Friday, February 26, 2010

Another Handy Metaphor for Acting - Or is it Footy?

It occurred to me last night as I was driving home from a performance of MURDER ON THE NILE (final weekend! Dynamite! A Must-See!) that to be an actor is very much like being a leg muscle.

The script is an entire leg, lovingly crafted by the playwright to be the best leg it can be. But the other leg is composed of actors, each one an individual muscle. They pay close attention to what the other muscles are doing, compensating for an overstretch here, twisting a little to keep the balance there. Ultimately, what you're looking for is a smooth graceful leg movement, and between your leg and that script, you're trying to get the play where it needs to go as beautifully as possible.

Ideally when you audition you're hoping to get something showy like a calf muscle or a thigh - prominent and meaty and easy to see. But maybe you're a soleus instead. That doesn't mean you aren't important, because the whole show stumbles if you don't do your job.

And of course unlike with a real leg muscle, you can actually steal the show even if you're a peroneus brevis. Just don't get all twitchy. It makes the whole leg look bad dude.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Return Of The Fox

After almost a year of silence, FoxTV has returned to the broadcast airwaves in my neighborhood. You may recall it (and MyTV, LA channel 13) vanished the day of the digital switchover last year. I was reduced to watching House via bittorrent. To add insult to injury, I recently got a cease and decist letter from Universal Television demaning I delete all my episodes of the free show. Come to think of that, that's a blog post right there. Memo to self.

Anyway, this weekend I was swinging around the dial and there was FoxTV! Sure it was an anamorphically squeezed SD signal encoded as channel 13.3 instead of 11.1 - who knows how long this will last before they stop fooling around and shut it off? - but it's nice to see the Simpsons again.

By the way, why is Til Death still on? Does anyone really watch that show, or is some kind of money-laundering scheme like According to Jim?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Life Out Of Balance

I wonder if there is some kind of Koyannisqatsi zeitgeist in the air. As it happens, I had viewed it a weekend or so before Skot did. I have nothing to add to his thoughts, which are cogent as usual; as for my own thoughts I'm reminded of Frederick Wiseman. The famous documentarian was once asked to submit a summary of one of his films to a film festival. Wiseman snapped back, "If I could do that, I wouldn't need to make the film in the first place."

Weekend Box Office

Numbers, numbers, numbers.

Marty Scorsese, our nation's most reliable resource, delivers again with Shutter Island. #1, $41 million. Frankly I'm getting a little bored with Mr. S and I'd like to see him deliver a few missteps again. Of course, I don't invest in his movies.

This was the only new movie in the top ten, by the way; did I mention that Avatar has generated $687 million so far? Domestically? No? I'll try to remember to do that.

At the bottom of the list (not counting documentaries of course) is the aptly named Small Change, a rerelease of Francois Trauffaut's 1975 bonbon. It made $202 at one theatre, no doubt enjoyed by the handful of foreign film afficianados in that town who don't have Netflix subscriptions.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Re-seen: Koyaanisqatsi


There is stuff on besides the Olympics. Tiring of watching the curling round-robin, I tuned into MGM-HD and, like the case of Wizards, caught a film I haven't seen in several decades: Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1982). I was so blown away by this film when it first came out I saw a matinee screening, then came back a few hours later and saw it again in an evening screening. And unlike Wizards, seeing it afresh after so long didn't expose it as a flawed film. It's every bit as impressive as when it came out: It is history itself that has been unkind.

Koyaanisqatsi a work of the "pure cinema" genre, which I have long been a fan of. Pure cinema dispenses with actors, scripts, dialog, and traditional narrative, building meaning though the arrangement of images and the dialectical language of montage. Dziga Vertov (Man With a Movie Camera, 1929), Leni Reifenstahl (Triumph of the Will, 1934) and Stan Brakhage (Dog Star Man) are notable directors in this genre.

My favorite practitioner is Ron Fricke, who was Godfrey Reggio's cinematographer: He created Baraka (1992), shot all over the world in 65mm Todd-AO. This film has a deep, profoundly honest spiritual resonance that is hard to explain unless you see it, especially if you can see it projected in 70mm. You will not believe a film with no apparent narrative structure can leave you with a lump in your throat when the lights come up. (Baraka is available on Blu-Ray, and is the single best argument I can give you to get a Blu-Ray player.)

