My 2013 Oscar Predictions

Up until the nominations were announced, I assumed Zero Dark Thirty would dominate the Oscars this year.  Ah, no.  Kathryn Bigelow wasn’t even nominated for Best Director.  Now I’d be surprised if the highly-touted film wins any big awards, leaving the door open for Lincoln.  Here are some predictions:

 

Best Picture:  Lincoln.  You can bank on it.  I’m okay with that.  It’s great.  But Moonrise Kingdom isn’t even nominated???  Seriously?

Best Director:  Steven Spielberg will win his 3rd, now that Bigelow is out of the picture.

Best Actor:  Daniel Day Lewis will also win his 3rd Oscar.  Like a lot of great performances, he had it won just 10 minutes into the film.

Best Actress:  Naomi Watts for Impossible.  Bigelow getting dissed for Director hurts Chastain’s chances.

Best Supporting Actor:  Robert De Niro for Silver Linings PlaybookPlaybook got a ton of noms, but it’s not going to win any others.  This is a crazy tough category this year, but Alan Arkin’s inclusion cheapens it.  (I loved Argo, but his was a throw away role.)  Leonardo DiCaprio was robbed.  I think De Niro will take it because, obviously, he’s a legend, and he hasn’t had a good role in decades.  The academy loves to reward great actors in the twilight of their careers.

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams for The Master.  Another tough category.  Conventional wisdom has the Oscar going to either Field or Hathaway.  But, the supporting categories often have upsets.  The Master received a lot of praise, but it’s unlikely to win much.  I think the Academy will throw it a bone.

Best Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom.  The movie is a masterpiece.  The Writer’s Guild is smart enough to recognize it.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Lincoln.  Kushner will add to his Tony.

Best Animated Feature: Frankenweenie.  Tim Burton will finally win one.

Best Foreign Feature: Amour.  Given all the other nominations this French film has received, how can it not win in this category?

Best Visual Effects:  Life of Pi.

Best Cinematography: Skyfall.

Best Costume Design: Les Miserables.  No Hobbit?  Get serious.  As I’ve written in a previous blog, I think this is the biggest joke of any category for the Oscars.  Don’t get me wrong.  Costumes are vital.  The problem?  The films that are nominated, and typically win.  Make a major movie that takes place in the 19th century and you’re pretty much guaranteed an Oscar nom.  Why???  All the costumes were designed and worn 200 years ago.  Why can’t a producer just drag costume makers to an ethnography museum, point at a display, and say, “Make that!”  What exactly do these designers design?  This category should be restricted to fantasy and science fiction films.  Period.

Best Documentary: How to Survive a Plague.  It’s on too many Best of lists to lose.

Best Original Song: “Skyfall.”  Adele’s song is a thing of beauty.

Best Makeup:  The Hobbit.  Probably the only one the film will win.

Best Production Design: Les Miserables.

Yeah, I know.  There are other categories.  But who can predict Sound Mixing or Best Documentary Short.  Not me.  I haven’t even seen all the Best Picture Noms…

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Falling Off the Memoir Cliff

Falling Off the Memoir Cliff.

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The Hobbit: A Better than Expected Journey

The Hobbit: A Better than Expected Journey.

At latest count The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has a 65% score on Rotten Tomatoes.

That’s about right.  Disappointing, but not surprising.  If critics had gone into the film without knowledge of the novel’s length or of the films’ troubled production history, or of Peter Jackson’s last minute decision to turn two films into three, they would have graded it higher.  I can’t imagine seeing the film as it is and not recommending it.  Does it measure up to The Lord of the Rings?  Hardly.  (But to be fair The Hobbit the novel doesn’t measure up to The Lord of the Rings the novel either.)  

