Trailer: Catching Fire

While I didn’t adore The Hunger Games, I’m more interested in Catching Fire after seeing this trailer. It very clearly veers away from the book, but for the purposes of a movie, I can understand why.

Because we can’t be in Katniss’s head, we need more. I just hope this “more” works better than the “more” in The Hunger Games when we saw the behind-the-scenes in the Gamekeeper’s room, which didn’t really work for me at all.

On the positive side of things, the outfits seem to be pretty fantastic this time around as well, without any of that fake fire. And it’s great to see Jennifer Lawrence back in kick-ass mode. I’m also delighted that they replaced Gary Ross. While I can’t say for sure if Francis Lawrence is the best choice, I will always watch Constantine when it’s on TV and if nothing else, I Am Legend looked great.

I guess the countdown to November begins now…

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What is it with death and AMC shows these days?

And no, I don’t mean the fact that every few days another famous person seems to be shuffling off this mortal coil.

image courtesy of

Thinking about some of the biggest dramas on TV right now, it strikes me that all of them have a unique relationship to death and human mortality. AMC shows in particular almost seem to have this as their driving force: Walter White faced by his own mortality and possible imminent death, decides to become a meth cooker; mankind becomes universally infected by something that at the moment of death, turns them into mindless, flesh-eating, zombies…no one is safe; a man who sheds his past life assumes a new one belonging to a dead comrade in arms and spends the rest of his life fearing the inevitability of his own death, be it actual or merely the death of this construct he has based his life around.

Of course on non-AMC shows death looms, HBO has its fair share. In the world of Game of Thrones most people seem to be alive merely be the grace of their gods or by sheer cunning and will. True Blood has an entire race that lives only by consuming the literal life-blood of humans. Prohibition had death flowing right alongside the money and the booze in Boardwalk Empire.

But unlike The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, or Mad Men, death never struck me as much of a character, lurking around corners on those other shows.

I should say that from this point on, there are very clear spoilers for all of the above shows through the most recent episodes. So be warned.

Don returns from this dream vacation in Hawaii in fugue state. He seems disconnected from his own reality and then he discovers he has lost the lighter that both made and declared him Don Draper. Don seemed utterly lost. He is then forced to confront death head on at the more than slightly uncomfortable funeral of Roger Sterling’s mother. The emotions and the booze cannot stay hidden and Don literally throws up everything that is inside him.

As Pete and Ken are herding an inebriated Don into the elevator at his apartment building, Don has to stop and ask his doorman Jonesy “What did you see?” Jonesy recently recovered from a heart attack that he suffered right in front of Don and as such, has touched the void and made it back. It’s easy to see why Don would attribute some sort of mystical power to Jonesy’s experience. Death has taken a front seat next to Don throughout his life: his mother dies in childbirth, his father in a freak accident, his brother took his own life, his father in-law died after moving into his house, the only woman who really knew him as he turned into this Donald Draper died of cancer, his business partner hanged himself in his own office…even his secretary dropped dead at her desk. He even reads about Hell while in Paradise.

It’s even more broken when you learn who gave him the book

Heck, it even seems as though he’s the one falling during the credits.

Don is a man who wears death as a second skin.

So it is natural that as he is confronted with death once more – and confronted with the lack of family and that sense of security and interconnectedness that comes with it – he would grasp for the straw presented to him by Jonesy and his brush with death. Jonesy is of course not really sure what to say, and gives Don some bs about a bright light. Cold comfort.

Do I need mention how Roger’s entire monologue to his shrink was about the closing of doors, i.e. experiences, leading up to the end of your life, signifying nothing?

Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along, and these things happen to you, and they’re supposed to change your direction, but it turns out that’s not true.  Turns out the experiences are nothing. They’re just pennies you pick up off the floor, stick in your pocket, and you’re just going in a straight line to you-know-where.

No? Good.

Death doesn’t ride a pale horse. He drives an RV.