Koyaanisquatsi tells a story about humanity's relationship with technology and how it is unmooring us from the natural world, through arresting images (time-lapse footage of people on escalators or freeway traffic; urban blight), stock footage (bombs exploding, rockets launching), montage (cutting together sequences to explore and expand these ideas in a linear way) and Philip Glass' amazing soundtrack, a relentless, percussive work so singular Godfrey Reggio recut his film to match it.

Up to this point, I'm not saying anything that hasn't been written in the last 28 years. But from a contemporary vantage point Koyaanisqatsi has gained some new, unintended insights.

The film is a work of avowed social criticism. It is an 82-minute-long complaint about capitalism and technology, not that much different than the "message" in James Cameron's Avatar (2009). Judging by his age and biography, Godfrey Reggio was no doubt a Vietnam-war-era New Left activist, a hippie-age Boomer, and a bit of a commie.

He shot the film over five years, from 1977 to 1981: the last half of the film is mostly composed of sequences shot in cities, freeways and factories all over the United States. It was a time before computer automation had completely taken over, and people can be seen at work doing things: sorting mail, stuffing Twinkies, stacking ham. It shows factory floors full of Americans doing things they don't do anymore: assembling televisions and Chevy Camaros by hand, streaming out of Lockheed's Burbank facility by the thousands.

Most of this footage was shot undercranked, which speeds everything up to a frenetic pace. Reggio did this to make a point about how technology is making us inhuman. But from our 2010 vantage point, he captured the the pulse of a lively period of American history, with a thriving manufacturing sector and something like full employment. The sped-up stuff just makes the workers of the time seem more purposeful and energetic. In contrast, if he put his undercranked camera in one of Google's vast cubicle farms in Sunnyvale, I don't think it would make compelling viewing.

Reggio saves his best jabs for the end: in the final act, he shows the paper-littered floor of the New York Stock Exchange. He employs the film's only post-production effects here (the under- and over-cranking was done in camera). The footage is double-exposed, rendering the traders as shadowy, invisible capitalists, controlling everything. Okay, I'll admit that part works.

We then get to the famous last scene, an amazingly long piece of stock footage of an Atlas-Centaur rocket blowing up. As the soundtrack goes to organ music and creepy basso profundo chorus, the camera tracks a second-stage engine slowly falling back to earth. Reggio is making a point by showing us what the kids call a "fail" but all I could think about, watching this footage, is the fact that NASA is close to shutting down the Space Shuttle program, and is looking for ways to privatize future space launches. So Godfrey Reggio's metaphor has become yet another example of something America can't do anymore.

You can see Koyaanisqatsi in it's entirety at Hulu: The jarring, every-twelve-minutes commercial breaks add to it's non-narrativeness.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

NBC: America is Swell

It's hard to figure out who is influencing who in the style of coverage The Winter Olympics is receiving: NBC chief Dick Ebersol or faux-conservative talk-show host Stephen Colbert. To Colbert's credit, he waves the American flag constantly, and it is such an integral part of his act that he has managed to cheese off the Canadian hosts of the sporting event.

With NBC, I suspect the incessant flag-waving is a bit more calculated.

Just as an example, I watched the Women's Downhill event last night. The breathless chatter for days about the event was all Lindsey Vonn, all the time-- Her serious injury weeks before, her chances of competing. It also doesn't hurt the NBC "inspiring narrative" approach that Ms. Vonn is absolutely adorable. All the medalists were Nordic beauties, in fact. I mean, check out the babe factor on the podium-- it looks like a still from a Hallmark Channel movie, huh?

So when the long-anticipated event happened, the NBC commentary was so Vonn-obsessive it was almost comical. I'm paraphrasing, but it went something like this:

[Near the beginning of the event, an Austrian skier has a pretty decent run.]
ANNOUNCER #1: There is the time Lindsey Vonn has to beat!

[Later, American skier and long-time Vonn rival Julia Mancuso sets the best time for the run]
ANNOUNCER #1: And Mancuso is in gold medal position by almost a full second!
ANNOUNCER #2: A flawless run! Lindsey Vonn will have to go all-out to beat that!

[A Swiss skier has a horrific crash near the end of the course]
ANNOUNCER #2: Lindsey Vonn had better be careful on that last jump!

[Thirty or so other skiers have their runs. For the most part, none are broadcast.]

