1/30/09

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the David Fincher film, and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," the F. Scott Fitgerald story, have five things in common: the title, the conceit of a man aging backwards, the main character's name, failing to do much interesting with the conceit of a man aging backwards, and, of course, Brad Pitt received Best Actor nominations for both.

There's much more obvious and ready source for the film that would be clear even if it weren't written by Oscar-winning Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth, and that is that earlier film.

Both films feature slow Southern narration by the main characters, who are both sort of autistic boys/men with absent fathers (though Button gets a good stepfather) and strong mothers with their own homey catchphrases ("Life is like a box of chocolates..." for Gump, "You never know what's coming for you" for Button--Gump, again, winning hands down). Both feature a "timeless" love story which survives the long, adventurous absence of that main character, who ends up fighting a war along the way. Both characters spend lots of time on boats. Both films include some version of the famous line "I have to go pee." And both feature a series of colorful adventures which are basically unconnected, though that is much more the case for Button. At least Gump had the unifying virtue of Tom Hanks's strong performance. Benjamin Button is essentially a cipher, a spectator in the film without a strong personality.

In fact, Button pushes a lot of overfamiliar buttons. Julia Ormond's presence in the film keeps recalling her love story with Pitt, Legends of the Fall. The New Orleans setting brings to mind Pitt's previous "out-of-time" New Orleans character, Louis from Interview with the Vampire. Cate Blanchett's character's older self is the same older self of her character in The Aviator, namely, Katharine Hepburn. And the whole plot of the film was done better on television as Stephen King's "Golden Years." All were superior efforts to Button.

The chief attraction of the film is to see digital effects used so widely in a dramatic film, a real rarety, though likely to become much more common. The aging backwards of Brad Pitt was almost enough to keep me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Will they pull it off? (They do.) Will it mean anything? (Not much.) Blanchett is also aged forward using several different techniques, digital effects among them, and it is as seamless and convincing.

There are also strong supporting characters like Benjamin's adoptive mother, Queenie (Taraji P. Henson, Hustle & Flow), Rampai Mohadi as Ngunda Oti, an African Pygmy who says he was exhibited in a zoo and gives the young (old) Benjamin a crash course in being different, Jared Harris as Benjamin's first boss, the tugboat Captain Mike with whom Benjamin sees action in World War II, and Tilda Swinton as Elizabeth Abbott, a spy's wife and Benjamin's first love affair, who easily takes the title of most interesting supporting character we don't see nearly enough of.

And Cate Blanchett is amazing. Her character, Daisy (finally, a Fitgerald reference), ages more than Benjamin Button does, and more interestingly. She is a dancer and a dance instructor, a Bohemian and a wife and mother, in and out of love and entranced with life. To witness her performance is a revelation, and, had it really connected with the rest of the film, it might have saved it.

As it is, Button is more of a movie-obsessed mess than a standalone work of art. I'm still not sure what setting the modern frame during Hurricane Katrina was supposed to mean or add; I actually found it superfluous enough to be somewhat insulting to the memory of the real event. It has many echoes, some fine moments, admirable acting, spectacular, unique effects and hardly a soul. Quite a few of its Oscar nominations are well taken, but not Best Screenplay, Actor, Director or Picture.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

Steele to be first African American GOP party chair

Just a week and a half after Americans saw President Obama become the first African American chief executive, and months after he became the real head of the Democratic Party, Republicans have elected Michael Steele to be the first African American chairperson of the party of Lincoln (and Nixon's Southern Strategy). From MSNBC.com:

Michael Steele was elected Republican National Committee chairman on Friday, defeating the incumbent party chief and three other challengers over six rounds of voting to become the first black to lead the GOP.

The former Maryland lieutenant governor takes over a beleaguered GOP as Republicans seek to rebound from back-to-back defeats in national elections that gave Democrats control of Congress and the White House.

...

"We're going to say to friend and foe alike: We want you to be a part of us, we want you to with be with us, and for those who wish to obstruct, get ready to get knocked over," Steele said.


Ohmigosh, he's going to knock the Democrats over! Or obstructionist Republicans? Or something.