Jackson’s film is far from perfect.  I can’t think of one scene in The Lord of the Rings trilogy (theatrical version, at least) that’s truly off the mark.  The same can’t be said about The Hobbit.  The dwarves’ escape from the Goblin King in the Misty Mountains is just plain ridiculous, an ugly hybrid of some of the sequences in the second and fourth Indiana Jones films and those crappy Pirates of the Caribbean sequels.  Jackson tries to mix terror with humor.  It simply doesn’t work.  (Much like the Paths of the Dead scenes in the extended version of The Return of the King.)   The changes he makes to the stone trolls’ sequence falls flat as well.  The novel has Gandalf throw the voices of the trolls, tricking them into a long argument, and making them forget that dawn is nigh.  In the film, Bilbo suggests different ways in which the dwarves can be cooked, thereby initiating a very short, and not terribly compelling, argument.  Before this, the dwarves all rush in and slash up the trolls in very nasty ways, but by the time the trolls start to argue they don’t seem hurt at all.

The film begins with Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their roles from LOTR.  The older Bilbo tells Frodo that he doesn’t know the whole story of his adventures with the dwarfs.  This becomes the hook into the film.  Problem is, at the end of LOTR Frodo adds his story to the very book Bilbo is writing in in The Hobbit…So yes, Mr. Jackson.  Frodo did know the whole story.  Logic aside, bringing back Frodo and the older Bilbo simply wasn’t necessary.  The history we get of Smaug the dragon conquering Erebor is one of the film’s strongest sequences, but we could have gotten it during the unexpected party with the dwarves.

Ironically (given Jackson’s ability to create awesome battles) two of the strongest sequences are relatively simple.  One critic pointed out that “The Riddle Game” between Bilbo and Gollum is worth the price of admission alone.  He is absolutely correct.  It’s stunning.  Even though other critics didn’t care for the appearance of Radagast the Brown, I thought it was great, especially when the wizard explores the old fortress of Dol Guldor and has a run-in with a not quite resurrected Witch King of Angmar.  In this sequence we are also treated to our first glimpse of the Necromancer, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  (Yes, Sherlock Holmes.  Martin Freeman, Bilbo in The Hobbit, plays his Dr. Watson in the current BBC series.) It’s a killer scene.  I only hope Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who #7, by the way) appears as Radagast in the next two films.

A lot of critics complained about the length of just the film, since the novel is just a slim little thing.  In fact, when all is said in down, it’ll take longer to watch the trilogy then it will to read the novel.  I just reread the novel this week.  And you know what?  As is, it’s even more “unfilmable” than LOTR was perceived to be.  There’s very little characterization, and the plotting is crude, at best.  Most of the dwarves are just names on the page.  Characters only come into play when they’re necessary to the plot.  Some might not like the inclusion of the nasty orc that begins hunting the company in the film.  No, this is not in the novel.  Well, not exactly.  In the novel we find out that the orc army that attacks in the Battle of the Five Armies is led by an orc still pissed that Thorin (leader of the dwarf company) killed is father in Moria years earlier.  In the book you don’t find this out until the actual battle.  It’s presented as an “oh, by the way, the orcs are attacking, and this is why.”  You can get away with such things in a novel geared towards a young audience, but you can’t spring that on modern day film goers.   Jackson also knows he has to spend more time building his characters than Tolkien does.  In his LOTR, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Merry, Pippin, etc. are far more rounded than they are in the novel.

 Even though this first Hobbit film isn’t great, I’m willing to give Peter Jackson some leeway.  He understands something very important about Tolkien’s novels.  They’re not character driven.  They’re not even plot driven.  They’re world driven.  The films are about Middle Earth, not about individual hobbits.  Tolkien considered The Silmarillion his major work.  The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings?  Not so much.  He hoped those novels would simply be seen as a way into Middle Earth, with its history, its gods, its peoples, its cultures, its songs, its languages.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit is a sketch.  By the time he was half-way through writing The Lord of the Rings, he was already revising The Hobbit as shown through the appendices and the expansive back story in The Fellowship of the Ring.  In order to do The Hobbit cinematic justice, Jackson has to “flesh out” the story.  In doing so he’s doing homage to the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien.  So some people think nearly four hours was too long for the first Hobbit film?  I hope the next one is four.