[Finally, Lindsey Vonn begins her run.]
ANNOUNCER #1: Lindsey Vonn! Lindsey Vonn! Lindsey Vonn! Wow! Lindsey Vonn!
ANNOUNCER #2: Lindsey Vonn! Lindsey Vonn! Wow! Lindsey Vonn! Lindsey Vonn!

It might have made a pretty decent drinking game-- take a shot when you-know-who was mentioned-- but you'd pass out half-way though the event.

At the conclusion of the event, when Lindsey Vonn had secured the gold medal, she had a televised moment with her husband/trainer Thomas. He was miked. NBC shouldn't have bothered. She cried (which is understandable, but the fact her mascara ran when she did was not) and he ran off a monotone string of stunningly clich├ęd words of praise: "You were due. It was amazing. You deserved it. I'm proud of you." and so on. If he knew NBC was going to clip on a lavalier so 80 million people could hear him, I think he'd take ten seconds to think of something, I don't know, genuinely original to say.

I'm just singling out Women's Downhill because it was so overdone: NBC gave Shani Davis, Apolo Ohno, and Shaun White the same breathless narrative treatment. To be honest, snowboarder Shaun White truly deserves breathless praise: Unlike the other measured-by-milliseconds events, even a neophyte viewer can see he's flying ten feet higher than anyone else on his aerials.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers here.

Ah romance! Studios released three of their big-guns date movies this weekend; let's see how they did. At #3, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: Lightning. It ain't Harry Potter, unless you're squinting! Still, there are $31 million worth of nearsighted youngsters out there. At #2 The Wolfman. Man's best friend (or Universal's at any rate) also pulled down $31 million, proving that old dogs something something something oh God I can't write this joke again.

At #1, cleverly: Valentine's Day! Gary Marshall's American version of Love Actually made $56 million American dollars. Studios other than WB are scratching their heads and wondering why they didn't think of it themselves.

If you were interested in dumping someone you love you may have seen Shall We Kiss, a comedy that charted at #94 and made $273 dollars all weekend. It sounds pretty bad but made twice as much as the documentary at the bottom of the chart! Muuuuuuah!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Little Misdirection

As I may have mentioned, I'm acting this month in Murder On The Nile, an Agatha Christie murder mystery. I play William Smith, the eccentric communist who hates rich people. Kind of a weak motive but that just makes me a more likely suspect, n'est-pas?

Christie presents an interesting acting challenge. In most plays I consider it my job to convey information, to illuminate the plot in a dozen subtle ways so that the intention of the playwrite is made clear. Of course, you can't be too obvious about this but the point is you're finding ways to help the playwrite tell the story.

However, this is a murder mystery, where the point is to short-circuit the audience's ability to guess the ending. If you illuminate what's really going on, you're wrecking the play. So here my job is to be true to the character but convey whatever I can to NOT illuminate the playwrite's intention. Maybe this is why you don't see a lot of method actors doing Christie - they see their job as to be true to the character and don't care about messing with the audience. That's someone else's job.

INSPECTOR: So Mr. Kowalski, you say you loved Miss Cosgrove?

STANLEY KOWALSKI: (glowers angrily) Oh to hell with it. Take me in. Bitch had it coming! (spreads arms, cries to the sky as if to God himself) Stella!

INSPECTOR: (nonplussed) Well! Uh... alright, the rest of you can leave. (EARLY CURTAIN)

The play has been useful to me in the sense that it's sharpened my ability to underplay. The less you put out, the less you give away! I'm auditioning for Moss Hart's Light Up the Sky tonight, a play about the opening of a play. Possibly have to overplay this one. The last thing a backstage comedy needs is realism.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Seriously, Man

Just seen: A Serious Man (on On-Demand), the Coen Brothers movie that is among the huge mound of films vying for Best Picture. This raises my tally of watched nominees to 8 out of 10. It is a black comedy, and as such it is quite funny and unusually spooky. But...

Coen Brothers films remind me of points on a biorhythm curve*. Remember that 70s quackery? Emotional, physical and intellectual sinusoidal waves, all cresting and dipping to their own time. Triple highs are auspicious, but watch out for those "critical days," when all three bottom out.

When the Coens are hitting the triple high we get amazing stuff-- O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Raising Arizona, The Hudsucker Proxy, even The Big Lebowski. Even when we get a dip or two, it's still compelling: No Country for Old Men, Fargo and Blood Simple.

