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“Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” My 2014 Movie Wrap-Up

February 22, 2015

Friends, once a year I dust off the old blog and re-cap my joyous year of sitting in the dark (you may read 2013, 2012, 2010 and 2009 if you wish to restock your Netflix queue) and Oscar predictions. Movies are, as the wonderful Roger Ebert put it, “the empathy machine.” (Speaking of which, how was Life Itself overlooked?!) So as the legendary Neil Patrick Harris gets ready to assume the mantle of Messrs. Hope, Carson and Crystal, here is my annual film fade out, with a special thank you’s to movie-going companions of days past (we miss you, Pat & Philippe. “Forrest Gump” forever!) and days present (Herr Sorvino, the ‘rents, and dear L.A. amongst my favs). Let’s go to the movies… 

Doogie hosts the Oscars!

Doogie hosts the Oscars!

My Favorite Films of 2014 

For me it’s tough to choose between Linklater’s seminal, grand achievement Boyhood and Damien Chazelle’s remarkable Whiplash, a film close to my heart. Both are extraordinary. (And yes, there’s a terrific Whiplash parody here.)


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Favorites of 2015

Selma Extraordinary, truly. From the first gripping frame. Not an easy story to tell.

Birdman Keaton and an all star cast make it work. What theatre shots!

Two super fun films that deserve to be here: The insanely entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy (cue up ‘Hooked On A Feeling’!) and The Lego Movie (so awesome that even a nephew accidentally peeing on me couldn’t ruin it!).

Top 5 Hilarious and poignant, with a killer cast and a brilliant script. Where’s the love?

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Best of the Rest / Runners-Up 

The Grand Budapest Hotel Not the Midnight Coterie of Mysterious Intruders, but damn good fun.

Gone Girl No, I didn’t read the source material (I was watching movies!) but I’ll stand by my thoughts that Fincher’s the best director we have working today.

The Imitation Game Shockingly gripping and good thriller / drama.

Interstellar Maybe it’s ’cause I saw it in IMAX one Sunday afternoon with my father, but a good yarn– if hard-to-follow– and a great-looking flick.

The Fault In Our Stars Yes, I succumbed to the feelies. Not a great movie, but a good one. #TFIOS

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Amazing Indies Few Other People Saw 

The Skeleton Twins People, it’s Kristin Wiig & Bill Hader in a funny-but-not juice drama. Seriously good.

Dear White People Maybe a little heavy-handed, but still funny, sharp and worth seeing.

The Trip To Italy The boys are back! Pair with a Barolo, fresh pasta, and a surprisingly poignant take on life.

Obvious Child The year’s best abortion romantic comedy. And Jenny Slate shines!

Still Alice My goodness Julianne Moore’s good and my goodness this is the single most depressing movie ever.

Manhattan Romance Tom O’Brien’s follow-up to Fairhaven is worth seeking out, for the city and Katherine Watson and the smart screenplay.

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Overrated / Not Sorry

Foxcatcher I adored Capote and Moneyball. This not so much.

The Theory of Everything Great acting? Yes. Great filmmaking? No.

American Sniper Um, I’d prefer an actual nuanced story to a hagiography.

2 Days, 1 Night Does she keep her job?! I don’t know– despite Marion Cotillard I fell asleep.

Could Make My List When I See ‘Em: Love Is StrangeCitizenfourJodorwsky’s DuneBig Hero 6Nightcrawler; Wild 

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and now, The Oscars (BTW, I missed 3 of ’em: WildNightcrawlerInherent Vice. If you know me you know I’m actually quite upset about this.):

Best Picture Will / Should: Boyhood What about: No, I was pretty pleased with this excellent collection of films. (BTW, here’s the terrific Family of the Year Boyhood music video.) Cool to see Whiplash here.

Best Director Will / Should: Linklater (Seriously, what a film. We may never see something like it again.) What about: Um, “Dear White People”: A woman named Ava DuVernay pulled off one of the best and hardest movies to make ever. Also, Chazelle deserves a nod for making the year’s most intense movie about a drumming student.

Best Actress Will / Should: Julianne Moore (I’ve loved her for so long.) What about: Tough year for actresses, friends.

Best Actor Will: Michael Keaton Should: Michael Keaton (A great actor returns!). What about: How you fail to nominate David Oyelowo for humanizing MLK in a pitch-perfect role is genuinely beyond me.

Supporting Actress Will / Should: Patricia Arquette. (The former ingenue delivers the goods, especially in that quietly devastating penultimate scene.) Cool to see the always good Laura Dern here.

Supporting Actor Will / Should: J.K. Simmons (The Farmers insurance character actor gives my fav performance of the year.) Cool to see the always interesting Ethan Hawke here.

Best Original Screenplay Will / Should: Birdman But seriously it should’a been Whiplash, strangely in the wrong category (yes, I know it was a short, but c’mon…) What about: Uh, Chris Rock wrote a smart romantic comedy in Top 5, with real laughs. That’s hard.

Best Adapted Screenplay Will: Paul Thomas Anderson, Inherent Vice (Didn’t see it; only want to for Martin Short, frankly!) Should: Chazelle, Whiplash

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And there you have it, friends. Read The Dissolve. Follow me on Twitter. And go to the movies!

Oh, and here’s the Sesame Street Birdman parody, “Big Birdman.” Happy Oscars Sunday!

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Movies Are Dead; TV Is Where At It’s. Wait A Minute! 2013, Edition

March 3, 2014

Sing it with me:  It’s a wonderful night for…  Ellen.  (Hold on; that’s not how it goes.  Though it’s possibly better than, say, I saw your boobs!).

Television is better than it’s even been, but movies– well, movies are back. (As if they ever went away.) And kids, we’ve revived the blog for one night only (seriously, what the heck is an egress?!) to bring you my year in movie-going, 2013-edition.  In a feet of accomplishment that you can only attempt if you too get to be 35 ish, single and without children, I have seen every nominated film– via cinemas, multiplexes, art-houses, screeners, VOD, iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Prime, oh my!– in the major categories (and then some), so here is my completely biased and subjective guide to the only major season in L.A.:  Awards Season.  In other words, it’s Oscar time!  So cue up the Best. Soundtrack. Ever. and get ready to stock your Netflix queue, because it’s Wally’s 2013 Year in Movie-Going!

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MY FAVORITES THAT WERE OVERLOOKED 

Fruitvale Station I saw this amazing Ryan Coogler debut twice in the theater, and how it– and Michael B. Jordan– were overlooked is beyond me. Top of the queue, please!

The Way, Way Back A small, funny, delightful coming-of-age film from Faxon & Rash that you ought to watch right after.

Before Midnight Let’s face it, this trilogy is nothing short of a cinematic miracle.

Enough Said Beautiful performances, a funny and well-observed script– hey, a comedy for adults.

Saving Mr. Banks Too schmazltzy? Then you ought to go rent Mary Poppins. An incredible film about film, magic, and– yes– business, with two truly remarkable performances (seriously, he played Walt. Disney.) that were overlooked.

MY OTHER FAVORITES 12 Years A Slave Okay, so it’s excruciating (but rewarding) and I wasn’t thrilled by the ending (Latin spoiler alert: Deus ex machina!) but it’s a remarkable film. And Chiwetel Ejiofor was amazing.

