Saving Mr. Banks Has Disney Magic

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers

It’s hard to live in southern California and not be touched by the magic of Walt Disney. It’s pretty much everywhere (even though I, myself, have never been to any Disneyland). The magic of Disney (whatever Walt’s own personal failings) is really the magic of the movies, which in Los Angeles is all around us.

Also, the behind the scenes workings of filmmaking is our daily life here. We know, for example, that Walt Disney’s cough was so strong, you always knew he was coming before he got there. (In fact, he died of lung cancer in the period shortly after this particular movie took place.)

What is kind of shocking (though really welcome) is that over the years, Disney’s image is so whitewashed that you never (or rarely) see any images of him drinking or smoking, both of which he certainly did. I applaud the filmmakers, and even moreso Walt Disney Pictures, which is presenting this movie, for showing Walt’s truth, finally.

That part was nice. All of the Disney elements were wonderful, a joy to behold, as with most Disney stuff.

What makes this particular show a tough sell is the rest of it.

Mind you, I saw it with a roomful of screenwriters in Hollywood, who pitch their trade (or dream of pitching their trade) every day. They know what is allowed and what isn’t. (One must know the Hollywood code to live here, and even moreso to work here.)

Bradley Whitford welcomes Emma Thompson to Disney

Bradley Whitford welcomes Emma Thompson to Disney

So it’s almost comical to watch a movie about, essentially, a crotchety writer who doesn’t want to sell the rights to her book. She makes herself the biggest pain in the butt you can imagine, and then some (all of this real, in fact, TONED DOWN for the movie!).  For example, at one point, she huffs to Mr. Disney, “There will be no RED in this movie.” Done. No color red, at all. WHAT?

What is really missing from the script, actually, is any pushback from Disney, and I know there had to be some. Someone somewhere saying, this broad’s crazy! There is only eyerolling and some asides, but they basically go along with her nuttiness. This entire movie, btw, would never fly today.

Walt Disney actually pursued her for 20 years. TWENTY YEARS. Can you imagine? I cannot.

However, I, like most, have a magical remembrance of the wonder that was “Mary Poppins” that came of this struggle. Obviously old Walt knew what he was doing.

Tom Hanks (as Walt Disney) and Emma Thompson (as P.L. Travers) are extraordinary to watch on screen. The fact that this crotchety old bitch is made not only watchable, but at moments even likeable, is such a credit to Ms. Thompson’s acting that she is guaranteed an Oscar nomination for this.

It was a joy to see some singing and dancing from Bradley Whitford (the gruff Josh in “The West Wing”). BJ Novak (“The Office”) and Jason Schwartzman (many things, but most recently his own band, Coconut Records) are great as the Sherman brothers, who wrote the memorable songs for “Mary Poppins.” Melanie Paxson is quite wonderful, too.

BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman play a pair of songwriting brothers.

BJ Novak and Jason Schwartzman play a pair of songwriting brothers.

Paul Giamatti makes the most of P.L.’s driver, adding some much-needed heart and warmth.

What is kind of shocking when one goes to a movie expecting the backstory of the making of “Mary Poppins” is that all of the above is only half the movie. And you might think, if you’ve seen the previews, where it mentions her father, that the other half takes place in jolly old England, and that her lovely dad was a chimney sweep. Nope.

Down to the wilds of Australia we go. That’s both what’s jarring and surprising, and exquisite and wonderful about this movie. Aside from the amazing acting, I credit the director John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”) and the editor Mark Livolsi for creating luminous lush joyous sequences.

Colin Farrell plays the girl’s dad, and does a lot with the role. Rachel Griffiths, as you may’ve already seen in the previews, plays the person that Mary Poppins is based on, although it’s not totally clear who she is in real life. (The girl’s mother’s sister? Some Australian governess?)

As a film experience, I do recommend “Saving Mr. Banks.” This you should know though. She finally caved on selling the rights because she needed the money. After all this folderol she put everyone through, she ended up hating the movie so much that she never let anyone else adapt anything of hers again. She died not speaking to these people ever again, bitter and alone.

Whereas Walt created, as he said he would, a joy for generations. In fact, I urge you to go watch “Mary Poppins” again. Remember too, that the landmark sequence that this woman complained about so much (the penguins and the animation) was ground-breaking for its time (to have live action and animation in the same sequence). Walt was busy making history and making children smile while this woman was bitching and complaining. I’d say, over the long haul, Walt won. The magic always wins.

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Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

The Bachelorette Is Des

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Oh, sweet Jesus, here we are at another Bachelorette season. How does that happen so soon?

I think it’s really hilarious how they start the beginning of the season with such optimism. Like producers have been filling their heads with how they can go on Dancing with the Stars afterwards and make more money, so they are all bright and shiny at the beginning. So, too, with our lovely Desiree (aka “Des”).

Then, they realize the level of jackassery they have to put up with, and the smiles come off.

No mention is made, either, though it’s one big elephant in the room, of Des’ wild and crazy brother, who nearly punched Sean out last season, because he thought Sean was basically a slut for bedding all these women. Oh! the affront to Sean’s honor!

Little did Des’ brother know that Sean is either a virgin (if you believe the tabloids) or gay (if you believe his jokes during DWTS). Either way, he didn’t sleep with any of the lovely ladies, which, for me, makes for a damn boring season.

And it may repeat itself this season, since published reports indicate that Des is religious (no mention of this in the opening previews).

As for me, I like to come at each new Bachelorette season with optimisim, too. I like to believe there are romantics in this crowd, who really want to find love, not just their 15 minutes of fame.

I realize that, since it’s TV, everyone thinks they need to stand out, but seriously… One guy jumps out of the limo in a suit of armor. And genuinely thought that was a good idea. (He got eliminated the first night.)

Know what else isn’t a good idea? Creating a fake “Fantasy Suite” card, and handing it to someone when you first meet them. I’ve been known to be a pretty racy girl at times, but even I think that’s the height of douchebaggery. The guy continues to not get the hint, and tries to drag Des to a back bedroom, upon which she promptly has him escorted out.

“I’m not that kind of girl,” Des frumps. Who IS that kind of girl? Even the crazy girl in the wedding dress from last season, who got so drunk she was falling down, even she would have the sense to say: “I can’t have sex with you on the first episode!”

No, ladies and gentlemen, there is an order to these things. A protocol. A decorum.

For instance, call me old-fashioned, but when you are attending an event where you are being driven in a limo, and you know the woman you are meeting is going to be wearing a gown, you DO NOT wear tennis shoes. Of any kind. Nor, for that matter, do you wear a casual blazer with the comment: “I dress up all the time at work” (so I won’t here?). Nor do you pull off your tie midway through. “I hate these things.”

If it were me, all of those behaviors would get points off. A lady, you see, does judge one on one’s proper use of decorum and etiquette.

There was one gent who made his own tuxedo, and it was hideous. Letters-pasted-on hideous. Good grief.

Another moron, as bad as the knight, IMHO, had such a lack of class, he decided to show up SHIRTLESS. Some nonsense about showing off his abs. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, he decides to strip down to his skivvies and jump in the pool (which, as anyone knows is even verboten at pool parties in LA).