But man, watch out for that triple low point. A Serious Man reminded me of Barton Fink and a LOT of The Man Who Wasn't There: grim stories with hapless, hopeless protagonists. It's the story of Larry Gopnik, a perfectly nice man who get his ass kicked by every single other character-- wife, kids, brother, his Rabbi, total strangers, everybody-- from fade-up to the devastating black-out. Even the Columbia Record Club has it in for him. As they did with O Brother, the Coens took the core of the story from an ancient source-- in this case the Book of Job, set in suburban Minneapolis in 1967.

Lining it up with the current Oscar nominees, it sounds comparable to Precious, which I haven't seen. Of course, from what I read, The life of Precious is several orders of magnitude more horrible than the life of Larry Gopnik. So I think I'll cut bait and stop at eight nominees.

*Just for laughs, I just checked my Biorhythm chart here. Yikes. I am not leaving the house today.

The Record Shows I Took the Blows... AAAAAAARRRGH!

In a way this kind of falls under the heading of "This is news?" but there is a documented spike in killings in the Phillipines related to people singing My Way in karaoke bars.

...the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and includes them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the “My Way Killings.”

The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. ...Karaoke-related killings are not limited to the Philippines. In the past two years alone, a Malaysian man was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbors in a rage after they sang John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s “Yellow” after criticizing his version.
I gotta be honest with you, I almost always feel the urge to open a can of whupass on anybody who sings Yellow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Numbers, numbers.

Well lookie there! Something finally knocks Avatar from the top spot, and it's a romantic drama. Dear John, based on a Nicolas Sparks novel, brings in $30 mil. No doubt it benefitted from its status as the best alternative to Superbowl mania. (Side note: I was acting in a play on Sunday afternoon, and I correctly predicted that the audience would be almost entirely old women. Bingo! Women because they wanted to avoid all the testosterone-fueled screaming at home, and old because it's a Sunday matinee at the theatre.)

More romance in the form of From Paris With Love. It comes in at #3 with a distant $8 million, behind Avatar's $23 million.

At the other end of the scale, we have Departures (Okuribito), last year's best foreign film now relegated to a single theatre and making $114. Just goes to show... if you're Japanese and you want to make a picture about the dead, you damn well better include jealous ghosts.

Eximius Scaphium XLIV

An awe-inspiring clash it was! The scrappy Sanctus of Nova Aurelianeum were pitted against the seeming unstoppable Equii Juvenii of Civitas Indium. Janus himself could not have forseen the outcome.

The Super Bowl allegedly surpassed the finale of "M*A*S*H*" as the most-watched broadcast in American history. I watched it. I didn't watch the final episode of "M*A*S*H*"-- it was broadcast during a particularly nasty storm, and most of Santa Cruz County was blacked out.

A few thoughts:

• Very good game. I lost a buck or two on it-- I went with the prevailing odds, Colts by 7.

• CBS and the NFL were pushing the post-Katrina narrative hard. Apparently, New Orleans HAD to win, to achieve "closure" after the devastating 2005 hurricane. Psychologically, I can see the point. But realistically, a lot of bars and T-shirt sellers got richer, an already rich team owner got a nice trophy for his enormous mantelpiece, but the neighborhoods that were ruined by Katrina will still be ruined after the victory parade. Maybe everyone thought the Super Bowl was played under special Late Roman Empire rules, which allows the residents of New Orleans to sack and pillage Indianapolis at will.

• Way too much hype for the "NFL Scouting Combine." This is an "American Idol" sort of affair where inarticulate college athletes do workouts and answer questions in front of NFL coaches and scouts. This happens in a few weeks, and will be followed by the NFL draft, which happens in April and will be broadcast from (honest to God) Radio City Music Hall. Year-round football has arrived.

• The commercials were underwhelming. My favorites were the ones for Kia (with the sock monkey) and Snickers (Betty White and Abe Vigoda being tackled). The Super Bowl is supposed to be a Roman Spectacle of our age, Displaying the awe-inspiring might of the NFL and the power and glory of American consumer society. The NFL got it down cold (I have never seen so many completed passes in any game, period) but the consumer part was looking a bit tired. Following the Roman analogy, the commercials were the last legion in the triumph, fresh from a savage beating from the Visigoths in Illyria.

• The sexagenarian survivors fronting The Who didn't look winded at all. Then again, there were a LOT of long shots of that enormous luminous flying saucer deal that surrounded the stage on all sides, which left the guys a moment to catch their breath. What was that thing? The ultimate crowd control barrier?