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Rush in St. Louis Redux

Rush is a band with balls.  I can’t think of another “classic” rock band that’s been around for a comparable time (their first album came out 38 years ago) that would dare rattle off nine songs from a new album, all in one swoop.  But that’s just what the Canadian trio did last night in Saint Louis at the Scottrade Center, and have been doing all tour.  Oh, and for these songs from Clockwork Angels (as well as a slew of older tunes), the trio were backed by a 9-piece string section.  This, despite the fact that Clockwork Angels might be Rush’s hardest rocking album yet.

Of course it helps that Clockwork Angels is an outstanding album.  In my opinion, it’s their best, and I’ve been a fan for 35 years.  Not many bands that have been around for as long as Rush still put out exciting and relevant music.  Bands like Journey or Foreigner must team up with other once big name bands (most seemingly without at least half of the original members) just to fill half an amphitheater, only to churn out all the songs that appear on a greatest hits album.  Most of these ghosts of a former glory wouldn’t dare play even one new song, lest they start a rampage to the concession stands.  (Okay, Journey and Foreigner never put out exciting and relevant music…What about Yes and Jethro Tull?)  Last night Rush tore into their new material at full throttle.  All of it was great, from a sublime “Clockwork Angels,” torrid takes on “The Carnies” and “Wish Them Well,” and a dead-on “The Garden,” possibly the most emotionally evocative song they’ve ever recorded.

But Rush doesn’t just challenge audiences with new material.  As they’ve been doing for the last few tours, they dug deep into their catalog, especially in the first set.  After the opening three hits, they rattled off 3 cuts from 1985’s Power Windows.  I can’t say that “Grand Designs” and “Middletown Dreams” rank among my favorites, but they were a pleasant surprise.  More welcome was “Territories.”  Other first set highlights: “The Analog Kid,” which contained Lifeson’s best solo of the night, and “Where’s My Thing?” an instrumental from Roll the Bones.  Missing this night were radio-friendly tunes like “Limelight,” “Closer to the Heart,” “Working Man,” and “The Trees.”

This tour continues the shift Rush began with on the Test for Echo tour in 1996.  We are now treated to two sets and over two and half hours of music.  When I first started listening to Rush in the late 70s their concerts could be painfully predictable.  What you got on the current tour was essentially cuts from the new album grafted onto an abridged version of the previous tour.  Only rarely would older songs they hadn’t played in a while appear, and more often than not you only got a minute or two of them as a part of some awful medley.  And on this tour Rush has been using essentially two different setlists, swapping up to five or six songs.  They’ve done this before, but usually with only one or two songs.

My only complaint about last night’s show?  The sound mix wasn’t always up to par.  Lifeson’s guitar was often louder than Lee’s bass.  I think the string section was used to great effect, especially on “Clockwork Angels,” “The Garden” and “YYZ,” but oftentimes the sound man could’ve turn them up a notch.  But one must live with this for an arena show.  I only hope the boys add a domestic amphitheater run to their European run next year.  If so, my wife and I will be there!

Complete set list:

Subdivisions

The Big Money

Force Ten

Grand Designs

Middletown Dreams

Territories

The Analog Kid

The Pass

Where’s My Thing? (with 1st Peart solo)

Far Cry

-intermission-

Caravan

Clockwork Angels

The Anarchist

Carnies

The Wreckers

Headlong Flight (with 2nd Peart solo)

Halo Effect (with Lifeson solo intro)

Wish Them Well

The Garden

Dreamline (with 3rd Peart solo)

Red Sector A

YYZ

The Spirit of Radio

-encore-

Tom Sawyer

2112:   Overture

The Temples of Syrinx

The Grand Finale

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Trickling Down; or Why Rush Limbaugh Should Shut Up and Embrace Hollywood.

Days before the opening of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, hate radio’s Rush Limbaugh claimed that the film was part of a liberal conspiracy to discredit Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.  He based this on the name of one of the villains in the film:  Bane.  This would obviously remind people of Romney’s past association with Bain Capital…Right.  It’s easy to conclude that Limbaugh is an idiot.  But he isn’t.  The fact that he’s still on the air is proof positive that he is an expert at exploiting the fear and stupidity of his followers.