This is a storied post that has produced one president (George H.W. Bush) and one other presidential nominee (Bob Dole), but which is usually reserved for political hacks of little note. Which category Steele belongs in remains to be seen, but I have a guess.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

Review: Taken (2009)


Taken is a pretty cheap thrill ride, made sufferable by a lightning fast pace and the sheer weight of Liam Neeson's smart, seething, superhuman main character Bryan Mills--pretty much alone. It's every parent's worst nightmare of European tourism gone wrong. But ah, Neeson's Bryan isn't just any parent. He's a retired spook who's up on all the latest tech, combat-ready and pissed. He's the Jason Bourne of divorced dads of innocent kidnapped teenagers.

Retired from the CIA to be closer to his seventeen-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace, "Lost") during her last years in the nest, Mills is driven to distraction by a hostile ex-wife (Famke Janssen) and her new life, which largely excludes even his modest attempts to stay involved and relevant in his daughter's, sort of like Dustin Hoffman's character in Last Chance Harvey, as a commando.

He's also "wise" to the ways of the world, and quite skeptical when Kim wants to head to Paris with her friend Amanda to see art. His skepticism is more than validated when, after she has obtained his permission to travel out of the country, the trip turns out to have fewer chaperones, more stops and a less staid, academic purpose than just staking out the Louvre.

Of course, by then he can't really do anything about it without looking like the bad guy, so Kim and Amanda fly to Charles de Gaulle and promptly find themselves way in over their heads when Albanian lowlifes decide to help themselves to a couple of young, stupid American girls for their own nefarious purposes.

And by prompt, I mean prompt. Everything in this movie is prompt. It can't be criticized for a lack of economy. Almost no plot point is presented unless it can be quick, full of action and paranoia and set the scene just enough to get us to the next.

Sounds good so far, and it is good. The film is very satisfying in very visceral terms--violence and revenge. To complain a bit, Neeson's character is way too competent and lucky. But Neeson plays it so straight, as such an unstoppable force, that it's not a fatal complaint. The bad guys are not so unbelievable, but the ending gets a bit baroque and overdone, at least a touch more so than was strictly economical. Again, it doesn't hurt too much.

There are no glaringly bad performances, but only Grace, Janssen and Olivier Rabourdin as an old French spy acquaintance (newly respectable in a high-level government job, as he keeps reminding Bryan) with a very rude dinner guest really stand out. Grace and Janssen are good, Rabourdin charming and convincingly amoral. Wacky Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Gries) is a throwaway CIA buddy without much to do.

Taken is just the ticket for a weekend matinee or late-night show. Unlike the buttery popcorn which may accompany it, it won't require napkins, but it's essentially the same deal, a pretty good snack. Not advised for parents with teenagers abroad.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

1/29/09

Blagojevich now ex-governor

From MSNBC.com:

The Illinois Senate unanimously voted to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office on Thursday after an FBI investigation revealed he tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.

...

The governor's impeachment was triggered by his arrest last month on a variety of federal corruption charges. The criminal complaint against him included a long list of shocking quotes that portrayed Blagojevich as trying to auction off President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat and pressure people for campaign donations.

...

Blagojevich...will immediately be removed from office and replaced by Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a fellow Democrat. No other Illinois governor has been impeached, let alone convicted in a Senate trial.


Nice to see something working in government....

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

Review: Changeling (2008)


Changeling is one of Clint Eastwood's darkest and most gripping films (which is saying a lot), as well as a tour-de-force and a stunner for Angelina Jolie, very deserving of her Best Actress nomination. It's sort of like a James Ellroy novel without all the alliteration, but all the smoky jazz. The jazz, in this case, is also provided by Mr. Eastwood, and it's hauntingly perfect, one of the standout soundtracks of the year, as well.

Set in the 1920s, the film tells the true story, painstakingly researched by writer J. Michael Straczynski, of Christine Collins, a Los Angeles telephone switchboard supervisor and independent single mother whose young son Walter disappears one Saturday while she works an extra shift to cover for an absent employee. She had planned to take him to the movies, but ends up making him a sandwich for lunch and promising him the matinee for the next day before leaving for work. When she arrives home to find the house empty and the sandwich still in the refrigerator, she knows something has gone very wrong, but she can have no idea what an ordeal she is in for.