American Hustle The best Scorsese film of the year. Terrific ensemble and a blast.

The Wolf of Wall Street Controversial? You bet. But I don’t go to the movies for morals. And DiCaprio’s never been better.

Captain Phillips They don’t make ’em like they used to? Yeah, right. So good that Mr. Tom Hanks makes it look too easy.

Mud What if the year’s best entry in the McConnaissance was a little Southern indie? Guess what— it is. Netflix now, please!

The Dallas Buyers Club For my money, one of the year’s two most difficult to watch is also filled with true beauty, and two indelible performances.

The Spectacular Now Maybe it’s not a pitch-perfect adaption, but worth seeing for two emerging performances (Shaliene Woodley and the spectacular Miles Teller), as well as an excellent portrayal of addiction.

Nebraska No one but Alexander Payne could’ve made this movie, with no one but Bruce Dern starring. It sneaks up on you and packs a punch.

Frances Ha Real-life couple Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach made the year’s most delightful art-house, NYC, black-and-white pic. Take heed, CBS!

Star Trek: Into Darkness Most fun of the summer. Thank you, Team Enterprise.

DIDN’T THINK I’D LIKE IT, BUT REALLY GOOD World War Z Who would’ve thought there’s more left in zombie tales?

This Is the End A hilarious blast, and a great flick to catch at The ArcLight, in L.A.

CAN’T BELIEVE I MISSED 

All Is Lost Especially after I loved Margin Call. Can’t wait! Monsters University Because I don’t think Pixar makes bad movies.

DON’T RENT Even in a year of fantastic film-going, there are going to be some clunkers. You can skip these, and thank me later: The Great Gatsby; Elysium

BEST PICTURE  For the first time in a long time, no one seems to know who’s going to win! For my money there were a ton of terrific films this year (last year too), and while this is a tough call, no one film, to me, was more awesomely impressive and enjoyable– and cinematic, as I saw it in IMAX 3-D– than Gravity. I actually think it’ll win, too…  but I could be wrong. WILL Gravity SHOULD Gravity OVERLOOKED Fruitvale Station, Saving Mr. Banks, The Way, Way Back

BEST ACTOR Will McConaughey Should Too many: McConaughey, Ejofor, Dern, DiCaprio— an embarrassment of riches Overlooked Um, a young man named Tom Hanks. And Robert Redford. And certainly Michael B. Jordan, for Fruitvale Station

BEST ACTRESS Will Blanchett Should Blanchett— my goodness, what a singular performance Overlooked Did the Academy think Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers just made the acting look too easy?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Will Leto Should Leto— as in, he hasn’t acted in a movie in six years, and he’s heartbreaking. But also, Jonah Hill was unrecognizably good, and a revelation as an actor Overlooked Again, that young upstart Tommy Hanks pulled off the overlooked feat of the year, by playing some guy named ‘Walt Disney’ who graced your TV for years.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Will Lawrence I think she’s gonna edge. Should June Squibb I love Lawrence as much as the next guy, but how about the balls on this brassy dame?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY Will Her Should The trio that finished Before Midnight Overlooked Kelly Marcel’s Blacklist story, Saving Mr. Banks

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY Will 12 Years A Slave Should Yes, John Ridley’s 12 Years A Slave

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE Will Frozen Let it go, The Croods Should Saw Frozen with two kiddos. Hard to say who was more captivated. Tip of the icicle to soon-to-be-youngest-EGOT winner evah, Mr. Robert Lopez.

Enjoy the loveable, danceable, enjoyable Ellen, but let’s end on a note of remembrance:

The movies lost two real giants this year: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Roger Egbert. Godspeed.

“Bye Bye Blackbird”: Some Thoughts On Losing Ms. Nora Ephron

June 28, 2012

Nora Ephron died yesterday, at the age of 71.  It feels weird, to me, to live in a world without Nora Ephron.  

I never knew Ms. Ephron, though it sure as heck felt like I did.  Before I wanted to live in a world constructed by Aaron Sorkin, I wanted to live in a world constructed by Nora Ephron. 

Of course a lot of the celebrations of Ms. Ephron’s life of the past day focus on how Ms. Ephron changed Everything for women (“Be the heroine of your own life.”), and I can’t speak to that.  However, growing up as a theatre geek in suburban New Jersey, my drama nerd friends and I obsessively quoted the dialogue of Ms. Ephron’s movies to each other—  at least, the dialogue to When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail.  There are still certain longtime friends of mine (especially two old friends, of the yearly jaunt to the North Fork to go wine-tasting and play board games) in which, if you say the line, with the Tom Hanks-head-bob, “It was like coming home…,” they’ll respond, “… Only to no home I’d ever been.”  

“Mommy got sick.”  “You know how to make juice?  Microwave.  Three minutes.”  “It was like kismet, but not, if you know what I mean…”  “Don’t mind him; he’s just a man who’s lost his wife.”

Sleepless In Seattle, which I still remember seeing for the second time sitting on a balcony in the Hamptons, is really the perfect romantic comedy, because it’s completely predicated on loss.  After I had tattered the VHS tapes of Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill and Barry Levinson’s Diner on the little TV in my high school bedroom, I would fall asleep to the musical dialogue of Sleepless In Seattle.  (“It was like…  magic.”)  And of course the unbelievable scene with Victor Garber and Rita Wilson and The Magnificent Seven.  And Tom Hanks on the dock, at the house, as Joe Crocker sings.  “Didn’t you see Fatal Attraction?  …  Well I saw it, and it scared the shit out of me—  it scared the shit out of every man in America!”

And of course, When Harry Met Sally…  I can still ring my friend up and sing like Billy Crystal, with the apology telephone call.  “Waiter, I’d like some paprika on my paprikash.”  “What have you got, a hot date?”  I mean, it is the template for a post-Billy Wilder script, isn’t it?

And then You’ve Got Mail, an oddly underrated New York City movie if ever there was one.  “A hot dog is singing?  You need quiet when a hot dog is singing?”  “That caviar is a garnish.”  I remember being up on the Island on rainy Labor Day afternoon with dear friends, and we all got sucked into a TBS afternoon showing, even though we’d seen it so many times.  “I’m unwrapping funky ornaments and missing my mother.”  “If nothing else, it ought to start with being personal.”

Her movies, those three screenplays, were her places to put in little essays, I remember reading once.  (The Starbucks theory in Sleepless…  And I’ve been to that Starbucks.) 

Several years ago my favorite movie-sparring partner passed away, and we would often spar over Ms. Ephron on the Island.  Too ‘schmaltzy,’ he would say.  I wish he was here to say that about this. 

There’s so much I could write about Ms. Ephron:  Picking up The Times or The New Yorker, and finding a certain piece penned by her;  finding a reprint of Wallflower at the Orgy at my favorite bookstore on the Island one summer;  going on The Huffington Post to virtually consult with her about Thanksgiving sides.  And her soundtracks:  Without Nora Ephron, I wouldn’t know who the hell Harry Nilsson is. 

But at it’s core, it’s this certain loss:  The literate screenwriter / director.  The loving the City, and great food, and The Times—  Yes, there’s James L. Brooks and Barry Levinson and Cameron Crowe and of course Mr. Aaron Sorkin.  Ms. Nora Ephron is gone, but her dialogue will be with me forever. 