Breaking Bad is yet another show that start with looming death that never seems to really go away. At least at the start, Walter White has a good reason for worrying about the end of his life — he has cancer. As he looks for some way to provide for his family should he die, he chooses something that has death soaked into every pore. From the cook to the user. And as he gets deeper and deeper in the business, the danger increases, the violence increases, and we fear for Walt’s life, Jesse’s life, and the lives of anyone they care about. But of course, all this merely feeds into who Walt really is, deep down and hidden away. When it is time for him to go to war, he doesn’t hesitate to have Jesse kill Gale. His slow progression from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to drug kingpin extraordinaire has also transformed him into the figure of death. He stands by as Jane chokes to death on her own vomit. He is the indirect cause of a mid-air collision, killing untold numbers. Repeatedly he attempts to engineer Gus’s death til he gets it right. He is even the cause of accidental death as with the kid on the motorbike and with Mike. And Walt’s famous speech when Skyler confronts him about coming clean and saving the family from Gus…

He is the one who knocks. He has taken up the mantle.

We have gone from worrying about Walt’s death to, at least in my case, wishing for it. The question is will Walt die in flames and violence, or as Skyler has suggested, finally killed by the cancer that started everything in the first place?

It’s almost a cliche to say that The Walking Dead is shrouded from head to toe with the concept of death. It would appear most of mankind has died off or turned into the living dead. Major characters die (twice) with a snap of a finger. Death, and killing, is so common place that we are seeing Carl grow up into a right psychopath, as happy to kill a man as let him live. Some have even learned to embrace it; think of Merle drinking and blasting his music as he drove slowly to Woodbury, bringing a parade of death with him.

What fascinates me most about where death fits into The Walking Dead is that even in death, we don’t die. Because we are all infected and one final heartbeat away from turning into zombies ourselves, death is bigger and more frightening. There is no relief in death in this world, it is not an end anymore. You die and then become an agency of death yourself. As the Governor told Milton “In this life now, you kill or you die. Or you die and you kill.”

AMC even has a fourth show whose very title, The Killing,  puts it in line with these other shows, even if the quality of the show does not.

Is our society so obsessed with death and dying that these shows speak to us in a way that has made them some of the most watched and most talked about programs on television? Is it the violence? The living, or dying, by proxy? Or is it that death is such an integral part of the human existence that we gravitate towards it unwittingly?

Perhaps it is merely that we want to watch something exceptional and visceral, with characters that surprise us or intrigue us, and stories that keep our interest. In other words, to hell with death, give us good television.

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Trailer for HBO’s Behind the Candelabra

Upfront, I know precious little about Liberace apart from the fact that he liked to sparkle and Fred Armisen plays him well on SNL.

But all that aside, I’m fascinated by this new HBO movie, Behind the Candelabra, directed by -of all people- Steven Soderbergh, and starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and his chauffeur/boy-toy Scott Thorson, respectively. Both look creepy as all get out (as does a very very Botox-y Rob Lowe), and there sure are a lot of sequins and shiny things…but I do get that sense of awful sadness and loneliness  along with that overwhelming sense of crazy that seems to pervade it all. The idea of Thorson getting plastic surgery to look like Liberace is 20 shades of wrong.

Can we marvel for a moment at how much Douglas looks like Liberace?

It’s uncanny…

Behind the Candelabra airs Sunday May 26 at 9pm.

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R.I.P Roger Ebert

A big thumbs up. Always.

It’s hard to put into words exactly why the passing of Roger Ebert has been so difficult. I didn’t know him personally. We never exchanged an email or even a tweet. And he certainly had no clue who I was. But all the same, it has been like losing a friend.

For most of my life, I have been a huge movie fan. I have been known to see 3 movies in one weekend. Sometimes 2 in one day – even legally! And throughout this whole time, movie criticism has been a vital part of the process.

I was essentially weaned on movie criticism. My mother was the one who raised me on films and musicals, and always saw it as her duty to incorporate a critical eye into everything. I have very distinct memories of her reading me the latest movie reviews from The New York Times. Of course, this was always paired with the latest episode of At the Movies, or whatever iteration Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were up to at the time.

When I even think about the concept of a movie review, my mind immediately goes to that image of two older men – one chunky in glasses, the other balding – and intensely heated conversation. Siskel and Ebert taught me at a very young age that movies were something you got excited about, that movies were something you discussed and examined – even the really really bad ones deserved that treatment. Far from mere escapism, movies were an art form. They gave us something beyond entertainment, though a really great flick that entertained was worth its weight in popcorn. By listening to Siskel and Ebert, I learned how to watch movies and make connections to other movies I had seen, stretching out the entirety of film history as I watched.  They also showed me that it was OK to enjoy something terrible, even if your best friend thinks you’re an idiot for doing so.