Operating under the old rules of waiting 24 hours before investigating cases of missing children, the Los Angeles police are at first relatively steadfast about the search. While time drags on for Collins, after about a year she gets word that Walter has been found in the company of a strange man, perhaps having been kidnapped or riding the rails like countless other runaways of the era.

Relieved and happy, Collins meets the boy at the train, and, while unconvinced that it is Walter, she admits the possibility that he may have changed and that she may be in shock at seeing him again, and takes him home that night. Again, she can have had no idea what she was letting herself in for. When she determines to her satisfaction that the child is not Walter at all, she returns to the police to ask for help.

This time she is met with hostility, disbelief, unconcern and no help at all. Instead, the police press the idea that they have done the right thing all along, that she is a single mother and perhaps a loose woman trying to shirk her responsibilities, and, as she presses her case, they finally have her committed to the insane asylum to be tortured and pressured into agreeing with them and absolving them of all responsibility for their wrongdoing.

Like the aggrieved killer Will Munny in Unforgiven, Christine Collins absorbs all of the heinous wrongs committed against her, then uses everything at her disposal to track down every last thread of responsibility and complicity. In the process she overturns the Los Angeles police administration and their policies, helping through her actions to track down a serial killer and find his surviving victims, never giving up hope or her abundant determination in the face of impossible odds. It is astonishing that this is a true story, and as astonishing that Eastwood, Straczynski and Jolie have pulled off presenting it as straightforwardly, honestly and strikingly as they have.

Other actors in the cast do excellent supporting work, including John Malkovich as the crusading Rev. Gustav Briegleb, Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) as a prostitute and fellow asylum inmate who gives Collins the lowdown on the situation she faces there, Colm Feore (32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, "Truman") as Police Chief James E. Davis, a brutal commander and political operator who is not quick enough to save himself from his department's misdeeds, Jeffrey Donovan ("Burn Notice") as Captain J.J. Jones, whose prejudices and stubbornness also bring him down, Jason Butler Harner as Gordon Northcott, the infamous Wineville Chicken Coop murderer and Eddie Alderson as his nephew Sanford, Michael Kelly as Detective Lester Ybarra, a police detective whose belief in and strict adherence to the best of good department policy bring much of the story to light, and who brings to mind the serious work of Steve Martin in Grand Canyon and The Spanish Prisoner, and Devon Conti as the smiling, impish fake Walter.

The recreation of a visual Los Angeles of the 1920s is faithful and absolutely complete, from exterior shots to the ins and outs of telephone switchboard operation to the treatment of mental patients and the mechanics of streetcars, automobiles and prisons. There is one moment that feels slightly anachronous, when Collins confronts Northcott in prison, but it is not so out of place that it ruins the total effect, and it does provide an emotional note that satisfies--indeed, it is perhaps more emotional satisfaction than the real Christine Collins ever got from this notorious, insane murderer.

Changeling is a tragedy full of hope and redemption, a thriller with a strong eye on accuracy, a tear-jerker without any cheap sentimentality. It is a very good, richly layered film which rewards multiple viewings, one of the best films of the year and Eastwood's best of the year.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

1/28/09

Review: The Reader (2008)


Like the novel by Bernhard Schlink, Stephen Daldry's The Reader is not so much a Holocaust film or even a World War II film, but a metaphorical exploration of the seduction of Germany's youth by the Nazi generation, and an actual exploration of the aftermath and consequences of the Holocaust and the War on the post-War society and generations in West Germany.

It tells the story of a steamy affair between a young boy, Michael (David Kross), and a former Nazi guard at Auschwitz, Hanna (Kate Winslet). Ralph Fiennes plays Michael as an older man still dealing with the echoes and ramifications of his sexual awakening and the later discovery of Hanna's wartime activities.