I never met her, but maybe we would ‘a been friends.  (Of course, men and women can’t be friends.) 

Out of all the many things that are floating around on the Internet, the best may be the lists Ms. Ephron left us, in her final book.  We’ll let her have the last words: 

What I Won’t Miss

Dry skin

Bad dinners like the one we went to last night

E-mail

Technology in general

My closet

Washing my hair

Bras

Funerals

Illness everywhere

Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism

Polls

Fox

The collapse of the dollar

Joe Lieberman

Clarence Thomas

Bar mitzvahs

Mammograms

Dead flowers

The sound of the vacuum cleaner

Bills

Emails. I know I already said it, but I want to emphasize it.

Small print

Panels on Women in Film

Taking off makeup every night.

What I Will Miss

My kids

Nick

Spring

Fall

Waffles

The concept of waffles

Bacon

A walk in the park

The idea of a walk in the park

Shakespeare in the Park

The bed

Reading in bed

Fireworks

Laughs

The view out the window

Twinkle lights

Butter

Dinner at home just the two of us

Dinner with friends

Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives

Paris

Next year in Istanbul

Pride and Prejudice

The Christmas tree

Thanksgiving dinner

One for the table

The dogwood

Taking a bath

Coming over the bridge to Manhattan

Pie

How can you not love anyone whose last item will miss fall, bacon, a walk in the Park, twinkle lights, Paris, Thanksgiving dinner, and pie?  (“Pecan pie.”)  Yes, we would ‘a been friends. 

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Thank you, Ms. Ephron.  We’ll miss you. 

It’s A Wonderful Night for Billy!

February 26, 2012

Wow, friends.  After not blogging for a year, two blog posts in one month?  Could this be the sign of the underemployed?  

Oh, movie-loving friends!  It’s the best time of the year!  Out Here (as the great William Goldman would say) in Los Angeles, it’s Oscar time, it’s Independent Spirit time, it’s spring training time!  And it’s time for my annual motion picture e-mail / blog post, which you may feel free to spam me about with your total disagreements.  (“Wally, you absolute @#$&*%”!)

Hooray for Hollywood! (Even if Hollywood Boulevard has actually been closed all week.)

Before we begin, as ever you’ll find movie thoughts both movies and Oscars (and Spirits) alike, below.  A tip of the hat to a certain movie-going friend this year, as well as a remembrance of my favorite Statler-to-Waldorf movie-debating friend on the beaches of the Island.  (And, btw as the kids say, here’s the 2010 movie post and here’s the 2009 movie post.  You can use both of ’em, perhaps, to prune your Netflix queue.)  And also, this year, isn’t it always, all, forever about Eddie Billy?  (Why don’t I tamper down these expectations people?!)

First of all, and I write this from La-La Land, I still, simply, just love going to the movies.  Settling into your local little theater, or the majestic ArcLight, or the soon-to-return Dreamland, or even VOD or streaming, I love watching a movie.  At its best, it’s magic.  (At its worst, it is, say, New Year’s Eve.  Which to be fair, I didn’t see.  I’m holding out for Arbor Day.)  Okay, grab the popcorn, here we go, friends:

Gary Marshall directs Ashton Kutchner as Charlie Brown.

My Favorite Flicks of 2011 (in no real order)

What the hell is Gandhi doing in Paris?!

 Hugo  Let’s start off with an argument right away, shall we?  I have seen this movie twice, in the theaters, in 3-D, and I love it.  We’ll dismiss some people’s first criticisms right off the bat:  It can be a bit slow.  And kids, it’s not a kid’s movie.  Yet it creates a world, a remarkable and enchanting place that seems glorious to inhabit.  And the story!  About finding your place, being of use–  and so brilliantly told by a master of film, Mr. Martin Scorsese, helming a script by John Logan based on Brian Selznick’s mesmerizing book.  I loved it, and a film to see on the big screen.

Moneyball Okay, so I adore baseball.  And I adore the tomes of one Mr. Michael Lewis.  And I adore the dialogue of one Mr. Aaron Sorkin.  So…  But captivating helmed by Bennett Miller, and (say it with me): “Not just about baseball!”  This should top your queue if you haven’t seen it.

Loved the flick. Still think this cover is weird.

Um, awesome.

 The Muppets  Man, did they do it right.  There were about a thousand ways Messrs. Segal and Stoeller could’a screwed it up, and they didn’t.  The gang’s back together!  Brilliant new songs!  (“Life’s a taco!”)  AND a Muppet named Walter?!  If you weren’t satisfied with this flick, you will remain unsatisfied with life.  (Yup, you read that right.)  And I saw it with one of my best, and Muppet-loving friends.

Beginners  One of my very favorites, and if you haven’t seen this criminally underappreciated Mike Mills gem, please do so now.  What a movie about love!  And it’s a lock to win an Oscar!

Bridesmaids  To me it was nothing short of laugh-out-loud, from the belly hilarious.  It just worked.  And huge kudos to Kristen Wiig and Anne Mumolo for writing their way here.  Executive produced by some unknown named Judd Apatow.  He’s gotta career ahead of him.

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows: Part II  Fine, I’ll say it:  It should’a gotten a Best Picture nomination.  The best of what studios can do.  A spectacular film, and I write this having hated the very first one.

Margin Call  J.C. Chandor’s whip-smart, refuse to moralize, surprisingly star-studded cast (which I caught on V.O.D. and which is now up for an Oscar!) was one of the year’s best surprises.

Drive Yup, it’s violent.  But when was the last time you saw a flick with this much style to spare?  It was like watching a kick-ass 1980’s flick, with a shocking Albert Brooks to boot.  And no love from anyone?  Shame.  (Didn’t see that one yet.)

50/50  A cancer buddy-comedy?  Written by a neophyte screenwriter who had cancer?  And featuring Seth Rogen as the buddy?  And Anna Kendrick as the love interest?  I’ve lost you?  Too bad.  Despite its tonal-inconsistency, it just works.  These movies are the reason they invented Netflix.  You’re welcome.

Have I mentioned I was Batman? (Seriously, I was once.)

 The Descendants  A little small in story, maybe.  But a pitch-perfect flick about family, with terrific acting and a sure hand from Payne.  And boy does the ending nail it.  Man, I loved Sideways II:  Hawaiian Vacation.

Honorable Mentions

Best enjoyed with a cocktail and a Michael Caine impression.

 The Trip  Okay, so I’m not sure everyone’s gonna go with me on this one (and maybe it was watching it in a hometown theater, with a dear old friend who’s an actor, sipping jack-‘n-soda) but who wouldn’t want to spend two hours watching Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon drink too much and offer dueling impressions?!

Win-Win  It is really only a testament to how freaking good Mr. Tom McCarthy’s films are (The Station AgentThe Visitor) that this one only rated an honorable mention from me this year.  But how overlooked was Bobby Canavale’s scene-stealing turn?)

Midnight In Paris  As a film, to me it had some problems.  (Not the least of which is the criminal act of misusing the incredible Ms. Rachel McAdams as the shrew.)  But the charms of the movie overcame them.  We’ll always have Paris, Woody.  (Sorry.  That’s why I’m writing a blog post.)