At least I thought so.  But Rush is now blowing a big opportunity.  If you’re reading this, Rush, get yourself to the theater and actually watch The Dark Knight Rises.  If it has a political agenda, it’s actually ultra-conservative.  Thematically, it’s the modern right winger’s wet dream.  Consider the basic conflict:  on one hand you have gazillionaire Bruce Wayne, a dude rich beyond avarice.  Is he a bad guy?  Hardly.  He plows millions into all the gadgets it takes to fight Gotham’s criminals.  He even sacrifices his body.  There’s no more cartilage in his knee.  None at all!  The poor guy has to wear a really painful brace to help the less fortunate.  And he’s not doing it for profit.  Never do we see him exploit the masses.  He uses his wealth, as well as his martial arts training, for good.  He’s even willing to risk his company on a far-fetched dream to bring unlimited energy to the city.  He’s a perfect example of one of those exemplary “job creators” Romney and his stooges are always going on about.  What would Gotham City do without him and his wealth?

Enter Bane.  Groomed in the world’s worst prison, this masked man wants nothing more than to unleash the disenfranchised on the wealthy and privileged citizens of Gotham.  Bane first builds an army of orphans.  These blood-thirsty boys have been booted out of orphanages all over the city.  Why?  Unbeknownst to Bruce Wayne, funding to them from Wayne Enterprises has dried up.  Now the boys are let loose on their sixteenth birthday.  What’s a poor person to do?  Rape, kill and pillage!  The only thing keeping Gotham from plunging into anarchy is the benevolence of Bruce Wayne.  But hey, he needs the help of Wall Street, so even if some of his plans seem a little shaky, don’t sell off the stock.  Otherwise, poor people will immediately invade your home, take your stuff, rape your daughter, and throw your carcass from the balcony.  Why?  Because this is the nature of poor people.  They don’t want to work.  They’re just waiting for a leader to take them on a violent crusade.  I’m surprised Nolan didn’t name Bane “Obama.”

As it turns out, Bane is just the beard for Miranda, played by Marion Cotillard…Yes, a FRENCHIE!  Oh No!  She turns out to be the real evil.  Intent on realizing her father’s dream of “restoring balance” to Gotham, Miranda is the puppet master.  Even after sleeping with Bruce Wayne, his first real contact with a woman since the death of the love of his life, Miranda turns, revealing her evilness, even plunging a knife into the Batman’s gut.  What a whore.  And what is this “restoring balance” stuff?  It turns out it’s nothing more than entombing Gotham’s outrageously noble policemen in the subway while the poor and the recently released violent criminals (one might have been called Willie Horton) “redistribute the wealth” of the city.  Even Catwoman’s bff, a drug addict and prostitute, finds a nice little pad on the Upper Eastside, now that the previous inhabitants have been chucked from the balcony.

How does Miranda keep the Feds from ruining her plans?  She’s turned that energy source machine into a Weapon of Mass Destruction.  (The French are Iranian sympathizers, you now.)    The Feds do send in some commandoes.  They last about 38 seconds.  The only real hope for the good folk of Gotham is Batman, of course, a private citizen, with a little help, granted, from the local police.  Batman flies off into the sunset with the weapon in tow, where it blows up “harmlessly.”  (Just like after BP’s catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, I’m sure all that radiation will just sort itself out.)  Everyone thinks he’s dead.  And what about the awesome mansion of his?  He stipulates in his will that it become an orphanage.  What a guy.

Bruce Wayne/Batman’s not dead, of course.  He ends up in Florence with the now noble and nice Catwoman.  Nolan has called this the last Batman film, but the ending suggests a sequel.  My guess for the next villain?   The leader of the League of Shadows, Miranda’s father, isn’t really dead.  As it turns out, he’s been the true source of evil all along.  His name will be “Weinstein.”

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Another new essay, this one in Bluestem Magazine.