Michael meets Hanna, a ticket collector on a streetcar, when he becomes ill on his way home from school. She brusquely washes away the vomit he leaves near the threshold of her building, then invites him up to recover a bit in her apartment. After he recovers from what turns out to be scarlet fever, which takes awhile, he brings Hanna flowers and a sexual and intellectual relationship develops. Michael seems to admire Hanna's strength and competence. She is enthralled by his youth and innocence and takes advantage of his growing interest to get him to read to her, from books and plays he is reading in school.

Michael begins to leave his school friends behind more and more as he spends time with Hanna. She stays slightly aloof throughout, though they take an idyllic cycling trip whose events and locations echo later in the story. Hanna finally leaves the relationship by disappearing. Michael only discovers the break-up when he arrives to find her apartment empty with no other explanation or communication.

Later, as a law student, his Jewish professor, Rohl (the perfectly cast Bruno Ganz, who memorably portrayed Hitler in Downfall, and angels and others in several wonderful Wim Wenders films), brings Michael's class to observe the trial of several female concentration camp guards at Auschwitz whose crimes have been brought to light by the memoir of a young Jewish girl who survived a brutal death march near the end of the War. One of the guards, of course, is Hanna. Michael discovers crucial information that might have lessened her sentence had he revealed it to the tribunal, but he stays silent, perhaps because of the way Hanna ended things, or because Hanna is resigned to take the brunt of the punishment, or because she probably deserves any punishment she gets, or all of these reasons and more, too intermixed and ambivalent to pinpoint.

The earlier story is intercut with scenes of Fiennes as the older Michael as he leads a cold, slightly detached life as an attorney in West Germany. He seems at a remove from everything and everyone he interacts with, including his lovers, ex-wife and daughter. We see him recording and sending cassette tapes to Hanna in prison, books he read to her during their time together.

Not much more of the story can be revealed without spoilers, so that's enough of that. It's not much of a secret, though it is important to the story and not a cheap trick like the one in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, another fictional Holocaust movie from this year. You'll learn it reading almost anything about the film, but I'll keep it back here for now. Though we know it is fictional, The Reader rings true and earns its complexity.

Overall, this is an excellent, worthwhile film, the best World War II- and Holocaust-related film of the year, better than Pajamas, Valkyrie (which suffers from Cruise's casting) or the well-intentioned and exciting Defiance.

Kate Winslet's makeup early on gives her a very distinct, almost mannish, tough look despite her obvious beauty, and lends an air of determination and stubbornness to the younger Hanna. As she ages in the segments in which Fiennes plays Michael, the makeup becomes less effective, but her performance doesn't suffer much from it, and in the main it was probably the right choice. Winslet, Kross, Fiennes, Ganz and Lena Olin as the grown-up young survivor of Hanna's death march, and, earlier in the story, her mother, are all perfectly cast and spot-on, really interesting and powerful performers in an intense and weighty film.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

1/26/09

Review: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)


I honestly can't compare Underworld: Rise of the Lycans to either of the previous Underworld movies; I haven't seen them. In fact, I have a rather distressing habit of reviewing the second or third film in a cheap horror or sci-fi trilogy without having reviewed the previous ones, whether I've seen them or not. Nevertheless, I kind of liked Lycans. The references at the beginning and the end to the previous films flew right over my head and were not important to the main story at all. In general, it was just a cool hour and a half to watch vampires fight werewolves, without much more redeeming to it.

As for story, it is in the main a Romeo-and-Juliet starcrossed love story between a vampire, Sonja (Rhona Mitra, adequate) and Lucian (Michael Sheen of The Queen and Frost/Nixon, horrible) a "lycan," a sort of bastard relative of the vampires of the story with werewolf blood predominating, but who also transforms into a clever werewolf (as opposed to the dim-witted ones also in abundance). Lucian is a favorite of Viktor (Bill Nighy, delicious), the vampire chieftain, and, though a slave like the other lycans kept in the vampire's dark, massive keep, is allowed some measure of independence, and works as a blacksmith, as opposed to more onerous tasks delegated to the other slaves. Against her father's wishes (as is most of what she ever does in the story), Sonja has an affair with Lucian, "mixing their bloodlines," in the terms of some rather lame anti-prejudice dialogue which intermittently clutters the film.