Incredibly Loud & Extremely Close  Some people hate this movie.  (The Times was actually offended.)  Maybe because I had read the novel, so I knew what to expect, but I loved it.  And I went with young Oskar Schnell on his journey, and was glad I did.  But boy did a lot of people hate this flick.

Runner-Ups

Super 8  When the monster was shown the magic was lost.  But seeing it with my father on Father’s Day, in IMAX, reminded me of Spielberg, and the reasons we all go to the movies.  And it had Coach!

Worst. Poster. Ever.

War Horse  It got me, though maybe it shouldn’t have.  But it’s like catching a movie that you’d find on TCM, at 11 pm, made in the 1950’s.  And some kid named Spielberg made it work.

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol  Maybe the worst title ever.  Certainly the best four-quel ever made.  Why?  Huge tip of the hat to The Incredibles director and Pixar stalwart Brad Bird.  What’s next, sir?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  Didn’t read the book, so to me the source material was nothing but a good Agatha Christie yarn.  But is Fincher the best director working today?  Yes.  Yes, he is.

The Ides of March  Not a great one, unfortunately.  But a good, solid yarn with damn good acting.

Friends With Benefits  Not a surprise that director Will Gluck has another sleeper.  Funny, with heart–  an antidote to most of the year’s rom-com’s.  And an antidote to the one with the ex-Mrs. Demi Moore.

We all have our "Surfer Dudes". Rent the "Lincoln Lawyer".

 Lincoln Lawyer  No, not the kind of flick that gets remembered on Top Ten lists nor at nomination time.  But the stellar, well-told yarn for adults the studios don’t nearly make enough of (and should).  Okay, Michael Clayton-lite.  But so damn enjoyable and well-made, with a great, “Look,-it’s-them!” cast.

Some Under-the-Radar Flicks I Really Liked & You May Have Missed 

The Skin I Live In  How the hell does Almodovar get to sleep at night?  Forget Malick, this is the year’s trippiest movie.  But impeccably well-directed and magnificently designed, as he always does.  Saw it at the Lincoln Center Plaza Cinemas with a sea movie-going-friend.

Kay Keely Kristin Kritsa  Marcy Martha May Marlene  Wait, you didn’t catch the crazy-ass inside-a-cult flick with the other Olsen daughter?  With a tremendous– and overlooked–  turn by John Hawkes?  So worth seeing.  And made by a three-person collective based in Brooklyn.  Saw it at the AMC Lincoln Square with the same dear movie-going-friend.

Cedar Rapids  Mis-sold as a Hangover sequel.  No, no, no–  a smart, risqué, funny comedy that nicely showcased Mr. Ed Helms.  Saw it on a plane.  See it, please!  (Not necessarily on a plane.)

Another Earth  What, Brit Marling turns down Godman Sachs to move to Hollywood and co-write a crazy-ass, pretty depressing flick about, literally, the appearance of a second Earth (amongst other things)?!  Awesome.  It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it does, and I saw it my with folks at the beautifully refurbished Eleanor Bunin theater at Lincoln Center.

The Adjustment Bureau  Some people went for the ride, some people didn’t.  I thought George Nolfi crafted a twisty yarn with style to spare, a sort of throw-back fun popcorn flick that didn’t insult you.  And it had Roger Sterling (a/k/a John Slattery)!  And it mentioned Tenafly!

Source Code  Ludicrous title, not that much better trailer…  but again, a well-made, stellar movie.  Interesting director who’s one to watch (Duncan Jones) and a terrific cast (Vera Farmiga!) and a damn enjoyable flick.

The Debt  My goodness, there were a lot of enjoyable, well-made thrillers / dramas for adults this year that no one else saw!  Yes, this movie isn’t perfect.  But the cast (Dame.  Helen.  Mirren!) and the director (John Madden) elevates the subject matter.

My Week With Marilyn  Yes, a paper-thin story.  But well worth queue-ing for a few reasons:  Michelle William’s spot-on turn as Marilyn;  Branagh’s Olivier;  and the whole Method-verse-the-Brit’s acting debate.

Take Me Home Tonight  Not the greatest of all the enjoyable, somewhat-dumb, “I’ll-catch-it-on-TBS” flicks.  But enjoyable enough (with two actors who should be bigger:  Topher Grace and Anna Farris).  And well, well worth it just for this amazing homage video, which was the year’s coolest studio viral marketing that ultimately meant nothing (love Alf as E.T.!).  How many flicks in there can you name?

Young Adult  There’s no way anyone other than Reitman, Cody and Theron gets this made.  The.  Least.  Emphathetic.  Protagonist.  Ever!  (I mean, Ralph Fiennes’ guard was more empathetic.)  But:  It worked, for what it was.  Funny, daring, with some great moments and a terrific new turn by Patton Oswalt.  A noble swing from the always-worthy Jason Reitman.

The Film That Everyone Loves That I Didn’t

Elvis Mitchell: "What if the Uggy pisses on 'The Tree of Life'?"

Here it is.  Last year it was The King’s Speech (how did it beat The Social Network?) and Black Swan, the year before it was Avatar.  Again, to quote William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.” So here it is:  I didn’t love The Artist.  To me, I would’a loved if it was 15 minutes long.  Or a musical!  So let me have it, folks.  E-mails, tweets, even woofs!  Movie of the year, and I didn’t love it.  Maybe I need to see more flicks.

Three That Disappointed Me

Crazy, Stupid, Love  The most frustrating flick of the year, to me.  The first half:  Amazing!  Hilarious!  Ryan Gosling (he’s not up for anything this year?!) schooling Steve Carrell in the fine art of seduction is brilliant.  The second half:  The kid’s speech, and Emma Stone’s their daughter?!, ruined it for me.  Bummer.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy  Great mood.  Great acting (Oldman!  Firth!  Hurt!).  Great style.  Now, what the hell happened?  Couldn’t follow it, kids.  Bummer.

One Day  Loved the book.  Thought this was going to be huge.  Saw the movie.  Should’a been a mini-series.  Totally didn’t work.  But I enjoyed the night at the old Teaneck cinemas with my mother.

A Pair of Show-biz Docs, Kids

Being Elmo  Oh, boy!  The other Muppet movie.  Though it’s somewhat conflict-free, it’s so…  lovable.  Just like Elmo!

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop  A must-watch for all fans of comedy, and Team Coco, and this business of show.  Crazy-town!

Before you start yelling at me, I Haven’t Seen Them Yet:  A Separation; The Help;  Tree of Life;  Melancholia;  Jane Eyre;  Contagion;  Rise of the Planet of the Apes;  J. Edgar;  Bad Teacher;  Tintin;  Take Shelter;  The Iron Lady;  Albert Nobbes 

Keep ‘Em Off The Queue  Larry Crowne  (I love you, Tom.  I love you.  But this is schmaltz-city.  Drama = conflict);  No Strings Attached  (Seriously, go for the Will Gluck-helmed fun one instead);  Arthur  (I really like Greta Gerwig, and hope she becomes a star.  But boy did this not work.  Rent the original);  Footloose (Ditto.  Though the soundtrack’s country-make-over works well)

Well, I can't do worse the France at the Oscars, right? OR: I'm the Billy Crystal of the Spirit Awards!