“Hey, where’d everyone go?” the classless buffoon cries, as Des walks off with a gentleman still actually in the running. “Someone hand me a towel.” (I’m not making this up.)

So, if a Bachelor/Bachelorette producer says to you: “Go crazy. Do whatever you want.”—ignore them. Be the classy person you are (if you want to survive a few more episodes). (Astonishingly, Mr. Half-Naked was kept on. Des had to pin the rose on his pants, as he was sans lapel.) *eyeroll*

Interestingly, even though Des was madly in love with blond Sean, there are no blonds (or very many men of color) in his crowd. She did lop off quite a few wingnuts the first night, so we can be grateful for that. Still 19 of these sorry sacks to contend with. Joy!

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Image courtesy of ABC/The Bachelorette/Rick Rowell.

The Bachelor versus its brilliant parody, Burning Love

Ken Marino, winning a Streamy for Burning Love

Ken Marino, winning a Streamy for Burning Love

I don’t know why I do it. I know The Bachelor is ridiculous and silly, and still I continue to watch. Even after the fiasco disaster that was the Courtney and Ben season, I continue to watch.

And here we are now, at the winding down of hunkorama Sean (whom I personally don’t find attractive AT ALL)’s season. He’s deciding between Lindsay (the girl who came out of the limo in a wedding dress on the season opener) and Catherine.

He has just majorly dumped the woman who was declaring him her “soulmate” after knowing him for a month or two. Personally, I can’t wait for it to be over, and I don’t care who he picks at this point.

And still, I’m going to watch it till the bloody end. After all, next week is “Women Tell All” and we all get to commiserate about how much we (as a country) hate Tierra, so, why not?

Luckily for my sanity, a new show has appeared on the horizon: Burning Love.

They might not say this in promos, but it’s a Bachelor parody. And WHY THE HELL did it take so long to do a show like this?

I don’t know. I just know that Burning Love is here now to SAVE us. Dear God, is this show funny!!!!!

It started on the Web. It won a bunch of Streamy Awards recently, so E! brilliantly picked it up. It airs now after The Bachelor. Brilliant. A perfect antidote.

We have some of the familiar elements. Michael Ian Black is doing a fantastic Chris Harrison. Ken Marino (hot stud) is in the Bachelor role, hilarious and wonderful so far.

I almost wish they stayed really closer to exactly the Bachelor format. For example, there are 26 girls at the beginning. Burning Love had less. And they got rid of five on the first night.

Among the competing contestants, we had Noureen DeWulf as Titi (the breast-baring contestant); Natasha Leggero as Haley (the lower privates-baring contestant); Deanna Russo as the blind girl—strike that, the blind PHOTOGRAPHER (ha!); Beth Dover as the suicidal one; Kristen Bell as the one who’s found Jesus; Malin Akerman as Willow; the writer of the episode, Erica Oyama as Shera; and Ken Jeong as Ballerina.

Sadly, Ballerina is the first one kicked out, when “the girls vote.” Hilarious. And hilariously plays on the rumors that some Bachelors are actually gay.

“She was the only one I really vibed with,” says Marino’s character.

There is also an old lady (like 85 year old). They have to shout at her that she’s received “a hose.”

“If you do not receive a hose, you will be sent home.” Seriously, this stuff makes me laugh and laugh. The hose, of course, being very phallic looking. And, I suppose, supposed to be playing on the fact, you know, that he’s a fireman…

Blind girls, old ladies, guys dressed as women, girls showing their privates, girls who are too drunk, girls dressed in bear costumes. Typical Bachelor season.

Hilarious. I LOVE Burning Love.

Oh, and in a poignant twist in the first episode, the chick in the bear costume (who never took off her panda bear outfit), takes of her head in the limo, as she’s been sent packing. Turns out, she’s Jennifer Aniston.

See? You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, people. (Brilliant.)

I cannot bow down enough to Burning Love on E. (Follow them on Twitter at @BurningLoveonE.) Watch it Monday nights 10 pm. You’ll be so glad you did. ESPECIALLY if you have ever watched The Bachelor.

(I can’t wait till they get to the fantasy suite episodes!) (Also available online, if you just can’t wait.  They are filming their second season (a Bachelorette version) now.

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Podcast Reviews update

I have some cool stuff this time. One of the best things about the way that I listen to podcasts (which is, if I like something, I like to listen from the very first show) is that you have the benefit of history to know how things evolved (further than the people talking know at the time). For example, I started listening to TWIT (in the middle, at Ep. 173) and realized that I hadn’t listened to it from the beginning. It’s one of the few that I just listen here or there. So, I decided to start listening from the beginning (they are close to Ep. 400 now, SIGH). (Also, they list it on their website as 2004, but I think it’s 2005, so that’s what I’m writing in the notes.)

Very funny because Kevin Rose is a regular contributor, and it’s before he even created Diggnation. (Which I’ve already been reviewing from the beginning.)

So, here are some updates to what I’ve been listening to. BTW, I only comment/list/give show notes to stuff that I find interesting. There are whole tons of stuff (especially on TWIT) that I’m not going to even mention, but there is also gold in these hills. Hopefully I mined a bit of it for you to get motivated to check out the episode.

So, here you go.

THE NERDIST

11. Eugene Mirman Part 1. Eugene Mirman. How comics have a hard time getting on TV anymore. Mirman talks about wanting to go on Kimmel. Chris: “To TV, minorities are, by default, characters.” How the “mouth breathers” off of Hollywood Blvd. “don’t know where to focus.” Hard and Phirm had a hard time getting them to focus when they were on Kimmel. Chris: “I feel like there are Mermanites all over the place.” About the dangers of performing in clubs with bands. Opening for Cake, people were just chanting “Cake, Cake, Cake.” About dealing with network censors with comedy. About being Russian. About writing a book in Amherst, Mass. The “pussy comic.” “Amherst: A Place Some Find Dull, Others Adore.” (found on the billboard) Not wanting to offend Dave Matthews (don’t listen, Dave!).

…& God’s Pottery Part 2. God’s Pottery. (First, are these guys for real? I couldn’t tell through the whole thing.) “We take a drug called sunshine in the morning.” Discussing slide whistles. Two Christian comics. Chris asks them if they are a couple. “We are a couple of fun guys.” Chris: “Your T-shirt does say ‘Virginity Rocks.’” They chastise Chris because he said “tit.” They talk about wearing sandals, as a “nod to the big man, J-Dog.” He talks about how falling on his head is what caused him to see Jesus. “Similarly, that’s how time travel was invented.” They perform songs. “Mexicans are the leading exporters of smiles.” “CongratuLatinos.” They talk about girls/women. “We really support them in their cause.” Chris: “What is their cause?” “It goes back to the original Adam and Eve. Eve took the first risk, and kinda messed things up a little bit.” “The title is ‘Women Are People Too.’” Chris: “They’ll be thrilled to know that.” “What a nice nod to the glass ceiling.” Chris: “Do you have groupies?” “Hey, hugging’s good, but hey, you gotta be careful. Sometimes it’s a gateway hug.” Chris: “Is it not OK to masturbate?” “IT IS NOT OK.” “We’re on Tweeter. God’s Pottery is the handle.” “How do you guys feel about poking on Facebook?” “It’s a slippery slope. You start with one poke, and then you’ve got a super poke.” “We support urban music.” “His blackness is not a big deal.” “We don’t see color, except for rainbows.” “We often play a game, ‘Who Loves Jesus More?’; that can get a little heated.”