• The "Late Show" promo was the highlight of the evening. It was so surprising to see Jay Leno sharing a couch with David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey I had to back up the DVR and watch it again. I can see why NBC and CBS went along with this, which was apparently all Letterman's idea: It makes both of them look collegial and good-humored, above the contentious late-night fray.

See you at the NFL Scouting Combine pre-show!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Just Seen: The Blind Side

Caught The Blind Side Saturday, which ups my tally of seen Best Picture nominated films to seven-- a personal record, if you think about it.

It was quite enjoyable, a solid offering in the Inspirational Sports genre. It reminded me a lot of Invincible and The Rookie: well-made, patently inoffensive family fare which show exceptionally talented, gifted athletes as ordinary, struggling folks like you and me. What's not to like?

Sandra Bullock will no doubt get the "she's due" Best Actress Oscar. Between this film and The Proposal, She probably made as much money for the studios this year than any number of foldable robots. She does a great job-- the most notable part of her performance is she sounds nothing like herself. She either payed very close attention to her vocal coach or just lapsed back to a native accent (she's from Georgia).

A few notes:

• This is the second 2009 blockbuster Sandra Bullock film that Julia Roberts was offered first-- and passed on. But Roberts did say yes to Valentine's Day, the Garry Marshall day-player-fest which opens next week. Perhaps it was the ensemble aspect: it was no doubt a fairly effortless commitment, a short gig on an LA shoot.

• The film's third act complication is strange (and believe me, if you are at all familiar with the Inspirational Sports genre I ain't giving anything away here). The Blind Side tells the story of Michael Oher, a young man of impoverished means who, with the help of the Tuohy family, gets the help he needs to not only graduate from high school, but also become an excellent football player. The complication comes in the form of an NCAA rep who asks Oher if he was adopted solely so he could play ball for Ole Miss, the Tuohy's alma mater. Because the film portrays him as having no skill at football before he met the Tuohy family or attended private school, his adoptive family is exonerated. But if the semi-reliable sources in the IMDb and Wikipedia are correct, in reality Oher was an "experienced" football player in public school before he met the Tuohys, and his transfer to private school was recommended by his public-school coach, not a family friend as depicted. This fact, and the fact Oher's private-school football coach gained a job at Ole Miss at roughly the same time Oher enrolled, tells me that the NCAA actually had a pretty good handle on the facts at the time.

This whitewashing (pardon the entendre) for narrative clarity is a consistent flaw of the Inspirational Sports genre: the true stories they tell have to be morally unambiguous, and facts are usually sacrificed to that end.

• The audience demographic was mostly older women. Like my experience attending the Metropolitan Opera HD simulcast, I was one of the youngest people in there, which never happens anymore.

• Seated just behind us was an External Monologuist. I outlined various types of of Movie Talkers on our previous blog, and she was classic example of someone who never had a thought she doesn't say out loud. Repeatedly. Normally, I would have shut her up, but my wife and I found her amusing. After all, there was nothing particularly challenging about the plot of The Blind Side, so she wasn't exactly ruining it for us. After a while we discerned a pattern to her yammering: Expressing Her Feelings (Saying "oh my God" about 10,000 times) and Being Utterly Confused ("Did he graduate?" "Where did he go?" "Who is that? His father?"). She also needed everything that showed up on screen in text explained to her by her (very patient) family members.

She was the ultimate claque: every major scene ending was accompanied with clear utterances like "What's going to happen now?" or "boy, she sure is mad!" Maybe she wasn't there at all, and what I was hearing was a surround-channel audio program: Audio Assistance For The Narratively Impaired.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Sarah Silverman Theory

"The Sarah Silverman Program" is about to kick off it's third season this evening on Comedy Central.

This article is not a recommendation to watch "The Sarah Silverman Program." It's shock comedy-- a show that amuses by offering up the most offensive ideas, dialog and situations possible for a basic cable show. In the show she plays a version of herself as an intensely self-centered, manipulative, jobless mooch who gets into weekly situations of a generally scatological and morally repugnant nature. Her family and friends accept her antics with shrugs and indulgent smiles. It's basically "The Lucy Show" if Lucy Carmichael was a sociopath with Tourette's Syndrome who was sponging off Vivian Vance.

This sort of shock comedy is not exactly new territory: "South Park" does the same thing. But "South Park" traffics in social commentary, while "Sarah" seems to wallow in nihilism. Still, shock comedy is definitely in style, and a lot of people seem to like it, which is why she got renewed again. Not my thing.