Sonja aspires to be a "Death Dealer," a group of vampires who perform various tasks out in the wider world which the vampires dominate like a bloodsucking Mafia, and frequently rides out with them, or on her own, to perform such tasks as necessary. The Death Dealers deliver "protection," avenge wrongs done to their clan, fight werewolves, etc. In this story, the werewolves have become numerous enough to seriously endanger the vampires both physically and in their hold over their mortal lieges.

Because of this danger, some on the vampire council are calling for Viktor to make Lucian, who is preternaturally good at combat and oddly loyal to the vampires, a sort of general among werewolves, leading loyal slave werewolves against the rising hordes outside the gates. This Lucian probably would have agreed to do, and been good at, but Viktor doubts the plan, and before it can be put into action, becomes enraged when Lucian removes the collar which prevents his werewolf transformation and leaves the premises, even though it is in order to save Sonja against an unexpectedly fierce and powerful werewolf attack.

That's probably about far enough with the lame story, which quickly becomes a werewolf rebellion led by the outcast Lucian. Sheen as Lucian is just barely passable, playing him as a grim, besotten, werewolf William Wallace wannabe. He tries hard to be serious spouting his lame dialogue, but it would probably be too great an effort for anyone to carry off. Think of Roddy McDowall in The Planet of the Apes, without any real camp value. Mitra is similarly grim and colorless as Sonja. In fact, only a few bit players and Nighy pull off anything entertaining.

Nighy's dialogue is also execrable, but his crazy light-blue sparkling eyes and his convincing demeanor of pure evil are just plain fun to watch, even when the character seems stupid, which is most of the time.

In fact, the movie itself would be nearly completely tendentious if not for the incredible set design, the fast pace, and the frequent, sometimes too flashily and choppily cut, scenes of combat. The vampire/werewolf combat is especially satisfying when it arrives. The rules of engagement are not made crystal clear, at least to this non-Underworld fanboy, but to watch it is great fun. It's kind of like the fantasy-monster battles in The Lord of the Rings or the last Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. You don't really realize how much you had always wanted to see large groups of vampires and werewolves in a pitched battle until you actually see it.

And see it you do. Again, though in places it is too murky or choppy to be fully appreciated, in the main, it is extremely satisfying and totally worth the price of admission.

So, finally, if you are a huge Underworld fan, I imagine you'd be pretty happy with this outing. But don't expect a large role for Kate Beckinsale. It's just a cameo. If, like me, you aren't especially a fan, but like the idea of Bill Nighy as a vampire villain and vampire/werewolf combat galore, you'd probably have fun with this. If you're just looking for a cheap horror film, trust me, The Unborn is much less sit-throughable. Try Lycans, you might like 'em.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

1/24/09

Review: Milk (2008)


Gus Van Sant's biopic of martyred San Francisco Supervisor and gay rights icon Harvey Milk opens with fifties and sixties-looking black-and-white footage of gay men being herded around gay bars being arrested, or loaded into police vehicles, in New York, Los Angeles, Miami. Some are defiant, most cowed or cowering, some with faces hidden.

We first see Milk as he picks up a younger man who turns out to be his partner, Scott Smith (James Franco), who remained a friend and influence throughout his life, on a subway station on the eve of Milk's fortieth birthday. This is a sweetly and humorously played seduction, and introduces Milk as a conservative-looking risk-taker who's looking for a new direction in his life. Smith and Milk soon pack up and head for San Francisco, where they open Castro Camera and begin organizing the gay population of the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco to advocate for equal treatment for businesses and their patrons and from the police, and Milk unsuccessfully runs for office several times.

Milk is an amazing film, crisp, almost clipped, in its verisimilitude and packed with symbols. Dustin Lance Black's script is historically comprehensive, if not completely factual, economically plotted with strong, believable dialogue. Every scene is saying a lot of things at once, and the symbols and themes echo meaningfully throughout. The central visual and metaphorical theme of the film is reflection, framed with narration of Sean Penn as Milk reading his "political will," an audiotape to be played in case of his death by assassination, and also featuring a multitude of reflective shots, with one of the characters looking through glass--a mirror, a window, a television screen--at another scene, or, indeed, the viewer being asked to do something similar, to look through the frame at another frame. When one of Milk's last lovers has a crisis near the end of the film, we see him drinking Coors beer, the boycott of which brought Milk his first visible political success, when he worked with the Teamsters Union to pressure that company, foreshadowing the end of his political career and letting us know that the boycott is over. When Milk talks about the importance of beating an anti-gay state proposition because it directly threatens gay lives and livelihoods, we see it on a t.v. screen with Dan White holding his baby reflected in it, a very different life with different pressures for Milk's future assassin.