12. OK Go! ”Transvestites are a lot like Netflix’s subgenres. It just gets very very detailed for no apparent reason.” “Is Real Sports like Real Sex?” “Less titties.” Chris: “I think it’s cool….You never know what people are going to respond to on Twitter.” “There’s two ways to look at the dissolution of the music industry… the structures people got paid by are all shrinking or disappearing or imploding… there’s no set way to go about doing it… There’s a way up the ladder. Now, there isn’t that system. The good thing about that, with the dissolution of the mode of distribution, you also have the dissolution of all the creative barriers that were built into it. Or, the types of creativity that grew to flourish in that system. Music videos in 1985 were advertisements. They were paid for by record labels to sell CDs…. in 1994, the artist in that video was akin to a Toyota in a Toyota commercial. The reason they had to be so specific… MTV played 50 or 100, 200 things a year. It was a very tight playlist. If that was your only outlet… There’s an arms race to be the most demographically suitable. If you don’t keep eyes glued to the screen that will then go out and buy skating sneakers, you’re off.” Chris: “I hosted a show on MTV in the 90s, and…we’d get complaints from people… no one watches video shows anymore. They’re the lowest rated shows on television. That’s why they put programming on.” “When the distribution system falls apart, you don’t have those rules anymore. You make something that’s interesting, other people like it, and you’re done…There’s these new creative spaces that open up, because you don’t have those rules anymore.” Chris: “There was always shitty art. It just didn’t survive cause it was shitty.” Ghostbusters vs. I Want a New Drug. Weird Al Yankovic. “He’s paying more attention to what’s going on in the world than anyone I know.” About the treadmill video. “The video cost about $5000. The biggest cost was buying treadmills and returning them, they wouldn’t buy them back at full cost…. There’s really no reason to have a temporary treadmill in your life.” USC vs. UCLA. The TEDX conference. “Wonder is a good drug.” Treadmill video got 50 million views. Chris: “If you can’t see something on the Internet… we get really mad.” “Whose Tube?” The paint thing. Praise for the guy who did the Steadicam work on the Rube Goldberg video. “The fairy tale with the chick who sleeps on the pea?… I was gonna say Rapunzel, but she’s the one with the sweet hair.” SYYN Labs. I thought that it would take one or two people two or three months. It was two and a half months of design, and three months of building. It went from 10 people on average, to about 60.” Chris: “That’s the best thing about nerd sourcing. They will work for free, just so they can work on this special thing.” “I’ve never seen another Rube Goldberg thing that hits beats like that….” Someone admits they’ve never seen The Matrix or Avatar. (Take away his Nerdist card.) About building stuff out of Leggos. A huge discussion about the Muppets. Chris brags about getting the Muppets videos first. Chris talks about the DVD extras on the Muppet movie, with Jim Henson and Frank Oz scouting locations for the Muppets. About SNL. “Do you interview a lot of people who don’t love what they do?” “Now the community we can have with our fans is so much more robust, and so much more interesting.” RE: 8-bit porn “I can’t masturbate to that more than six times, and then, you’re done.” “You see Chun Li’s baloney muffin?” “There’s nothing about being first to use technology anymore.” Chris: “Your videos are all good analog achievements.” ”You could do a whole separate podcast about puns.” “We broke away from EMI two and a half weeks ago… It’s great for us in so many ways. We don’t focus on selling records, we focus on making stuff. They are in the business of selling records… We obviously think in a very different way than that… They sort of have to figure out a new way to do business…” Chris: “I think of the record industry like a guy who was really hot in the 70s.” “It’s not a metaphor. It’s like two dozen of those guys.” FOUR STARS

This Week in Tech

0. TWIT, the Pilot (Jan. 17, 2005) Leo and Dave Prager at MacWorld 2005. Kevin Rose can’t hear. Roger Chang. Patrick Norton and his wife Sarah. About buying a Mac Mini. KR: “Did you see the keynote, Leo? That Sony might acquire Apple?” (Steve Jobs) Leo: “Jobs didn’t drop that hint for nothing. There’s definitely something going on.” Leo: “We have a big announcement to make. We have some sort of alliance of former Tech TV people.” Prager… “How would you like to be the VP of marketing?” KR: “We’re all going on different paths, doing different things… there is certain content we just can’t air on G4 anymore… we’re geeks, though… I wanna do more of that…. What I enjoy most is that we were actually teaching people something about technology. It’s so nice to get the emails from people, ‘I learned so much from you guys.’ ” Leo: “(People saying): ‘We want Tech TV back.’ ” Norton could be the “naughty Andy Rooney (online.” Leo: “We wanna get Patrick. We wanna get Yoshi online. Prager, you’re gonna get a website. Roger… he’s at CNET now… Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes this podcast. Have a wonderful evening.”

1. TWIT, Episode 1 Is Online. (April 17, 2005) (“Revenge of the Screensavers”/bleeped out) Kevin Rose. Robert Heron. Patrick Norton. Patrick drove from San Francisco to Denver, Colorado. Driving in the dust. “The only person who’s gainfully employed in television here is Kevin Rose.” Leo is too, but “only” in Canada. “Screensavers is no longer. It’s now called ‘Attack of the Show.’ ” Leo: “Kevin is also working on his own vanity project, his own offline TV show.” Kevin: “Systm is an old kickback to the old Screensavers, where I focus on one particular subject per episode… 15-20 minutes per episode.” KR: “This is kinda the grown-up Broken. More mainstream.” They talk about displaying beer during the TV show. KR: “We wanna keep it also online… We can go really geeky, really take our time, and not have to worry about dumbing it down.” Leo to Robert (about Tech TV): “Do you miss it?” Robert: “After seeing firsthand how TV is really just about numbers in Los Angeles, it makes me realize how special that whole environment was we had in San Francisco at that time.” Leo: “Yeah, we were ignorant.” KR: “It’s a completely different environment down here than it was in San Francisco…. Our owners enjoyed tech. We were constantly having to trim a lot of that out. You weren’t even getting enough information to make it worthwhile… What they want me to focus on Attack of the Show is some of the dark tip stuff….” Leo talks about how Edison developed the first electric chair. He thought it would be a more humane way to die.  Leo: “As it turns out, unless you think have flames spurting from your ears humane, it’s not the most humane way to execute people.” Leo: “I don’t know exactly what this show, this “Revenge of the Screensavers” is going to be. It’s fun to just sit around and talk. Right now, we’re using Skype to do it. We’ve got four people. The quality is good.” Leo: “Certain privileges accrue to the person that owns the mixer.” Leo showed his son a payphone in Paris. “This is history.” They discuss cell phone carriers. They all prefer Verizon. “Where’s the Joni Mitchell?” Leo: “I make sure I don’t take any dirty pictures. Or I delete them right away.” KR: “Thanks for sharing.”  Leo: “Isn’t this walkie-talkie thing stupid?” Leo: “Who wants to sit with loud-mouthed boring people for six hours?” About people talking loud on cell phones. Leo: “What’s your favorite gadget right now, Kevin Rose?” KR: “A miniature camcorder.” Leo: “Is it secret that you do Digg?” KR: “No, people pretty much know.” Leo: “I love it… It’s one better than Slashdot. It’s become really better and better. I use it as part of my news beat check, cause I get stuff that doesn’t show up anywhere else. What’s your plans with that? You gonna grow it?” KR: “All my nights and weekends, I spend working on it. We’re in the process of redesigning little portions of it. It’ll create dynamic RSS feeds for your friends. Just what your friends are digging throughout the day.” Leo: “That’s the future, isn’t it?” Leo mentions wanting to do video at some point with the show. “Better audio.” Leo: “Frankly, I don’t think video adds anything at this point… but maybe down the road.” Leo: “I have nothing against G4 or Charles Hirshhorn…. I don’t think those of us who were involved in it have the same feelings those who watched it did… I don’t think Tech TV is ever gonna come back. That’s long gone.”

