junk.
  • PITTSBURGH PENGUINS:  They have the best player in the NHL (and the one who drove the stake through the heart of the American team), Sidney Crosby.  They won the title last year.  So there are bandwagon and player allegiance issues.  I like their uniforms and logo.  Penguins are cool.  (Ha ha.)  I have a friend, Courtney, who is a die hard Pens fan.  She's the biggest hockey fan I know personally.  So I would have someone to cheer with.  They are a gutsy team that nearly got moved and sold, until it was bought by Mario Lemieux - a former player who overcame cancer and saved the team!  So they have that "easy to get behind" vibe.  They are in Pittsburgh, which is tainted by the stink of the Steelers and Pirates (especially the Pirates).  And, truth be told, once upon a time in the debate of Gretzky vs. Lemieux, I was firmly on the Gretzky side.  I kind of loathed Lemieux and the Pens for a while.  Hard to shake that memory.
  • TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING:  Another stupid weather phenomenon.  They have a dumb logo, boring uniforms, a pathetic history, and a Red Sox owner.  Sure, they won the Stanley cup in 2004.  But I am very ambivalent to the franchise.  I lived in Tampa for four years and went to one game.  The ONLY reason that I would side with Lightning is proximity.  They are the closest team.  They will be even closer to us when we go back to Orlando.  And that means I actually have a few friends who follow the team.  But, man, it is the Lightning.  That's like CHOOSING to cheer for the Kansas City Royals or Detroit Lions now.  
So, after 3200 words and numerous stupid points that no one probably cares about, what will I do?  Do I go with the closest teams (Lightning or Hurricanes), despite hating their names?  Do I go for history and stability (Montreal or Colorado)?  Every one of those eight teams have good points and bad.  After all of the thinking, I kind of just went with my gut.  Which team could I see myself rooting for?  The answer was the Nashville Predators.  It just felt right.  I remember when I was in Nashville the last time, I saw the arena the Preds play at.  They had big banners for the team and ads for tickets.  I remember looking at the arena and thinking, "Man, if I liked the NHL, it would be fun to root for that team."  I guess that got stuck in my head somewhere.  I've tried it out.  I have been checked their scores, reading up on the team.  And I can actually feel myself getting excited about that team.  Now, ask me in a couple years if they are on the verge of moving Hamilton, Ontario.  I may be posting a sequel.