But what I find intriguing is exactly how Sarah Silverman the comedian parleyed her act into a sitcom, and what makes it work. She makes it work by using her appearance as cover. She is a slight, pixieish woman with a radiant smile and a chirpy voice, and her character dresses like a 13-year-old boy. So when she gets caught indulging in outrageous behavior, she flashes her oblivious high-wattage smile, and everyone around her tends to laugh it off. A cute little girl who says and does ugly things. It's the series' standing meta-joke: Who can stay mad at someone that cute? Which leads to the core philosophy of "The Sarah Silverman Program:" Attractive people can get away with anything.

Years ago on a different blog, I picked Sarah Silverman as the ideal candidate to play Wonder Woman on the big screen. She still qualifies, but Megan Fox would be much better, dontcha think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nothing Is Irreversible

The final season of "Lost" kicked off last night with another seismic shift to the series' already brain-twisting storytelling style.

In the first few seasons the main story arcs were fortified by extensive flashbacks. Later, they shifted from flashbacks to flash-forwards, which energized the storytelling immensely. This probably led the writers to dispense with narrative temporal shifting entirely and go with something more visceral, like actual time-shifting. The characters proceeded to temporally shift in Kurt Vonnegut Jr. fashion: In fact, they bounced through time so much they got nosebleeds.

So in this final season, as what appears to the ultimate narrative topper, "Lost's " creators split the show into two almost unrelated storylines. One picks up the more-or-less direct narrative thread and keeps our core characters on the island-- in 2007, rather than 1977, but still more or less where they were before all the temporal rambling began. The other is quite intriguing: it picks up at the exact moment in 2005 when Oceanic 815 was supposed to crash-- but doesn't. Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hugo and company land in LAX, and their stories carry on as if The Island didn't exist (it did, but it was under 1000 feet of water, which apparently neutralizes it's spooky powers). This is the ultimate refutation of the flashback as a narrative device: Just run the characters through both timelines, and let the audience sort it out.

(And I'm going to take a moment to appreciate the charms of Evangeline Lilly, who plays romantically confused woman of action Kate Austin. Her emotional control is amazing, her range is wide and nobody can work in close-ups better. In contrast, Josh Holloway (Sawyer) just has to convey shades of wiseass, and Matthew Fox (Jack) was little more than a constipated refusenik for the entirety of the last season. But most of all, she is one of those rare beauties that looks amazing with tangled hair and covered with dirt and blood. When we see her all cleaned up, Lilly just doesn't pop. Maybe it's the freckles.)

So anyway, we're now seeing two stories unfold: the continuing struggles on The Island, and a glimpse of life if the crash of Oceanic 815 never happened. Because these storylines are apparently either divergent or completely parallel, the death of any character can be completely negated. Shannon, Charley, Locke and Sayid are all alive and kicking on the plane. On The Island, supernatural intervention has apparently reanimated Locke (bear with me) and Sayid (huh?).

It's hard to say where this is all going, which is why "Lost" is one of the best shows on the air: It consistently delivers unfathomable surprises. This is because the producers have created a new form of serial storytelling, one that allows them to kill any character that want, with no consequences.

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the current up-front showrunners, are admitted Sci-Fi geeks. (I couldn't help but notice that J. J. Abrams is keeping a low profile in this last season: I think he's trying to dissociate himself from TV in favor of his new feature-film ventures.) They were raised on anthology Sci-Fi shows like "Twilight Zone," "The Outer Limits" and "Night Gallery." Anthologies are great. They have amazing storytelling possibilities: You can blow up the world, kill all the characters, set earwigs into their brains, whatever-- tune in next week, and it's all new. The disadvantage is anthologies lack the intense emotional attachment audiences create for characters in serial programs-- An attachment that can translate into consistent ratings.

So the showrunners simply suspended empirical reality, and voila-- "Lost," the serial anthology. A show with long-running , beloved characters who can die at any time, and still come back. In fact, the characters are also held safely in reserve in an entirely different timeline, just in case.

The only regular I knew was going to die-- die, period, and not come back-- was tipped off by the intrusion of actual reality. Poor Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), last seen hammering on a plutonium bomb in last season's finale, didn't make out of this season's two-hour premiere alive. Ms. Mitchell is currently the star of another Sci-Fi series, "V," which ran promos during the show. Unlike "Lost's" universe, Ms. Mitchell can't be in two places at once.