2. TWIT, Episode 2 Is Online. (April 24, 2005) They are still calling it Revenge of the Screensavers. Patrick Norton: “At least one of our former coworkers is making a fair amount of money.” Leo: “I know which one… This is the thing that bugs me. Wall Street Journal outed (tech guys) for saying they’d been paid for appearances… Remember Gadget Girl? We found out that her flights were being paid for by one of the companies, and we said, ‘Sorry, you can’t come back.’ ” Napoleon Dynamite? KR: “Not a big fan.” They talk about Tiger and BitTorrent. I got a Cease and Desist letter from G4, saying, “You can’t use the name.” They decide to throw it to the users, to come up with a name. They offer prizes for a good name. Leo: “People are very happy with this podcast. God knows why. Gotta come up with something good every week now.” Leo: “On the set, we’d do LAN parties…. People don’t realize, this was starting to be a problem on the Screensavers set… We’d all be playing Halo 1 (or Halo 2). The TV show was getting in the way.” Leo: “I want to put some content, so it’s not just some guys sitting around talking.” So they talk about some tech. “There’s all these great radio stations coming across Nevada.” Leo: “I just use a little cassette adapter.” Leo: “That’s one of the things about podcasts. It’s for commutes.” Leo asks Kevin about Systm. Revenge of the <BLEEP>…

And then, to really mess everything up…

174. A 10-Ferret Night  Leo is speaking with John Hodgman. Hodgman sent Leo a picture of a ferret. Ferrets are “a good way to warm oneself on a winter night.” Leo: “A 10 ferret night.” They discuss all going to Yale. (Jonathan Coulton has been added to the convo.) The dorms they lived in. John and Jonathan are in Brooklyn. Leo asks if they still play stickball. They say no. They discuss eggnog, as it’s the holidays. Leo thinks it all tastes alcoholic. John says, “The trick is to use alcoholic eggs.” They discuss the gift that John has sent Leo. It’s a bacon scarf. “Do not eat.” They decide to not talk about tech, just celebrate the holidays. “Just tell the truth, and usually, it’s hilarious.” Hodgman continues to describe the origin of the word “noggin.” They continue to explore the origin of the word “piggyback.” Hodgman talks about the word “pygg.” They lose Hodgman on Skype. This progresses to chat about crystal skulls. And then crystal skull vodka. How it’s available in LA, but not NY yet. They speak of Hodgman’s books. “That period in the 90s when we did not speak to each other because I grew a better beard.” “It’s a time when people come together and put aside old arguments and old fake beards schemes, and remind themselves why they like one another.” Leo: “A special holiday edition of TWIT.” “One of them was signed by its creator, Dan Ackroyd. I could not accept such a gift.” Hodgman was a literary agent, and Jonathan was a programmer. Hodgman’s first “job” after being a literary agent was to write an article for Men’s Journal. Leo: “Are you pleased that absinthe has returned to the marketplace?” Hodgman: “It’s the same reason red M&Ms were banned.” Leo: “We’ve got a closet numismatist in our midst. Try saying that fast.” Hodgman: “Some gifts become a kind of burden.” Jonathan: “Holiday Lesson No. 3.” Leo: “Have you seen the video of President Bush dodging the shoe?” Hodgman: “Shoe ducking is a big sport in Texas.”  Jonathan: “Isn’t it duck shoeing?” Leo: “You can’t shoe a duck.” Jonathan: “That’s why it’s a sport.” Leo: “I don’t even like it when they hit him with a pie.” Leo: “If ever I were to field a dodgeball team of former presidents, he would be my first pick.” Leo: (RE the Secret Service) “If they’re fast enough to take a bullet, why can’t they be fast enough to take a shoe?” Jonathan: “They’re not there to jump in front of shoes.” Leo: “I’m told by our chat room that in fact in Iraq it is considered a great insult to throw your shoes.”  Hodgman: “My fans are much more civilized than Jonathan’s.” Leo: “You’re very well-known for The Daily Show, but  probably best known for the Apple switch ads. Do people… Is there a catch phrase? do they say, ‘Hey PC’?” Leo’s advice from his dad: “Rummies have no wind, so don’t worry, you can outrun them…. Never catch the eye of a hobo.” Leo: “What do you call ‘em nowadays? Bums?” Hodgman: “Hobo is a very specific subculture…” Leo: “Not all bums are hoboes.” Hodgman:  “In my book..they self-identified as hoboes, and chose a life of wandering and drinking, and wearing the same pants all the time. I’m not talking about the contemporary urban homeless.” Hodgman: “It’s extremely dangerous, actually… There was a hobo serial killer… I don’t advise that to anyone. That’s my holiday gift to the youth.” Leo: “CNN is explaining why the Secret Service did not, in fact, block the shoe. ‘They were in the back room.’ ” Jonathan: “You, unlike a rummy, have plenty of wind.” They argue about the states of New England, and which is better. Jonathan: “I know I should like Bob Dylan. He’s never really excited me.” They talk about Hodgman’s theme song on YouTube. They discuss other boring stuff. “Beat Box Chops is actually the name of his style of beard.” ”I thought it was Adam Curry making a mess of things.” “I wasn’t famous enough to get even podcasters to mess with me.” Doing a Podsafe Christmas song.  ”Adam… Adam… Adam!” THREE STARS

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Les Miserables Adds One Miserable One to Its Audience (Not Me)

Here’s my journey with Les Miserables. I originally read the book in French in college. I loved it. Victor Hugo’s way of describing a situation just took my breath away. (I highly recommend checking out the book.) It is lush with detail and description, as books of that age were, and I have fond memories of the scenes playing out in my head as Hugo wrote them.