Symbolically, the reflective echoes include (often through contemporaneous documentary footage or news reports) society being asked to look at itself, how the straight society and the gay society mirror and reflect one another, how men in love or hate reflect one another (and how they don't).

The film marks a return to "mainstream" filmmaking for Van Sant, though the subject matter echoes several of his recent independent films, including the boring Gerry and the criminally neglected Elephant--complicated relationships among men which turn violent. Though the films narrative structure is conventional, the construction of each frame seems to have learned a lot from his more experimental outings, in terms of symbolic impact and meditative weight.

Though Penn seems physically smaller than Milk on-screen, he's about the same height as Milk was. But Milk had an outsize face--forehead, nose, long jaw--that Penn, despite prosthetics, resembles a lot only intermittently, the most during a shadowed phone-call scene near the end where his own jaw is in darkness. But his smile, and smiling eyes, and his smiling, laughing performance in general, capture Milk's personality ably and winningly. Milk told jokes, found and exposed ironies, indeed in footage seems like a sort of merry prankster, and the film and Penn's performance bring that across extremely well. When Milk is serious or pensive, Penn can be that, too, but the real person seems to come across most during lighter moments, pies in the face or one-liners designed for absurdity.

Josh Brolin is blunt and perfect as Supervisor Dan White, Milk's straight doppelganger, an insecure but loudly posturing politician who even Milk's character wonders about in terms of his real sexuality. While that could be overplayed, nothing about White's portrayal is overdone in any direction. Like the rest of the film, played by the facts, the arc of his character speaks for itself. Isolated, self-pitying and feeling poverty-stricken as a public servant while Milk has finally seemed achieved the electoral and political success he has been working so long for, we see his envy, instability and violence clearly and starkly against the laughing rocketship of Harvey Milk (though Milk was not rich in terms of money or in a particularly rewarding relationship during this time, either, and this seems to add to the shallowness and meanness of White's envy).

Other standouts in the cast include Emile Hirsch as hustler and activist Cleve Jones, Diego Luna as Milk's erratic lover Jack Lira and Victor Garber as Mayor George Moscone.

Like any good biopic, Milk ends with a character-by-character crawl updating the audience on the aftermath and consequences of the story. Each actor is shown in a clip from the film, which then gives way to photographs or footage of the real people. Milk honors all of them by bringing them to such bright, engaging life during an incredibly vibrant time for the gay rights movement in America.

Milk's best and highest message was always about freedom, equality and hope, especially for gay youth in a hostile society, and Milk captures and magnifies that ably. My only complaint is that I wanted to hear more of his historic Gay Freedom Day speech performed by Penn during that scene. It would have raised the film a notch to include more of Milk's soaring eloquence as directly as possible. But it is still a remarkable and worthy film which avoids most of its potential pitfalls.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

1/22/09

2009 Oscar nominations (with my favorites and predictions)

I have seen all of the nominated films on this list, except those indicated. This year's Oscar nominations (in the major categories I follow most):

Best Original Screenplay

Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Courtney Hunt, Frozen River
Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges
Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter & Jim Reardon, WALL*E

I have only seen Milk and WALL*E in this category.

My favorite: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
My prediction: Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Best Adapted Screenplay

Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
David Hare, The Reader
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

My favorite: Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
My prediction: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

Best Actress

Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader

I have not seen Frozen River in this category.

My favorite: Angelina Jolie, Changeling
My prediction: Kate Winslet, The Reader

Best Actor

Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

I have not seen The Visitor in this category.