After Gene Siskel died and Ebert lost his sparring partner, I was amazed at how Ebert kept it going.  I think he really never fully recovered from Siskel’s death, if his posts and tweets around the anniversary of Siskel’s death each year are any evidence. And then once cancer took away his ability to speak, Ebert amazed me even more as he took to the internet and any other workable medium to make sure his voice would still be heard. He, along with his wife Chaz, soldiered on and making him more prolific than before. Even after years of reading his reviews and listening to him debate on television, I really felt like I “got” who Ebert was once I started following him on Twitter and reading his blogs. He was open and brutal and funny in a way that for some reason always surprised me. He could be foul-mouthed when angry, cutting when pissed off, and generous when sharing his reach with other reviewers. Ebert’s distinct voice was stamped all over everything he did.

He was a vocal opponent to the 3D movement, gleefully pointing out all the issues and visual problems with this new form. He was open about his opinion that video games weren’t art and while I don’t think he ever changed his mind, he was willing to read anything that might show him otherwise. He shared every single entry he made into the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. And he wore his political views on his sleeve, loudly denouncing any injustice he saw in the world.

More than anything, what Roger Ebert showed me was that it was OK to love movies. Love them unequivocally and passionately and openly. His epic reviews of utter failures were evidence of that as much as his reviews of instant classics. I didn’t always agree with him and more than once got angry that he disliked a movie I adored, or conversely loved a movie that I thought was garbage. But his reviews always seemed to me to be open-ended; he had his opinion, but he left room for you to have yours.

It was a shock to hear that he’d died having read his blog entry about taking a “leave of presence” just 2 days earlier. This was not a man who was packing it in and ready to go to the big movie theater in the sky. He was excited about branching out, about tackling new things and new areas, and mostly about only reviewing the movies he wanted to review. I’d like to believe that he saw an infinite stretch of movie brilliance ahead – dramas that surprise, comedies that don’t insult, thrillers that innovate. And I’d like to believe now he’s sitting in that balcony once more with Gene Siskel and the two of them are debating all the movies they never got a chance to, enjoying each other’s company again, maybe with a few pointed insults along the way.

So, Mr. Ebert, thank you for memories, and yes, I will see you at the movies.

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David Brent from The Office is back!

Free Love on the Free Love Freeway

Brent is back, baby!

First the teaser…

And now, the main course, complete with terribly uncomfortable song:

Granted this is just for Comic Relief on March 15 (aka Red Nose Day), but it’s good have him back in our live even if just for a few minutes.

Just watching Ricky Gervais’s David Brent makes me remember how much more I loved the UK version of The Office. Not that I didn’t think Steve Carell eventually made Michael Scott a memorable character, but Brent was so much more pathetic and so much sadder…

Plus he gave us Free Love on the Freelove Freeway:

I assume we across the pond will have to wait for the video to hit youtube.

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It’s Time for Oscar, Oscar, Oscar – 2013!

Will Seth Macfarlane slip into Stewie when he gets nervous? Will we get another awkward In Memoriam where people clap BEFORE the end? Will we get an real upset with any of the “given” awards (looking at you Hathaway)?

Find out here in less than 10 minutes…

8:30 – Out walks Seth Macfarlane, who opens with a Tommy Lee Jones joke. Goodbye Grumpy cat!

8:34 – So far so good Macfarlane. And don’t worry, I appreciated your Robin Williams reference “It’s not your fault Ben”.

8:35 – SHATNER!! Yes! Always better with Shatner.

8:38 – We saw your boobs. Can this be the new Oscar anthem? Please?

8:40 – Seth Macfarlane has a great voice. And Channing Tatum is better when stripping.

8:44 – Am I wrong to enjoy the Flying Nun bit? Yes? Oh. Sorry. (It’s still funny)

8:48 – Best Supporting Actor, presented by Octavia Spencer (won for The Help) goes to…Christoph Waltz! Whoa. So so happy about this. Waltz seems a bit in shock – he was never really considered to be a front runner having won so recently for Inglorious Basterds. Waltz gives great tribute to Tarantino; without him Django would have been a documentary by the KKK.