Okay, for the first-time, some Spirit Award thoughts

Best Feature  Two of ’em are up for Best Picture (The Descendants and The Artist), so let’s focus on the other four:  Take Shelter;  Drive;  Beginners;  50/50.  To me, it’s Beginners, but I don’t know how you predict this, kids.  It’s in a tent!

Best Director  Again, to me it’s the visually, stunning, Mr. Miranda July, Mr. Mike Mills.

Best First Feature  How cool is this?  How about an Oscar for this?  To me it’s J.C. Chandor for Margin Call, with my runner-up to Mike Cahill (and Brit Marling) for Another Earth.

John Cassavetes Award  Haven’t seen any of these films yet, but what a cool category  (Ya gotta make your flick for less than half a mil)!  I’m going to check ’em out; that’ll be my Netflix queue.

Best Screenplay  Hmm…  I’m once gain pulling for Mike Mills’ Beginners. 

Best First Screenplay  My goodness, can we spilt it between Will Reiser (50/50), Phil Johnston (Cedar Rapids) and J.C. Chandor (the rent-it-now Margin Call)?

Best Female Lead  To me, it’s Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn.  She’s faded from the Oscar race, and it’s a remarkable, stunning performance (in a slight flick).

Best Male Lead  Focusing on the three who were locked out of the Oscar nominations, to me it’s Ryan Gosling in Drive.  What a hat-trick year he had!

Best Supporting Female  Hmm…  I haven’t seen enough here to choose.  This seemed like a weaker category to me this year.

Best Supporting Male  This is a strong category (Plummer, in Beginners;  Reilly, in Cedar Rapids;  Corey Stoll’s terrific turn as Hemingway in Midnight in Paris) but I would co-tie it with two phenomenal indie performances that were overlooked by the Academy:  Albert Brooks (Oh, Broadcast News!) playing 100% against type in Drive, and John Hawkes’ turn in Martha Marcy May Marlene).

Robert Altman Award for J.C. Chandor’s dazzling ensemble cast for Margin Call.  Too cool.

And now, sing it with me:  “It’s a wonderful night for Oscar, Oscar, Oscar, who will win?

Oscars  (The Will’s are in bold; the Should’s and Overlooked’s Aren’t)

I'm the Ricky Gervaise of the Academy Awards!

Best Picture  (How many are there this year?!)  Will:  The Artist  Should:  I will be the only person typing this but to me, Hugo.  Overlooked:  The final Harry Potter?  Bridesmaids?  Can I say The Muppets?

Director  Will:  Michel Hazanavicius  Should:  Martin Scorsese  Overlooked:  Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive  (What a well-directed flick, though not in, say, the Billy Wilder sense.)

Actor  Will:  Roberto Benigni  Jean Dujardin  Should:  Brad Pitt.  Seriously, hands-down un-showiest complex performance of the year and his career.  Overlooked:  Ryan Gosling, Drive

Actress  I know it seems like we say this every year, but it felt like a tougher year for actresses, no?  Will:  Viola Davis  Should:  Hmm…  To me it’s Michelle Williams, as M.M.  But good to see Rooney Mara get a nomination.  Now, if only she could toss the pigskin.  Overlooked:  Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy…  People, an Olsen can a-c-t!

Supporting Actor  Easily the heartiest category this year.  Will and Should:  Christopher Plummer, for a golden performance in a golden flick.  Rent Beginners!  Overlooked:  Drop-dead easy:  Albert Brooks, Drive.  (And tip of the hat to Jonah Hill for the nomination, which is the award.)

Supporting Actress  Will:  Octavia Spencer  Should:  I can’t answer this!  It was a lacking year to me.  How did Marisa Tomei give two great performances (Lincoln Lawyer and Crazy, Stupid…) and get zero buzz  (And tip of the hat to Melissa McCarthy for the nomination, which is the award.)  Overlooked:  Hmm…  not this year.  Miss Piggy in The Muppets?

Best Screenplay  (Original)  An incredibly strong category, with tips of the hat to Messrs. Chandor and Allen, and Misses Wiig and Mumolo.  Will and Should:  Woody Allen  (By the way, don’t see this movie without a good glass of red wine!)  Overlooked:  Will Reiser, 50/50 and Mike Mills, Beginners and Messrs. Stoller & Segal, The Muppets 

Best Screenplay (Adapted)  Another incredibly strong category, with tips of the hat to Messrs. Zaillian, Sorkin and Logan, amongst others.  Will:  Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, with Alexander Payne, for The Descendants  Should:  John Logan, for Hugo  Overlooked:  Longrime Potter scribe Steve Kloves for absolutely nailing J.K. Rowling’s final book

Best Animated  Chico & Rita  and Cat in Paris and Rango:  Totally want to all these flicks!  But the Oscar money’s on Rango.

Cinematrography  A very strong field, but I’m going with Hugo

Short Film, Animated  Because I saw ’em all out here, at the Nuart!  It’s free on iTunes, it’s a fantastic short flick from MoonBot, check it out:  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore  

Best Original Song  Okay, to be fair I haven’t caught Rio yet, but are you kidding me?!  Man or Muppet is pure genius, including the casting of Jim Parsons.  (Though, to be frank, I probably would’a nominated Life’s A Happy Song, which seems more to be destined of a classic tune.)

Bob Hope eventually won an Oscar, right?!

Well friends, that’s the year in movie-going.  Pure magic.  Enjoy the great Harry Burns Billy Crystal!  Enjoy The Dictator on the red carpet!  Enjoy Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy!  And stay tuned for the flicks of 2012, both studio (Christopher Nolan helming The Dark Knight Rises) and indie (Whit Stillman returns with Damsels In Distress).  Happy movie-going!

# 8, Kid, forever.

February 18, 2012

Yesterday there was a death in the family.

There wasn’t, thank goodness, and there was.  I emerged from the day’s work to voice-mails, e-mails, text messages, tweets, blog posts and all other kinds of communication in our digital age discussing the death, at the age of 57, of my all-time favorite ballplayer, # 8, the catcher, Gary Carter of the New York Metropolitan ball club.

For those who know me, the mere fact that I felt the need to dust off the forgotten, old blog signifies what an event this is.  You see, some 3,000 miles from where I type this, in my re-done childhood bedroom, there’s a framed poster on the wall, signed, “Walter, God Bless, Gary Carter”.  I got it when I met Gary Carter, at a now-defunct sporting cards store in New Milford, NJ, along with Keith “Mex” Hernandez, at some point during my childhood that my parents were awesome to take me to.  There is also, jammed in a box in the closet, a beat-up white binder with literally every single baseball card Gary Carter ever appeared on (Expos, Dodgers, Giants, seriously every one), including his autographed rookie card.  On the bookshelf is his dusty ’87 tome on the season that defined it all (“’86, baby!,” as my friend Michael still teases me about), A Dream Season.  In a storage locker not too far from where I type this is the framed front page of The New York Times, dated October 26, 1986, along with my ticket stub from that game, which I went to with my father.

I mean, what are you supposed to write when one of your childhood heroes dies?