Then, when I first saw Les Miserables onstage, I was somewhat stunned and shocked at how much they endeavored to get onstage in such a short time. Of course, when you are condensing a massively intricate book into a few hours of stage time, some thing are going to have to go. So, I mourned them, but I cried throughout watching the show. At the big rousing number at the end, I was on my feet with the rest of the crowd, crying and singing along. It remains one of my most treasured theatre experiences.

Now, we get to the movie. And I have heard many rumblings from various people and critics. This one today prompted me to write this review:

http://themattwalshblog.com/2012/12/28/les-miserables-taught-me-how-to-hate-again/

It all really seems to boil down to this. If you are an avid reader and/or an avid theatregoer, preferably one who loves musicals, preferably one who loves and/or has seen this musical,  you’re going to enjoy the movie. A lot.

This poor man was way out of his element, and frankly, I don’t know why his wife didn’t just leave the poor sod at home.

Here’s what the experience of the movie was for me.

First, the whole “they’re singing live” is really, truly groundbreaking. For me, it was one of the most exciting things about the movie. It really was like combining the best elements of the play with the conventions of filming a movie. Maybe average theatregoers (like our Mr. Walsh) can’t understand that, but it’s truly a big big deal.

Let me explain a bit more. One of the greatest things about live theatre is that you are right there. If the actor forgets a word or is a bit off-key, it’s real. It’s in the moment. It’s life, it happens. In our saturized, prepackaged worlds of perfection (TV, film, magazines), all of that has been airbrushed out, sweetened, autotuned, so that ALL we have are sappy singers who can’t sing but with a few turns of a button they sound fantastic. ****COUGHTaylorSwiftCOUGH*****

And here we have a musical with VERY difficult songs, and the actors are singing them right there. What you see is what you get. And, I might add, NEVER been done before. Never, in any musical ever filmed. What it produced, for me, was a really stunning work of film that moved me nearly as much as the musical version. And that, for me, has never happened before (I usually always prefer the stage version).

A lot of people made fun of Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (saying they were out of place in the film). Well, this segment of the musical (which of course is nonexistent in this fashion in the book), is meant as comic relief. Every musical has to have some comic relief, or it’ll be dreadfully dreary. Especially this one.

In the musical, these two characters were the most fun, and were one of my favorite moments of the production. Their song was light and airy and funny. However, the movie lays bare the truth of how they are picking pockets and bamboozling people, and up close like that, it’s really not so funny. These two actors, precisely because of their quirks and known peccadillos, are absolutely perfect for these two roles. But these parts were not my favorite parts of the movie.

The “obligatory tragic love story” as the man wrote is, indeed, there. And yes, in movies, and even moreso in movie musicals, the whole love thing is a glance across a room. This is nothing new. The whole Sharks-Jets war was fought over Tony spying Maria for a moment at a dance, too. Falling in love, according to this theory, happens the moment you see someone. You know it instantly, and there it is. Now this magic occurrence doesn’t happen for everyone, you may never know it in a lifetime, but certainly those who’ve experienced it describe it this way.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne, while not standard movie choices for these parts, perhaps, were just wonderful, both of them.

The average moviegoer review I referred to commented how Inspector Javert and Jean Valjean have their fight in “one neighborhood.” I’m not sure where the fault is with this. That Americans don’t know the difference between the city of Paris and a suburb of Paris or a city far in the country? Dunno. It’s QUITE clear in the book that they traverse many miles of distance in their battles. Even in the stageplay, it’s clear that there is a chase at hand.

But let me just clarify a bit. When Jean Valjean leaves Inspector Javert at the beginning, he has traveled FAR to get away from him. You see him on a mountaintop in the movie, whereas he was originally in Paris. OK? That’s far. So far away that he becomes another man, with another name.  So much so that when Javert sees him, he doesn’t recognize him. He has heard of his fame and benevolence, and doesn’t connect the esteemed mayor before him with the lowlife convict he is chasing. Actually, I would have to check again, but I believe in the book, it’s a short visit to this town, and then back to Paris.

Valjean travels back to Paris to give away his identity AND to take care of Cosette. When he finds her and realizes he can’t leave her, they flee, but it is again to the country. So there is a bit of chasing going on, which you really have to know the book or the musical to fully realize. Also, in the movie, when Valjean realizes that Javert is again on to him, he mentions to Cosette that they have to flee again. He mentions another home they have in another city. But this was in French, so maybe it flew past our poor beleaguered audience member.

As far as Russell Crowe’s singing (and portrayal of Javert)… I was glad it was Russell Crowe. I can’t imagine anyone else in movies who both sings and can stand toe to toe with Hugh Jackman in a menacing way. That said, he was the one weak link in the movie to me. He just wasn’t mean enough. You really have to feel Javert’s meanness to your core, and he was way too nice. Also, you have to really know two things about Javert: One, he takes pity on no one, ever; two, he is a soldier who lives and dies by his rules (one of his rules being that he takes pity on no one, ever). If you don’t understand this about him (and Crowe really didn’t convey that), you won’t understand with full gravity why he does what he does late in the second act. But as a good soldier, he feels he has absolutely no other choice. The song is supposed to explain it, and the cinematography goes a long way toward this, but… still…

People have also taken issue with Tom Hooper’s direction (especially the continued use of close-ups). Here’s what it is. He filmed the stage musical, nearly exactly. There was very little of the magic that you look to a film director for. A new take on it, an inspired way of staging, etc. It was just the musical, straight-up. As close as possible. And, in that context, the close-ups on the actors, singing their solos kinda makes sense. It may be, and is, annoying to an audience expecting the distance of a movie; but if you are only expecting “the movie version” of the musical, you’ll be fine.

I’ve been saving for last the things about this movie I loved the most.

I want to give credit to all the technicians: the costumers, the makeup artists, the set designers, who made this version of 1800s Paris look as gritty and dirty and loathsome as it probably was.

But the gems of this movie to me were two people.

First, the luminous and amazing Anne Hathaway. She has one big number, and she is phenomenal in it. I am among the chorus of people who truly believes she is looking at an Oscar for this performance. I was sobbing at the end of her song (like many, I am sure). Sadly, she’s not in much of the movie (as she wasn’t in much of the play).

But the real, true revelation to me of the movie was Hugh Jackman. I’ve long admired him as an actor. And a singer. And a stage showman. He’s won an Emmy for his hosting of the Tony, but that’s about it for awards for this man. Well, that has to stop.

Of all the people who had really the weight of this movie on their shoulders, it was mostly Hugh Jackman. Of the people who would cause the whole “we’re going to sing it LIVE!” concept to sink or swim, it rested with Hugh Jackman. And because he is so knock-it-out-of-the-park awesome in this role, I truly believe that not only will he chalk up his first (so well-deserved) Oscar nomination for this role, but I think he’s going to muscle aside the current favorite, Daniel Day-Lewis, for it.

Singing and dancing is tough. But carrying every scene (nearly), going from scruffy convict to esteemed mayor (convincingly), to father caring for his child–it’s just incredible to watch. And the songs he performs (to perfection!) along the way. It’s truly a tour de force. Added with that, the fact that not only has he never won, he’s never been nominated, I really believe Jackman is going to walk away with the Best Actor Oscar this year.