Man, That's a Lot of Nominations

For the first time since 1943, The Academy has seen fit to nominate 10 films for the Best Picture top prize. I think this is fun.

They should expand the Best Picture category to 25 nominations next year. Why not? They could briefly describe each nominated film at the beginning and end of each segment-- or they could throw out all the rules and go live for five solid hours. (And wouldn't it would be a hoot to see what all those amazing dresses and expensive tuxes will look like after being sat on for five hours?) And with a field of 25, the tipping point for a winning film goes to a hair over four percent of the votes, which would guarantee a certain amount of amusing chaos.

I am very curious as to how they are going to divvy up the screen in that moment before the envelope is torn open. Ten little boxes-- it's going to look like a security camera suite at a very expensive, very exclusive mall.

Anyway, here are the nominees, in alphabetical order. I actually saw quite a few of these: Last year, I was 0 for 5, pathetic. Because I have I'll just go ahead an annotate my take on each film's chance of actually winning:

Avatar - It's a "Hollywood Votes For Itself" sort of shoe-in. Best odds in the bunch. I am very happy to see Avatar didn't get a nom for screenplay-- it almost restores my faith.

The Blind Side - Didn't catch this one. John Lee Hancock didn't get a director nom, so I wouldn't bet on it.

District 9 - An excellent movie, and a gratifying choice. I think it has the best chance of the ones on this list-- one that did not get a director nom, that is. Which means, unfortunately, there's no way it'll win.

An Education - Didn't catch this one either. By the look of it, this film will clean up with the academy members with schoolgirl fetishes and those who are fans of "Mad Men." Director Lone Scherfig didn't get a nom, so it'll do nothing.

The Hurt Locker - An amazing movie. It's the front-runner for the "Hollywood Votes for Quality" academy crowd. It absolutely confirmed the fact that a very good film could be made about the Iraq war-- All they had to do was put away the crying towel and embrace an action-film ethos. Go get 'em, James Cameron's Ex! (And a big nod to Modesto's own Jeremy Renner, the nominated star of The Hurt Locker. I seriously thought this guy was doomed to play weasel-faced bastards, as he did in Dahmer and S.W.A.T.)

Inglourious Basterds - I saw it. It has a chance, because Quentin was nominated too. But why? For every good scene with Christoph Waltz, there is one of Brad Pitt masticating scenery. There were so many references to Pabst, Pola Negri and UFA I thought I was back in Film School and I was being graded on it. I read on several news sites that Tarantino was "due" for a major nod. If his recent output was, in terms of box-office and relevance, in any way indicative of this, I'd agree.

Precious - My Austin Film Festival Precious story: I was sitting down to a screening of Calvin Marshall and a woman-- by the look of her accessories, a very well-off woman-- sat down next to me. She had just seen Precious and gushed about how powerful and devastating it was. I had read the extensive article on it in the festival program, so I kind of knew what she was talking about. But there was something about a rich white woman telling me about her cinematic peek at soul-crushing black inner-city poverty that made me kind of ill. Precious has the best chance of any of the Indie underdogs to score an upset victory, mostly because I suspect half the Academy voters are like that woman in Austin.

A Serious Man - The Coens got their Oscar hardware two years ago, so never mind.

Up - Hey-- Isn't there another category for this film already? I quite enjoyed it, and it's so well-written and paced it deserves to duke it out in the Best Picture category.

Up in the Air - Saw it, liked it quite a bit. Strong second or third place, if the Academy had such things... Wait...

Hey, I just got a whole NEW idea! Instead of adding more nominations, how about additional Silver and Bronze Oscars in all categories? Anything to get to that magical 5-hour broadcast length...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Weekend Box Office

Here are your numbers.

Well, hopefully Avatar will get a much needed shot in the blue forearm with its Oscar nomination. As it stands the 3D novelty limped through the weekend earning only $31 million after 43 days in release. It's sad, sad total take to date is $595 million. That's only a fraction of what Titanic made!

Premiering this weekend, Edge of Darkness in slot #2 with $17 million and When In Rome at #3 with $12 million. Ah, romantic comedy. And that Rome movie looks like fun too.

The lowest-earning movie on the charts this week is a documentary so I'm not going to make fun of it. It's like mocking Jay Leno for having a big chin - it kinda goes without sayin'.