8:56 – Two of my favorites, Melissa McCarthy and Paul Rudd. Not sure what they’re doing but I love them anyway.

8:57 – Best Animated Short goes to Paperman.  Yes, it’s Disney but it was so well done and so sweet, I begrudge them nothing for this one.

8:59 – Best Animated Film goes to (please let it be Wreck It Ralph…) meh. Brave. Even wearing a kilt to accept the Oscar won’t win me over.

9:01 – Les Mis clip just reminds me of how much more I loved the play than the film.

9:02 – Life of Pi was gorgeous. Not sure it was the best pic, but beautiful to watch.

Also how many movies did Reese Witherspoon introduce??

9:03 – Beasts of the Southern Wild will make me sob every time I see it. Phenomenal.

9:05 – Avengers Assemble! Best Cinematography goes to … Life of Pi, Claudio Miranda and his glorious mane.

9:09 – Ummm, Avengers? Stick to avenging. Best Visual Effects – Life of Pi

9:12 – That play off music would have been amazing had that speech not been about someone suffering financial difficulties. Thankfully it changed halfway through.

9:15 – Anniston looks amazing in red. Channing Tatum is adorably thick.

9:17 – Costume Design goes to… Jacqueline Durand for Anna Karenina. The movie itself was problematic, but the costumes, my god, the costumes.

9:19 – Makeup and Hairstyling goes to … Les Mis. Really? Reeeeeally? Cutting off someone’s hair doesn’t equal Oscar. I am underwhelmed.

9:21 – Time to settle in for a long drawn out tribute to Bond. I will care if Daniel Craig will come out in those short shorts.

9:25 – I have to sing Max Power to Goldfinger. It’s basically my job as a Simpsons fan.

9:32 – DJANGO! Presenting Live Action Shorts. Award goes to Curfew. Didn’t see the live shorts this year unfortunately. But I’m sure it’s good and worthy. Good speech. Honest, heartfelt. I like speeches like that.

Best Documentary Short Subject – Inocente. I don’t know anything about it, but really want to see it. It’s wonderful when a movie can make a difference in someone’s life.

9:37 – Liam Neeson, aka The Takener, presenting three more of the Best Pic nominees.

9:38 – I’m totally down with Argo winning Best Pic if it does. Even on second viewing I was tense and anxious watching it.

9:39 – Lincoln was good despite its director. An acting showcase for DDL, who probably is our greatest living actor.

9:40 – Just saw Zero Dark Thirty for the first time last night. So difficult to watch but such a great film. Jessica Chastain is a chameleon.

9:42 – Ben Affleck presents Best Documentary. Want to see all of these. Winner is Searching for Sugar Man.

9:48 – I realize I’m in the minority based on what I’m reading on the Interwebs, but I’m really enjoying Macfarlane as host. Compared to the shlock we got from Crystal last year or the crazy we got from Franco two years ago, he’s doing well.

9:50 – Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Garner present Best Foreign Film. It’s Amour right? Yes. It’s Amour.

9:52 – John Travolta makes me sad. That is all.

He’s intro’ing movie musicals. Yeah, I guess.

9:55 – CZJ is still fab.

9:57 – Sorry, I still don’t like Dreamgirls. Or Jennifer Hudson. I know that makes me a bad person, but that’s how I feel.

10:00 – OK Les Mis cast. I dare you to be better than you were in the movie.

It is weird to see them singing all dressed up. I miss the dirt. We are getting ensemble here than we did in the film.

I also miss Crowe’s jaunty hat. Best thing about his performance.

10:08 – Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana. I’d watch them sell me Priceline. But they should get their story straight. They played the Next Generation music.

10:10 – I loved Ted. Filthy, funny, and sweet.

Best Sound Mixing goes to Les Mis. Meh.

10:13 – Secret synagogue? I find funny even if a little anti-Semitic.

A tie for Sound Editing!!! — Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall.

10:19 – Chris Plummer is classy as always announcing Best Supporting Actress. Is it at all possible that Hathaway won’t win? And if she does, it is at all possible she won’t be super annoying?

And it’s Anne Hathaway. Please don’t annoy me. I like you. I really do. Please don’t make me hate you.