Boy, is that going to piss that dude off! heh

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Podcast Reviews

Updating some podcasts that I’ve listened to since I last posted Podcast Reviews.

DIGGNATION

176. Sexy Couch Hologram

Sitting on Kevin’s “sexy couch” in SF. Examining polls. Kevin and Alex talk politics. Barack Obama just got elected. Kevin’s family is all Republicans. He’s the “black sheep.” CA gets a bullet train, from SF to SD. YAY! Kevin talks about taking the Chunnel bullet train. Alex is not into it. Kevin talks about being underwater for half an hour, but is more worried about the BART in SF, which also goes underwater. Alex is claustrophobic. They talked about the early days of the Internet. Being network admins on Novell. Searching for porn on FTP. “Computers aren’t special anymore,” Alex. Whether or not fixing computers is, as Kevin says, “an old person thing.” They want to build robots. Heidi Klum doing an ad for Guitar Hero. It would be better if she actually knew the words. CNN uses a hologram for its political reporting for the election. Kevin just got “Memento.” Some girl pours beer on her breasts to get her nipples hard. Ain’t it great to be a podcaster?

 177. Multiview Diggnation Remix!

Kevin gets glasses. When is the proper time to hit back if a girl’s hitting you. Kevin jokes about snipping off a girl’s nipple. Kevin saw a lot of fights in Vegas. Tyson Foods’ use of antibiotics in chicken. Finding money in a wall in a house. Kevin advises people to keep money that they find, don’t tell anyone. :-0 The “nutsac mode” on your camera. Kevin and Alex are officially geeks. Kevin: “I think spammers are worse than a drug dealer.” Kevin recommends a documentary about the font Helvetica. How to really enjoy cacao nibs. The art of crossbows.

View the remixed version at: www.revision3.com/remix

 178. TikiNation

They are at Alex’s house in LA, and Kevin rips into Alex about “losing his manhood” because his fiancee has placed potpourri there. People from TikiBar are here. Dr. Tiki smiles perfectly for the camera, when the Diggnation boys think he’s going to the bathroom. About having a good chair for your ass when you’re a gamer. A woman gets scammed for $400,000 from one of those email chain letters. Alex likes the Mountain themes in Gmail. Dr. Tiki starts manning the camera. (And he’s good.) Alex’s dog is really cute. So’s Lala, whom Dr. Tiki just panned to. Kevin and Alex both love Golden Girls. They talk about guys who “idolize Ron Jeremy.” Kevin thinks he’s “nasty.” Hanna Montana’s “gummy cocks.” “Midget kick boxing.” “LetMeGoogleThatForYou.” Dot com. First ever: “Technical Difficulties.” Glen is not there today… *sigh* Cool on location sponsors. Kevin and Glen are driving back to San Francisco from LA. Great segment. “Why do I wanna fuck that cat? It better be a girl cat.” –Alex How does one ask a girl out? Men and women have very different opinions. “Do you wanna play Oui?” “All of a sudden, it’s like… zip…” Then, a dream about monkeys crawling over someone. “How could you have that relationship? They’d throw poo at you.” –Alex

 179. Hangovers

Brought to you by “Uno Equis. When Dos Equis is a little too much beer.” Alex and his dog are both hungover. Kevin is, but less so. PC magazine shutting down its print edition. Which magazines Kevin and Alex read. Wired is very popular. They give a secret Twitter account and say they wanna do an episode about their favorite Twitter accounts. Alex’s dog is passed out next to him. They talk about the car company bailouts. Kevin wants cool tech in his car that updates automatically via Bluetooth. They have to leave early because, you know, Alex needs to throw up.

KEVIN POLLAK’S CHAT SHOW 

27, part 2. Paul F. Tompkins Kevin gives Guy Kawasaki some shit at BlogWorld, apparently. Kevin loves the Blogess. About his beginnings in comedy. Another guy wearing black. Sigh. I hate the now “Oprah, Paris or Demi” game. Horrible, all these interruptions from the crew. About watching TV shows on DVD. TWO STARS

THE NERDIST

8. Jim Gaffigan. The Nerdist crew is talking a lot in this one. How doing TV doesn’t sell a ticket (to a comedy show) anymore. The Encyclopedia Britannica of comedy. How Gaffigan writes with his wife. I’m biased by the fact that Jim Gaffigan bores the crap outta me, so sorry, I’m zoning out now. TWO STARS

 9. Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. Chris breaks out the Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies. Upping the ante on the OK Go video. How much cooler it would’ve been to be a rock star in the 70s. Do we have to do everything? Having a bowling father vs. a rocket scientist father. Is it essential to have a marketing background to be in a band? Mike was really late joining Twitter. Comparing blogs. How MSM (and band management) doesn’t understand YouTube. Warner Brothers deleted 5MILLION views on YouTube. Which can’t be gotten back. Mike “needs a little bit of privacy” (regarding Twitter). Chris: “We’ve become a culture of aggregators.” Linkin Park has its own social network. Whether it’s better to have millions of half-baked fans or 10,000 really passionate ones. Chris: “Apple is like the hot cheerleader who won’t fuck you, but you’ll carry her books anyway.” Chris would join Linkin Park if he could play melodica. Dealing with Pandora and the music genome thing. Holding onto fans when the band changes direction. The story of Smashing Pumpkins. “I’ve been on TV a decade longer” (than Joel McHale). They talk about productivity and the “4-Hour Work Week.” They talk about how they maintain their schedules (iCal and Evernote). How labels hide the way they take money from artists. Mike explains Kickstarter. Chris’ band called Sniper. musicforrelief.org for a free download. THREE STARS

10. LIVE  Blech. Don’t review live shows. Wait, there is this. Chris: “Vegas to me is a lot like a stripper pole. From far away, it looks all shiny. When you get up close, it smells like poop and sadness.” Gotta get this down. RE: Abercromie & Fitch’s new look. “You really expect to see people doing rails of coke off the folding tables, while vampires are feeding on Asian schoolgirls, while the ghost of Oscar Wilde is blowing the ghost of Andy Warhol, on the back of a unicorn with a dick for a horn, shooting rainbows onto a Project: Runway marathon.” Brilliant.

THIS WEEK IN PHOTO

001. Live from MacWorld

All of the panelists introduce themselves. About how beautiful Africa is. Alex’s Africa project. Photography “is a storytelling medium.” “Make sure when you take a photograph, that you tell a story.” “Is there a story I want to tell? Is there a memory I want to protect?” “When you have a special moment, never let it go. Follow it through to the very end, and then let it go.” “There are very few of those magic, special moments.” Alex Lindsay talks about being at LucasFilm. “Buy a lot of film, take a lot of photos.” “An amateur photographer takes A snapshot. A professional photographer takes 20.” EDFAT. Entire, Details, Focal Length, Angle and Time. An establishing shot or two. Let’s go to details. Then I’ll vary all those shots with different focal lengths. And boy, you’ve got a different story. “I’ll also play with fast and slow shutter speeds.” “It’s like a dance.” If you shoot 14 frames and you have 14 to choose from… “Look at the stuff that’s most visually rich, and concentrate on that.” “Eventually, you find yourself in a photographic place that you couldn’t have predicted.” “Once you get those diamond images, it gives you a goal to work harder.”