The news has ricocheted around the ‘web, made Mex choke up on SNY, and my newsfeed clogged with tributes, because Gary Carter was good.  Not good in the baseball sense (I mean, of course he was.  He was a Hall of Fame catcher who thrilled we fans from his very first at-bat, lest you forget), but good in the sense of people-good.  There’s a scene at the end of the pilot of Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night in which one of the two ESPN-like anchors discuss getting out of the business, and what’s cited is what we now call the usual in behavior from our athletic heroes: arrests for domestic violence, cocaine use, and, yes, that double-murder in Brentwood.  And Gary Carter was the epitome of the opposite of all that.  He was, a my father said to me today, “A good role model for you all to have.”

As I alluded to, I met him once.  Somewhere in a box of photographs in that same childhood bedroom I’m a forever-geeky pre-teenager, smiling awkwardly in a jean jacket, next to Carter, in a hideous sweater.  And I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about that day except for two salient details:  It was Keith I chatted with more (he recognized the ‘Lesnevich’ Air Force patch on my jacket, and realized I was related to the former boxing champ, Gus Lesnevich), and that Gary Carter was so damn nice.

And that’s the thing I’ve pondered many times as we fans headed towards this terrible time of dealing with the Kid’s death:  I don’t know that Gary Carter and I would’ve even gotten along.  In this hagiography of this good, good man, let us remember, he got teased for often hogging the spotlight, for mugging for the camera.  He was, at least in his post-baseball life  and in public, far too religious for my taste.  He took a lot of flak for campaigning for the Met’s managerial position even before Willie was axed at 3 a.m.  I mean, he was a human being.  I don’t know his politics, but that’s the thing about baseball and childhood heroes.  I mean, could Mike Piazza and I have a beer together?  I don’t know.

No, to the adult fan it was always Keith who I felt I could have a beer with, or a glass of expensive cabernet.  We both had the checkered past, we’d both made mistakes, decisions we’d regretted.  He was the player you bonded with now, with his late-night rants on SNY, his appearances on Seinfeld, mustache days at the stadium.

And then you read about Carter, something I was loath to do, wanting to be in NYC with my people, my fans, when my hero passed.  Well, Gary Carter was born not too far from where I sit now, in Culver City.  He grew up in Fullerton, pride of the city.  (Tip of the cap to Chris Dufresne’s excellent article here.)  He married his high school sweetheart and reared children.  He tried to do everything on the field in a complete, thorough and classy way, and he did what he did because his mother passed–  of cancer–  when he was 12.

And that was Gary Carter.  Then, you understand.  While we (including his adapted city, NYC, and his time, the Eighties) were all off being Nails and Dirt, Straw and Doc and Mex, that rowdy, “The-Bad-Guys-Won” bunch, he was being…  Kid.

It pains me to type this, as an adult, about my childhood team, but man, the real rap on that Mets teams of the ’80’s ought to be how they were never the dynasty they should’ve been.  Can you imagine if you’d had a ball club full of Carter’s?  (Okay, you need a little Mex and Ronnie in there, too.)

There are a million memories:  That first home run in ’85.  The blowout games in the summer of ’86.  The opening to this cheesy and wonderful video, which I wore out on VHS!  Kid and Mex trying to figure out how Mike Scott was cheating during one of the greatest championship series, Mets-Astro’s ’86.  Game 6.  And being there, in the upper deck of Shea as it rocked, as Kid tied the game in the sixth, then running, jumping, joyously into the arms of Orosco when they–  we– won it all! Is there a more iconic image than that one that you’d want to remember forever?  Who Gary Carter tried to be and was has never shone through more pure than that moment.  Maybe he stuck around the game too long.  The great ones do, don’t they?  I mean, how do you come down from that?  Of course at the end of any highlights reel is a day I got to attend, Gary Carter Day at Shea, when he was presented with a replica of his Cooperstown plaque, with a Mets hat.  Hey, we’re New York City, we were saying.  He’s ours, and besides, we make our own rules.  The Carter foundation T-shirt my sister Francesca surprised me with at the office last year–  now a prized possession.

There was a death in the family yesterday, of an original good guy, at the age of 57.  It makes you think of fellow fans who have left us far too soon, whom we think of every day; of countless hours spent in those ‘Metmaniac’ seats at Shea, cheering M0-0-0-0-kie and Mex, watching Doctor K toss to Kid; of the afternoons on the beaches of Nantucket listening to Gary and Murph calling games on The Fan.  We thought it would last forever.

As Terrance Mann speaks in Kinsella and Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams:   “The one constant through all the years has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game:  It’s a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

There was a death in the family yesterday.  When Murph died one of my great regrets was not getting to write him; not getting to thank him.  I wrote to his widow, but…  This time, several weeks ago in late July, I sat at my parent’s kitchen table and wrote to Mr. Carter, and his family, at their foundation.  Of course he probably didn’t read it, but in the thank you letter, amongst other things, I wrote:  “In [that letter] I described my childhood soundtrack of Bob “The Murph” Murphy calling a home run by my all-time favorite baseball player, Gary “Kid” Carter (I’m 34), and what Bob Murphy’s voice meant to me, game after game, night after night.  A nurse from the hospice called to tell me that not only is Gary Carter her favorite player, he’s Ms. Murphy’s too.  And he’s mine.”  I got to say goodbye on my own terms, just a little, to a childhood hero.

At the end of Calvin Trillin’s lovely book About Alice, he writes about losing his wife Alice, about how Alice would’ve been fine with any deal that let her grow up and see her two daughters marry.  And I’m sure Gary “Kid” Carter would’ve been fine with leaving us, at age 57, with a deal that let him marry his high school sweetheart, be a Hall-of-Fame ballplayer on the field and a Hall-of-Fame human being off, rear two daughters and a son, and meet three grandchildren.

It’s the rest of the us who aren’t fine, isn’t it?  In this world of Madoff lawsuits and Vince Colemans, of ‘Did-the-reigning-N.L.-MVP-take-steroids?’ and  Albert chasing the dough, it’s we baseball fans who lost one of the real great– well, yes, great, but far better than that, good— ones.

My favorite quote about baseball comes from the late Bart Giamatti, writing in Green Fields of the Mind:  “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

God bless you, Kid.  God bless your family, and thank you to them for letting us share you.  # 8, in our hearts, forever.

This a-mazin' image is from Joe Petrucchio's http://www.mymetsjournal.blogspot.com.

(sing): “It’s A Wonderful Night for Oscar!”