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July 1, 2012 · 3:44 pm

A new essay. Read and share if you’d like!

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June 29, 2012 · 1:26 pm

Spielberg’s War Horse: It ain’t no Saving Private Ryan

Hollywood’s awards season officially kicks off this Sunday with the Golden Globe Awards, the party thrown by the Hollywood Foreign Press, you know, the group of retards who don’t realize that movies about musicians like Johnny Cash or Ray Charles aren’t automatically “Musicals.”  It’s a perfect time to rant about one of this year’s contenders:  Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.  Now I really like most of Spielberg’s movies, even the schmaltzy ones.  I don’t mind a bit of tear jerking.  That aspect of the film doesn’t bother me.  No, it’s the war parts.  Supposedly Spielberg hired real soldiers as advisors for Saving Private Ryan.  He clearly did no such thing for War Horse.  One of the sequences involves a British officer, now renter of said war horse, who leads a cavalry charge on a German camp.  He’s informed by two Indian reconnaissance officers that the camp is unguarded.  (All the characters in this movie are cartoonish.  It’s interesting though that each cultural group represented in the film has some redeeming members.  Sure, there are mean Germans, but there are also nice—albeit pretty stupid—Germans.  The Indians don’t get that luxury.  The two Indians we see are grossly incompetent.  After they send the British soldiers off to their deaths, no Indian is ever seen again.  Damn Turban Heads.  Can’t trust them!)  Anyhow, the Brits do indeed surprise the Germans, hacking away at them with swords while they’re trying to shave.  A bunch of the Germans run out of the camp to man some machine guns at the beginning of a forest.  Why the Germans haven’t made camp in the cover of the trees, instead of an open field?  Because they’re just as stupid as the Indians, apparently. The guns are behind the camp, and for some inexplicable reason, aimed at the camp.  So while the Germans are repelling the horse charge, they’re firing towards their own camp and at any of their unlucky, surviving comrades.  But wait.  The best is yet to come.  One of the British officers is captured.  A German officer, in perfect English, mind you (apparently they had Rosetta Stone in 1914), berates him for presuming the camp was unguarded.  Really?  The camp was unguarded!  A whole company of horses charged into the camp unspotted.  Where were the sentries?  Passed out on schnapps?  This is, hands down, the single dumbest sequence Spielberg has ever filmed.  It’s even worse than the bit in Indiana Jones and the Crapdom of the Crystal Skull, where an atomic blast blows Indy, hiding in a refrigerator, thousands of feet from ground zero.  Instead of being reduced to jelly, he crawls out unscathed.

 

Maybe I’m nitpicking…Nah!   We are also expected to believe that an 18 year old soldier, stuck in the trenches of France, where any second his life might be snuffed out, would have no thoughts for his parents, his friends, let alone a girl.  No, some stupid horse he hasn’t even seen in three years has his heart.  We are also expected to believe that an old French farmer would travel three days in order to procure the horse he read about in the newspaper that “just must be” the horse his granddaughter took care of for a few days.  He’s even willing to triple the highest bid on the horse.  The fact that his farm was in the middle of the war zone for four years, and was constantly stripped bare by the Germans apparently has no effect on his disposable income.  He is a jam maker, after all.  There’s big money in that.  In fact, none of the characters behave in logical ways.  I’m just pointing out the tip of the iceberg.  Well, Emily Watson does shine as horse boy’s mother.  But let’s face it; she can turn even the smelliest turd into gold.

 

And yet, War Horse is one of the six dramas nominated for the Golden Globe this year.  The Hollywood Foreign Press should’ve swapped it out with the latest Mission Impossible.  It’s far more believable.

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Just Who is Marina Julia Neary?

My literary career began in Neo-Victorian fiction and drama. I am the author of the acclaimed novel Wynfield’s Kingdom that appeared on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the UK and the sequel Wynfield’s War. The two novels were adapted for stage as historical tragicomedies, Hugo in London and Lady with a Lamp respectively. Last year I decided to temporarily leave the slums of 19th century London behind and relocate to the heart of early 20th century Dublin, the hearth of nationalistic activity, where every week a new alpha-rebel usurps the power. That is precisely the setting for my iconoclastic novel, Martyrs & Traitors: a Tale of 1916.