 002. The Future of DSLRs

Alex Lindsay in studio with Scott Bourne and Alex’s brother. A discussion of the new SLRs. “We’re getting to a point where we’re almost plateauing. What do the next generation of cameras need to have?” Regarding which camera to buy. “Any camera you spend $400-500.. is gonna do things that the top-of-the-line Nikkon couldn’t do 20 years ago.” “All megapixels are not created equal.” A discussion of bokeh, a Japanese word. “The soft background, the out-of-focus areas, produced by a camera lens.” “It’ll all sort of blur so that you can’t see really anything.” “It gets very complicated… it’s not perfect circles.” LensBaby. Whether it’s better to do it “in camera” or in Photoshop. “We’re gonna see the end of CF cards.” “We will see bigger cards, and bigger brighter viewfinders.” “…and all this stuff will just continue to get cheaper and cheaper…” “The CCD is pretty much dead. I think in the future, we’ll see more C-Moss sensors.” Nikkon vs. Canon. Being able to make a lot of photo corrections in iPhoto.

WTF with Marc Maron

118. Maz Jobrani Maron contemplates “normalcy.” Contemplating “hoarding” vs. “being nostalgic.” He’s “done with the hoarding.” He’s digging “Breaking Bad.” Being on “fart lockdown.” Guys on TV eating themselves into a stupor on reality TV. “I’m happy to help people masturbate.” The distinction between Persian and Iranian. All about the shah. Zorastrian or Muslim? The perception of Iran compared to the reality of it. “The Axis of Evil” comics. THREE STARS

119. Adam McKay FOUR STARS

 120. LIVE in Austin I hate the live shows. So there was this. One guy who was miffed that Marc didn’t remember him. One chick who makes bad jokes about her cat, who died. Fun. One stupid comic. Then a cruel comic. Then another one, talks about his parents. Marc calls this “the deepest (live show)” he’s ever encountered. (Scary.) “I like to drink.” Museum jokes. ONE STAR

121. Ken Jeong Ken talks about being a doctor as well as a comedian, the making of Hangover, and how he still has his medical license, in case this comedy thing doesn’t work out. THREE STARS

122. Jessi Klein Jessi worked at Comedy Central back in its early days and has really enlightening things to say about that, and about temping in NYC. THREE STARS

123. The Creation Museum Marc is skeptical about these creationists and this museum they’ve created to honor their beliefs. But once he smuggles a microphone in, he’s amazed at the nice package they put together. Almost has him convinced. THREE STARS

124. Paul Scheer  Marc has visited Detroit and actually liked it. Marc talks about air travel and harassing a Virgin America rep on Twitter to get a better seat. Marc and Paul discuss the wonders of TV Guide back in the day. Marc was once a clue in a TV Guide crossword puzzle. On how programming a VCR foreshadowed TiVos and DVRs. “Celebrities can only hang out with celebrities. So you find them in weird groupings sometimes.” About doing a bar mitzvah in someone’s house. About meeting Aziz Ansari and Human Giant. About working at MTV and dealing with censors. Big dad fights. Leaving an abusive relationship. Surviving divorce. THREE STARS

125. LIVE Charles Fleischer et al I hate live shows. Blech. This one’s dreadful. Burn immediately. ZERO STARS

126. A.D. Miles/Bobby Tisdale Marc talks about his gratitude on Thanksgiving. How if he didn’t create this podcast, he didn’t know what he was going to do with his life. How he’s dreading participating in the family Thanksgiving thing. How AD Miles knew Marc. How he got the job at Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. They talk about the Fallon show, and how he seems like he’s enjoying himself. How one never sleeps. The jokes Jimmy won’t do. How working in late night teaches you to not linger agonizing over jokes forever. How he met Zach Galifinakis. “I guess I’ve always been a ham or whatever.” THREE STARS

127. Aziz Ansari Marc recaps his fun at Thanksgiving. That’s what Thanksgiving’s for: “to say in your mind, ‘I’m not going to be like that.’” Aziz is allergic to cats. The craft services truck on Parks and Rec. He has a phone addiction. Marc talks about Aziz’s Indian background, and why he doesn’t use it in his comedy. Aziz is a master of the whole Google affiliate scene. Being on Rolling Stone’s Hot List. Passing out fliers for comedy shows. “Everyone passing you hates you.” The club HA, and how it took advantage of comics. “Do you want to stand in the worst part of New York, and have people hate you for a couple hours?” How working on new material puts you at the same spot as anyone else (open mics in LA). THREE STARS

128. Mike Schmidt Mike has problems parking. Marc thinks he could do half an hour on that. Mike wants advice. Marc tells him to get a director. Mike sees his peers getting much more success than he has. The “Disappointing the Fans” tour. “I’ve been on that for fucking twenty years,” Mike Schmidt. They talk about his one-man show. The wondrous Lily Von Schtupp is his producer. Maron: “I know that people relate to my neurosis.” Schmidt: “The people who listen to me root for me.” They talk about podcasting. A Quentin Tarantino burlesque. About weighing 500 lbs. and scaling back. About how with food addictions, you can’t just give up eating. Mike’s family history. Maron: “Is there a race going on?” “We get comfortable in even the worst of our patterns.” Being attacked by a possum. Fighting zombies. Who would I fuck at the bank? “Everyone’s sucking cock and getting work done.” In Chicago. Mike goes after a group of people who keep talking at a show. Marc talks about doing the “Jerusalem Syndrome.” Maron: “I gotta go to therapy.” Schmidt: “I just finished mine.” TWO AND A HALF STARS

129. Janeane Garafolo Marc talks about lighting some twisted Hanukkah candles. Janeane gets lost getting to Marc’s house. They discuss Air America. Marc: “People have pigeonholed you because of the politics, and I got that too.” Janeane: “…being pigeonholed, it does affect your career… A lot of times females who are vocal, suddenly find themselves less able to work.…. People of color and women are not afforded the same latitude and leeway of their behavior in the workplace as white males are.” “It’s not an agenda. This is our lives.” Talk about the Tea Party, and how speaking about it kept her from jobs. Janeane: “The right wingers don’t ultimately win, otherwise we’d still own slaves and I wouldn’t be voting.” Marc: “You have a certain amount of hope that good will prevail.” Janeane: “Time marches on. It just happens. We have a black president.”  J: “There will always be… small groups of people who will wield a tremendous amount of power, and do a lot of damage.” Janeane mentions Matt Taibi, Rachel Maddow, people online doing their thing. “They are citizens first. They are serving the citizens. They don’t serve their corporate masters. Their consciousness as humans overrides their workplace environment.” Marc: “I don’t think people know anymore what objective reporting is.” J: “I don’t need the news to be entertaining.” M: “Well, people do.” J: “I don’t take things at face value…. I’m going down swinging. I refuse to be bullied by a system.” M: “Let’s talk about the pursuit of happiness.” M: “Do you have any regrets?” J: “It’s much better to live in your truth than to worry about a stupid job on TV.” Janeane seems to pin her lack of work now on Air America. M: “It certainly means you have personal priorities that transcend a lot of bullshit.”  FOUR STARS

 

Argo: A Well-Paced Thriller

I worry about movies where they show maps at the beginning. Maps with excessive voiceover usually make me cringe. It seems so amateurish.