For the most part she did well. A little twee for me, but she didn’t pull too much of a Taylor Swift “ME?!?” face so that’s OK.

10:29 – President of the Academy talking about new Academy museum. I’d visit the hell out of that.

10:31 – Sandy Bullock is here to Blind Side us all.

Best Editing goes to…William Goldenberg for Argo. The editing in that film was very tight, kept the tension up.

10:34 – J. Law presenting Adele. Works for me. Adele has one hell of a voice. She makes it look so easy to sound so good.

10:42 – Nicole Kidman intro’ing the rest of the Best Pic nominees. Getting them done and done. I wish her forehead would move though. It’s just creepy.

Silver Linings Playbook was great, but not sure Best Picture Great. Some fab performances though.

Django Unchained is not for the faint of heart, but one hell of a ride.

Amour is a lovely and terribly sad look at the end of life. Unflinching.

10:47 – Dan Radcliffe and someone who can’t be troubled to emote whether acting or in real life.

Best Production Design and Set Design goes to Lincoln.

10:50 – Salma Hayek, attractive and somewhat understandishable. Talking about the Governors Awards. D. A. Pennebaker, George Stevens Jr., Hal Needham, and Jeffrey Katzenberg were winners.

10:57 – Clooney gives us the In Memoriam. We did lose a lot of talented people this year.

But dang…here comes Babs with “Memories”. Oy.

11:09 – Renee Zellweger’s face up close is horrifying. HORRIFYING.

Best Original Score goes to — Life of Pi, Mychael Danna. Phenomenal music.

Best Original Song goes to — (Scarlett Johannson can sorta sing) Skyfall. Duh. Seriously. Duh. And she’s crying. Adorable.

11:22 – Dustin Hoffman and Charlize Theron. He pulls out his Rainman to tell her she’s a good dancer. I bet she also drives the car well on the driveway.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Argo. Is this the beginning of the Argo coronation?

Best Original Screenplay – Django Unchained. Huzzah! Loved loved loved this movie.

11:32 – Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas presenting Best Director. That is one yellow dress. She looks good though. Douglas looks old as the hills. Winner is Ang Lee and Life of Pi. Take that Spielberg. Shows that you don’t need sappy sentimentality to win an award.

11:40 – Jean Dujardin presenting Best Actress. He is still so incredibly sexy and suave. Jennifer Lawrence fulfills Vegas’s bets. Also falls walking up the stairs.

11:45 – Needing no introduction, Meryl Streep. Also needing no introduction (I’m guessing) Daniel Day Lewis winning Best Actor.  Did she not open the envelope? Or just during the film montage? Who cares, DDL was brilliant. Three time Best Actor winner. That doesn’t happen to just anyone. Plus, he can be funny. And eloquent.

Let’s face it, DDL is the best.

11:51 – Really? Jack Nicholson is doing Best Picture? Ehhhhhh. Can we stop worshiping at this altar? Well, this is a change. Michelle Obama and her bangs are helping present Best Picture.

And the winner is….ARGO!

Cuz Hollywood loves movies about Hollywood. And it was great.

Ben Affleck gave a very sweet and touching speech. When he fell into tears at the end, it made me so much happier that he won.

12:01 – Kristen Chenowith and Seth Macfarlane are singing the show out with a tribute to the losers. I get it. They’re trying to do what Neil Patrick Harris does with the Tonys. It’s a bit less effective here.

So. We are done. I thought good show. Good host. OK with the winners.

And time to sleep.

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One-hour to Oscar…and live blogging and final musings

Yep. It’s that time again this year.

And yes, like other award shows, I will be live blogging the whole thing.

I’ve been lucky enough to see every nominated film and while I think we are probably going see Argo take home the big prize, but I gotta say, controversial as it has been Zero Dark Thirty was a brilliant film. Far more morally ambiguous with a deeper emotional core ZDT was  a lot more complex and had to function on a higher level than Argo. That being said, I’ll be perfectly happy with an Argo win. 

Actually I’ll be fine as long as any movie other than Les Mis wins. Cuz, c’mon…really?

So settle back, get your snacks, figure out your bathroom breaks and meet me back here at 8:30 for Seth Macfarlane, what I imagine will be a slew of inappropriate and maybe funny jokes, and Hollywood doing what it does best…celebrating itself.


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