My favorite: Sean Penn, Milk--though it would be Langella if this were the Supporting category
My prediction: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams, Doubt
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler

My favorite: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
My prediction: Viola Davis, Doubt

Best Supporting Actor

Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road

My favorite: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
My prediction: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Best Director

Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Gus Van Sant, Milk

My favorite: Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
My prediction: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Best Animated Film

Bolt
Kung Fu Panda
WALL*E

My favorite: Kung Fu Panda
My prediction: WALL*E

Best Picture

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

My favorite: Frost/Nixon
My prediction: Slumdog Millionaire

This is kind of a rare year where I think I'm going to be happy with the winners, even if they're not my favorites. But Benjamin Button? Every year, Oscar chooses one film to celebrate the most execrable of its bad taste, and this year, that's it. If they'd wanted to seem credible, they should have nominated Cate Blanchett, though Henson's nomination and a few others are pretty solid....And Michael Sheen as David Frost blows away Pitt as Mr. Button any day of the week.

The Oscars will air Sunday, Feb. 22 at 5 p.m. Pacific time on ABC.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

1/21/09

Toddler sad to see Bush go bye-bye

Brought to my attention by poemworld at DailyKos.com:



Alex
Choose Our President 2012

1/20/09

President Obama's Inaugural Address

Jan. 20, 2009, the Capitol, Washington, D.C. As delivered:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we, the people, have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land--a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America--they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, "the time has come to set aside childish things."

The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted--for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things--some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg, Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions--that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of our economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act--not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions--who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them--that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works--whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account--to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day--because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control--the nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart--not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers--our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.

And so to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more. Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with the sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort--even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself, and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West--know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those--to those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment--a moment that will define a generation--it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends--honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism--these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility--a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence: the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed--why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America: In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter, and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Alex
Choose Our President 2012

Shop the Shop!

Check out the Shop at CafePress. Since '05, I've sold items in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. military bases overseas, Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan, Canada, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey. I've sold campaign items for President-Elect Barack Obama (IL) and for first lady for Michelle Obama.

There are congressional campaign items available for Reps. Tammy Baldwin (WI-2), André Carson (IN-7), Travis Childers (MS-1), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (SC-6), John Conyers (MI-14), Elijah Cummings (MD-7), Lincoln Davis (TN-4), Chet Edwards (TX-17), Donna Edwards (MD-4), Chaka Fattah (PA-2), Barney Frank (MA-4), John Lewis (GA-5), Jim Moran (VA-8), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA-8), Loretta Sanchez (CA-47), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-1), Vic Snyder (AR-2) and Peter Welch (VT), and Senate campaign items for Sens. Michael Bennet (CO), Barbara Boxer (CA), Russ Feingold (WI) and Chuck Schumer (NY), Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden and Rep. Kendrick Meek (FL-17).

And there are governor's race items for Govs. John Lynch (NH) and David Paterson (NY), and no doubt others as we get on toward 2010 and beyond.

My candidate stores have buttons, banners, rectangular, oval, and bumper stickers, notebooks, mugs, shirts and more, so get decked out and support your candidates early!

Along with specific-candidate items, there are Democrat and state and national flag items, and more at my politics and humor site.

Here are my Obama designs, just click to visit each store:

Obama '08 Store Obama '12 Store
Barack Obama President 2008 Store Reelect Obama 2012 Store
Michelle Obama First Lady 2008 Store Reelect Michelle Obama First Lady 2012 Store
Obama Katakana Store Obama '12 Katakana Store Obama Cherokee Store Obama '12 Cherokee Store
Obama Hebrew Store '12 Obama Hebrew Store
OBAMA 44 Store OBAMA 08 Store OBAMA 12 Store

Barack Obama Portrait Store Obama Line Portrait Store Obama Flag Store

Obama JFK '60-Style Store Obama JFK '60-Style II Store Obama JFK '60-Style Shield Store Obama / Biden JFK '60-Style Shield Store

Obama RFK '68-Style Store Gold Oval Obama Store Green O Obama Store Obama Trust Store
Vote for Barack Store Vote for Michelle Store Vote for Obama Store
Obama / Biden '08 Store Moose for Obama '08 Store

Thanks,

Alex
Choose Our President 2012