February 26, 2011

When I was a kid, I used to love this time of year:  spring training (earlier today I watched Gary, Keith and Ron on the TV, and just listened to Howie and Wayne on the radio– ah, baseball!) and the Academy Awards.  One year– remember, kids, the Oscars used to be on a Monday night, before ABC realized they were missing a ton of moolah– I spent the early evening with my father, at a dinner featuring ’86 World Series M.V.P. Ray Knight, and raced home to catch the Oscars.  (And life, to this kid, doesn’t get any better!)  And I guess I’m still a kid, ’cause even though the Mets have a whole slew of problems, and we all know the Oscars are the most political thing this side of gerrymandering, I still love this time of year.  I saw a bunch of movies (though less than ever before, although more independent flicks through IFC-on-demand), and here are my thoughts:

My Favorite Flicks of 2011: The Social Network God, I love this flick, and God I love Mr. Aaron Sorkin.  A movie-writing friend of mine doesn’t understand why I love this flick oh-so-much, and it’s because it’s what Aaron Sorkin writes best:  Smart people who love their work.  It’s also, like A Few Good Men, a genius courtroom drama and one is better with dialogue.  Toy Story 3 Pixar never misses.  It’s insane.  The Kids Are All Right Is there a better feel good movie of the year?  And it’s so, so hard to write about real damn people.  Inception This was a buy the ticket, take the ride movie, and I did.  Just don’t think too, too hard about it afterwards.  True Grit Classic, fantastic storytelling, and so enjoyable to view.  Also, one of the many movies this year that proves storytelling is alive and well.   The Town The Rodney Dangerfield of 2011:  Where’s the respect?  It’s not like it’s easy to make an absorbing, well-told, exciting genre flick.  And I think this is a better movie than Gone Baby Gone.  The Fighter Yes, it’s a bit melodramatic, but it works.   Blue Valentine This is a brutal, brilliant flick.  A shout-out to my movie-going colleague, and if you Netflix one flick that you haven’t seen yet this year, this is it.

Rent this please!

Overlooked Movies: Solitary Man A terrific performance by Michael Douglas, and a reunion with Danny DeVito.  A good character film. Cairo Man Is anyone better than Patricia Clarkson?  How is she not up for an Independent Spirit Award?  The Other Guys If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for a Will Ferrell pic, and this is the best one in years.  Rent it! Please Give Oh, Nicole Holfocener, you’re the new, better, female Woody Allen.  Mother and Child Terrible title, good movie, and yes, it was associate produced by a dear friend.  The Ghost Writer Not a great flick, but an entertaining thriller nonetheless.  And yes, I know who helmed it.

Controversial Flick Everyone Else Loved But I Didn’t: Black Swan My father adores it.  To me– and yes, there are good scenes, and yes, you know the scene I’m talking bout– it’s a schlocky psychological mess that if you saw on your couch at 11 pm on the late movie on Cinemax, you’d turn off.  Go ahead, hate me, but watch this awesome Jim Carrey parody from SNL.

And then he goes down on Mila Kunis.

 

Benign, Heartwarming Flick That Is Overrated The King’s Speech Colin Firth is tremendous, and Geoffrey Rush is always good.  But in it’s history it was written as a two-hander play, and it’s stayed that on film.  Also, the camera angles: Really, Mr. Hooper, really?!

Indies That No One Else Saw: Greenberg, The Extra Man, It’s Kind of A Funny Story…, Tiny Furniture, Cold Weather, Douchebag, Breaking Upwards I’ll spare you a detailed breakdown of each one (and certainly the discovery of the year is Greta Gerwig!), but while I’m impressed they made the movies, none of them dazzled me.  Some were better than others (Breaking Upwards, Tiny Furniture) and some are guilty of the worst sin: wasting Kevin Kline (The Extra Man).

Oh, Greta. You'll be seeing a lot more of her.

What I Ain’t Seen Yet: Winter’s Bone, Another Year, Carlos, Rabbit Hole, Get Low, Daddy Longlegs, 127 Hours, A Prophet, Animal Kingdom

What I’ll Never See: Tron 2

Best Picture Will:  The King’s Speech Dances With Wolves beat Goodfellas, and people are still upset. Same deal here.  Should:  The Social Network Just go watch it again.  A perfect marriage of the storytelling of Sorkin with the artistry of Fincher.  Wasn’t Even Nominated?!  The Town You will not see a more entertaining picture this year.

The Oscar's nice, but I'd like to be knighted.

Best Actor Will:  Colin Firth Should:  Colin Firth I mean, sure, why not?  He’s been so good for so long, though to nominated best actor is Jesse Eisenberg.  ?! Ryan Gosling and Mark Whalberg Gosling gives, hands down, the most honest, raw performance since, really, John Cassavettes.  As for Whalberg, please repeat after me:  It’s a lot harder to pull of a person than someone with an addiction or an illness.

Best Actress Will:  Natalie Portman Should:  Annette Bening You just read what I wrote, right?  ?! Patricia Clarkson Rent Cairo Time and just gaze at her.

Best Supporting Actor Will:  Christian Bale Should:  Jeremy Renner Is there a better, more exciting actor working today?  And I’ll throw my hat in for Mark Ruffalo, as well.  ?! Well, I never, ever thought I’d write this, but Justin Timberlake gives a go-for-broke performance in The Social Network that convinced me he’s an actor.

It's a shockingly good performance.

Best Supporting Actress Will:  Melissa Leo Should:  Melissa Leo And I’m not just writing that because she did a favor to our theatre co. years ago.  She pulls off a real person, and she’s also been so good for so long.  ?!  Helena Bonham Carter over Julianne Moore?!  Are you kidding me?!  Also, keep an eye on The Town‘s Rebecca Hall: Beautiful and talented in a thankless role.

C'mon, Academy, c'mon! Red!

Best Director Will:  David Fincher Should:  David Fincher This’ll split the DGA vote, thankfully.  (Inside baseball?)  Go back and look at his work; it’s a marvelous and continuing career.  Heck, he should’a won for Zodiac.  ?!  Ben Affleck He was left for dead as a terrible movie star, and reinvented himself.  Bring on the next flick, please!

Best Adapted Screenplay Will:  Aaron Sorkin Should:  Aaron Sorkin And now I’m drooling on my keyboard.  Saw the flick twice in the theatre.  Is it too much for me to write he’s the President Bartlet of writers?  ?!  Hmm.  Even I don’t know.

An Oscar's nice. Not canceling "Studio 60" would've been better.

Best Original Screenplay Will:  David Seidler, The King’s Speech Should:  Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bloomberg, The Kids Are All Right Is there a film more generous to its honest, human characters?

Well, I know you’re excited about Sound Editing friend, but that’s the show.  Much on some popcorn, please, and root on the lovely Anne Hathaway and the everywhere James Franco!  Goodnight!

Hello, I'm Alec Baldwin.

And I'm Steve Martin.

 

 

The End (For Now)

November 12, 2010

Not too long ago I listened to an interview with the author Curtis Sittenfeld (on NPR, yes of course) in which she said something like, “I used to think a writer shouldn’t have two things if she wants to finish her novel:  Have children and write a blog.  And now I have a daughter.”

Well, I don’t have children.  But I do have a blog.

There is so, so much more I want to write about.

The flicks of Woody Allen, 21st century dinner party etiquette, and the passing firing of Joe Morgan, to name a few (“We come not to bury Morgan, but to praise him.”).  The approaching on-slaught of the holidays, a review of the new Springsteen documentary The Promise and the new Muppet named, well, um, Walter, to name a few more.

A year ago today I started this blog.  What a year it has been, on both good and bad terms!  And no doubt I shall reappear with a blog, probably in a way cooler format, though.  But what started as a daily writing exercise has– as even the most casual observer most notice– not been happening too often, and when I get a little time to write, it can’t be for the blog–  for now.  (In other words, we need a new modus operandi.)

I want to thank you, yes you!, my faithful blog readers.  The best part has been hearing from new friends, keeping up with old friends, and even being ready by a stranger or two.

So, keep the faith and keep reading the Internet (you’ll get to the end sometime soon).  A Wally blog will be back.  As I take a leave of absence, here’s an essay I wrote several years back for a screenwriting class at UCLA Extension in good old Westwood, California, entitled ‘Why I Write.’