Introduced to the concept of cultural activism at an early age by my father, a prominent operatic coach and language revivalist, I always found it fascinating how various ethnic groups have addressed the concept of national identity, especially when it was in peril.

While examining any nationalistic movement, it is vital to remember that some individuals perceive their facial features and their language as mere technicalities, while other – as definitive elements of their personhood. Some can effortlessly divorce themselves from their roots, move to another country and marry someone from another ethnic group, while others would find such acts blasphemous. Some are willing to fight not only their perceived enemies but even those comrades who show insufficient zeal, branding them cowards and traitors. At one point does love for one’s heritage become unwholesome and destructive? I don’t attempt to answer that question.

One of my goals in writing Martyrs was to challenge the innerving stereotype of Irish rebel as being a financially disadvantaged Catholic and fond of drink. The protagonist is the complete opposite – a middle-class Quaker of Anglo-Scottish origin and a vehement abstainer. I find that the Protestant angle is largely underrepresented.

My choice of focal character has been questioned on several occasions. I have been asked: “Why did you choose Bulmer Hobson for your protagonist? That’s not a name you hear frequently.” And my answer is: “Because Michael Collins has been done to death, and I have nothing more to say about him.” To me historical fiction is not about brand recognition.  I am not interested in capitalizing on the star power of canonic figure. With the risk of sounding arrogant and elitist, I do not read bestsellers, nor do I watch blockbusters. My lifelong quest is to dig up lost treasures, literary and historical, and bring into light those figures that have remained in the shadow for whatever reason. Currently, Bulmer Hobson is not a star in the popular epos of Irish nationalism, but he certainly was a star in his day – a star that was abruptly extinguished. The story of a man so precocious and egotistical in his politics yet so naïve in matters of the heart fascinated and moved me, and I hope it moves my readers. This novel is my hymn for all prematurely extinguished stars.

 

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Just Who is Kenneth Weene anyway?

Just who is Kenneth Weene anyway?

Life itches and torments Kenneth Weene like pesky flies. Annoyed, he picks up a pile of paper to slap at the buzzing and often whacks himself on the head. Each whack is another story. At least having half-blinded himself, he has learned to not wave the pencil about. Ken will, however, write on until the last gray cell has retreated and there are no longer these strange ideas demanding his feeble efforts. So many poems, stories, novels; and more to come.

So far Ken has two novels published by All Things That Matter Press and a third will be out soon.

The first is Widow’s Walk, the story of a woman restarting her life and her two adult children. Widow’s Walk is a tale of love, sexuality, religion, and spirit. A box of Kleenex is an essential accessory when reading this emotional and meaningful novel.

Memoirs From the Asylum is set in a state psychiatric hospital. Full of tragedy, humor, and pathos, Memoirs reminds us that there are many forms of asylums and that it is all to easy to give up the most essential human freedom, the freedom to choose who we are. More than anything, Memoirs From the Asylum is a book for people who love words; it is a book that asks to be read aloud.

Coming soon is Tales From the Dew Drop Inne: Because there’s one in every town. The folks who hang out at this neighborhood bar are struggling to know that they too belong. This is a book of intersecting stories that illustrate the humanity of us all and our search for a place in which to belong.

Trained as a psychologist and an ordained minister, Ken knows that the human heart is the most elemental place to begin any story. Having also written a good amount of poetry, he strives to make the language of his books unique. Ken also brings the clear-eyed realism of a born and bred New Englander to his writing. The overall results are books that are especially moving and well-written.

You can learn more about Ken at http://www.authorkenweene.com

A good link for more about Widow’s Walk is:

http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=wbgzb2yk

For Memoirs From the Asylum visit

http://vidego.multicastmedia.com/player.php?p=nqm74a8k

Both Widow’s Walk and Memoirs From the Asylum are available in print as well as Kindle and Nook.

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