Why I write:  Because the position of manager of the New York Metropolitans is currently filled by Willie Randolph, and everyone from George Vecsey down to the drunk 22 year old in loge section G, seat 14 A will tell you he’s nowhere near getting fired.  [Editor’s Note: Uh, life changes quickly.  Check back here in a week.]  Because although I’m a trained actor who once nonetheless endured abject humiliation for the idolatry of Carson Daly by appearing gratis on a pilot for something entitled ‘Cyberhood,’ the people who currently have the power haven’t figured out what to do with me yet.  (Whew.  That was a fancy way of saying I’m the male Tea Leoni of my generation.)  Because although I make a really wicked clams risotto, it’s the only dish I make that is wicked.  Or features clams.  Or is a risotto.

Because even though my brain knows its way around a Cole Porter lyric the way Cole Porter’s brain knew its way around the city-streets of Paris, my brain apparently forget to tell my voice.  Because I can’t quite bring myself to complete the last few lines of the application for Rutgers School of Law, Newark.  And even if I could, do you know anyone who keeps a stamp handy in this day and age?

Because the truth is refreshing, but lies are even more delicious.  Because if I sit down to peck at the computer after I’ve had just a bit too much good wine or just a little cheap vodka, I can almost convince myself I’m Aaron Sorkin.  Because I still can’t figure out precisely why you’re supposed to balance your checkbook.  Because it’s been said by someone far less handsome and far more modest than I that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.  And because I’ve gone on to surmise that Hollywood is strikingly similar to the world of off-off-Broadway, only there’s a slight chance that at the end of Hollywood, they give you a beach house.

Because I know the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’  Because the position of Zac Helm is apparently already being filled by Zac Helm.  Because it turned out I could kick a dodge ball about as well as I could dodge a dodge ball—which was about as well as I could tell you the chemical properties of the rubber used to make up the kind of ball ineffectively used in dodge ball.  Because I’ll turn thirty soon, and while everyone I know who is currently in their thirties tells me it’s a better decade than their twenties, they also choose to watch Jay Leno over Jon Stewart, so what the hell do they know, really?  And because I can no longer hold my liquor than way I used to be able to hold my liquor, and so the only logical course of events is to write about that most distressing course of events.

Because I absolutely adore run-on sentences.  And because like the writer/performer Spalding Gray, I find life hard, so hard that I sometimes think, ‘Wow.  Life is so hard that Spalding Gray hurled himself off the Staten Island Ferry and into the freezing-cold water.  That’s how hard life is.’  However, unlike the late Mr. Gray, I know how to swim.

Why I write:  A writer who had a more difficult upbringing than I, and thus who we shall presume is smarter, for that and other reasons that to list here would take us onto a verboten second page, once wrote, ‘Writing is acting is directing is living your life.’

Because I want to live my life.

Not Yet!

November 5, 2010

I cheated today.

It started out innocently enough: A Christmastime tune came on my iPod while walking home from the gym.  Now, I didn’t put it on, and it was a wintertime tune too (okay, it was “Wintersong,” by, yes, this is embarrassing, Sarah McLachlan) but I didn’t turn it off.  I let it play through.

Now, it is not Christmas!  I am ashamed for mankind to find decorations at the local CVS already, to see lit-up lights on the tree downtown, and I do not want to hear Christmas tunes yet.  (Some people don’t want to hear ’em ever.)  It’s just past Halloween, we’ve got birthdays and Thanksgiving and then, then, fine: It begins.

But it was cold and the song’s a beautiful one and it came on between Springsteen (iTunes library: thank goodness there are more Bruce songs than holiday tunes) and Death Cab for Cutie (random) and, well, I let it play out.

Why?  Not sure.  Maybe sometimes you need to be reminded of what’s coming.  Maybe ’cause as fall plays out, winter’s going to sneak up on us.  Maybe because despite all my protestations (the decorating! the shopping! yuck!), it’s my second favorite time of the year (August on the Island, anyone?).   Maybe there’s no reason.

I smiled at the tune.  But I’m not ready yet.

No! No! Not Yet! Go Back From Whence You Came...

H-A-LL-O-W-EE-N spells Halloween

October 31, 2010

At the ol' house.

Halloween:  Either the single best day to be a kid (here’s Jerry Seinfeld on Halloween) or a holiday co-opted by drunken and promiscuous adults.  Or, like everything in America these days, both.

I remember the Halloween I was a young boy dressed as an old man (clearly I want to be old).  I remember a memorable one in which, too old to to trick-or-treat, I still went with a high school buddy in my father’s Bill Clinton mask.  A Halloween where I ducked into a few restaurants and parties in the city dressed as Harry Potter.  Senior year in high school, causing a stir as Kramer.

 

My father's pumpkin.

Last year at a cool Halloween wedding in Maine (yup, those exist) as Groucho Marx.  The year before, Barack Obama (not shockingly).  And of course, the best year:  I’m in second grade, my mother’s in law school so it’s my father’s turn to construct the Halloween costumes.  He gets, shall we say, a little competitive, and wins three out of four categories.  I’m the award-wining homemade Alf.

Below’s earlier today.  Happy Halloween!

Trick-or-treating with the little pumpkin niece. Super Grover!

In Praise of Roger Sterling

October 26, 2010

They never took you seriously because you never take yourself seriously. Bertram Cooper

I just finished season four of AMC’s Mad Men (I’m a busy bee, kids, and therefore a wee bit behind), and upon stumbling upon this most excellent Tumblr blog, a few thoughts in praise of Roger Sterling:

I want to be him.  Yes, it’s Donald Draper Dick Whitman’s show, and he is the spectacular mass of contradictions and foibles that get us to tune in to each precious episode, and not enough good can be said about Joan Harris either, but Roger Sterling:  He says whatever’s on his mind, and it’s usually what no one else will say (“I’ve got to go learn the names of a bunch of people before I fire ’em.”) and he ususally does after a martini at two o’clock in the afternoon.  He wears a dashing gray suit.  Hell, he beds Joannie Harris.

I suppose one could view Roger’s actions (especially this season) as juvenile, irresponsible, and plain self-destructive.  Exactly.

Okay, so we don’t get to be Roger Sterling in our real lives; there’s laundry and food shopping and the dogs have to go to the vet and work piles up and that’s life, ain’t it?  But therein lies the appeal (and in typing that thought it reminds how we brush certain actions aside; it was Roger Sterling who unforgivably wore blackface and sang a terrible tune).  But all this and he helms an episode and just like Mr. Jon Hamm he gets to guest with Liz Lemon (and yes, I know I just conflated the actor and the character).

Speaking of conflating:  John Slattery’s an old theater hand (one of the reasons he’s so good; he was one of the three original actors in one of my favorite underrated plays, Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain) and right before the launch of Mad Men I used to speak to him fairly regularly, in my favorite old coffee shop, early in the morning.   I’d be writing (or reading the paper) and he’d stop by for coffee and we’d chat baseball–  he being an avowed Boston Red Sox fan and my sympathies lying with the New York Metropolitans.  And he was just a very good regular joe.

So maybe I want to be Roger Sterling.  Or maybe I want to be John Slattery.