But, I suppose, in the case of Argo, when one is trying to explain the complexities of Iran, one had better insert some briefing materials at the beginning for those Americans who don’t know what the heck is going on over there.

Or, what was going on in 1979 over there, which is when our story takes place.

First-time screenwriter Chris Terrio does OK, considering this is his first feature script. There are a lot of characters and situations to throw around, and for the most part, they are handled with ease.

Ben Affleck’s direction is another issue. This, his third movie, is the tensest of them all, with a juicy story. However, his propensity to have a closeup of himself just about every other shot really started to irk me after a while. Sorry, Ben, but this story isn’t about the guy who got them out. It’s about the hostages. (Or it SHOULD be.) They are the news here.

But if you can put all that aside, you have a story that up until President Clinton declassified it several years ago, no one really knew about.

The movie is exceedingly well cast. Lots of great actors, from Kyle Chandler as Hamilton Jordan to Bob Gunton as Cyrus Vance. Adam Arkin and John Goodman cover the Hollywood piece. Victor Garber is the Canadian ambassador. Tate Donovan and Clea DuVall are two of the hostages. Zeljko Ivanec and Titus Welliver play key roles.

But best of all, Bryan Cranston (really hard to not see him as Walter White anymore) is wonderful as the CIA guy. And Ben Affleck (in his “Hollywood won’t cast me, so I’ll cast me” role) is pretty good, save for all the closeups. There is a whole unnessary montage of Ben, alone with a whiskey bottle, which is overly long and somewhat extraneous.

So, a lot of people are lauding Argo, and it is a fun ride, but I have a lot of reservations about it being pushed into Best Picture territory.

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The Mindy Project Should Be Shelved

I do love Mindy Kaling. I love her energy and her Tweets. I love her presence on The Office.

And I was really looking forward to her new sitcom, “The Mindy Project,” on NBC.

I don’t see The Mindy Project being long for this world. Also, I think the subject would’ve fared better as a romantic comedy on the big screen than as a sitcom whose characters we want to get involved with every week.

Like those stories about Chelsea Handler (whatever that sitcom was called) and the sitcom about Whitney Cummings, this one is also too self-indulgent and self-centered. In fact, in this one, the title character is kind of a spazzy ditz whom you find a hard time rooting for (which again, would work in a romantic comedy on the big screen, not so much in someone you are going to turn in and watch every week).

The premise of the first episode is that Mindy is someone who bases her life on romantic comedies. But, not surprisingly, isn’t very good at love. She sleeps around pretty freely (again, not something mainstream America wants in a sitcom lead).

Various former members of either SNL or The Office traipse in as potential suitors. And surprise, the guy she’s going to fall in love with is right under her nose, just like any good romantic comedy.

But other than Mindy’s love life, and the fact that she has to take on a lot of patients who don’t have insurance, there’s not much of a plot there.

I took this show out of my TiVo queue after watching the first episode. Sorry, Mindy.

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The Master: Hard to Watch

I have a love-hate relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson. Mostly hate.

But let’s start with the love, shall we? “Boogie Nights,” my first introduction to him, was brilliant. I know some of the characters and stories from around these times, and the movie was meticulous and wonderful to watch. Great stuff.

His next, “Magnolia,” did have a pretty unforgettable performance by Tom Cruise, but was mostly a “WTF Was That?” kind of head-scratcher. (Cue raining frogs…)

“Punch Drunk Love” was so horrendously awful, if I’d thought to bring rotten tomatoes with me, I surely WOULD have thrown them at the screen. Instead, I just walked out. Hate doesn’t even begin to encompass how I feel about that movie. I still start seething when anyone even says those three words.

It is thus with trepidation that I approached “There Will Be Blood.” I do love Daniel Day-Lewis, so I did see it. Even sat all the way through to the end, but mostly hated it.

I’m realizing now why I hated these shows so much, as I scan IMDB for credits. All of these movies were not only directed by him, but written by him also. Not that people CAN’T both write and direct a movie. I just think HE can’t.

He’s one of those people who is so enamoured with the situations he’s setting up that he just thinks all is grand, while you’re sitting there wondering why the hell you are watching it. This is true, in greater or lesser degrees for me, in all his movies.

This latest one, I just realized has pretty much the same character as the oilman in “There Will Be Blood.” Except the guy in this one is (supposedly) the founder of Scientology. Starts out nice, becomes (through success) a crazed, greedy ego maniac. All along the way he is a charlatan.

So let’s just leave it at that. I pretty much hate Paul Thomas Anderson the writer. The director has some promise, if only he got another screenwriter.

However, all that being said, the actors he gets to work for him do amazing things.

In fact, the only reason to sit through this treacle is to watch some master craftsmen of acting do their thing.

Joaquin Phoenix, to my knowledge, has never turned in a better performance. He’s off the hinges and crazy. Sex-addicted, alcohol-addicted lunatic. One who barely fits into the confines of society. A psychopath.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is incapable of a bad performance, plays the “Scientology” leader. Charismatic and charming to his accolytes, but with a mean temper when crossed. Hoffman makes many subtle changes in character believable and stunning to watch.

Amy Adams, who just continues to be a revelation, sparkles as Hoffman’s wife. Laura Dern has a brief, but memorable, cameo.

As in “There Will Be Blood,” there are images in this movie that will be disturbing and hard to erase from one’s memory. But unlike “There Will Be Blood,”  I think this one is worth sitting through, just to see these actors work their magic.

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One World a Letdown So Far

To be fair, this season of Survivor has a lot to live up to. The brilliance and poignancy of last season’s Good vs. Evil (or whatever they really called it) is gonna be hard to top. Battle lines were drawn with audience members, but I am (and was) quite firmly in the “religion is cool in a reality show context” camp.

I loved Brandon, I loved Coach, I even loved the eventual winner. It was all wonderful for me, almost from the first frame.

This season, dubbed, “One World,” um, not so much. In fact, almost exactly the opposite for me. The beginning of last season, sure we had a bunchy of new people, but we also had Coach’s smiling face. And Ozzy’s. And Cochran’s. And people we’d come to know and love.

“One World”? Um…  The people are uninspiring.

Then there’s the game. There is no more Redemption Island, which could be good or bad, we shall see. There are more immunity idols. OK. Good news! If you find one, you can’t necessarily keep it, which makes it more interesting.

What I had hoped for with One World is more of the promise of last season: people learning how to work together. They took steps toward that by having both teams share one beach. The teams are also divided into Men and Women. Not sure how that’s going to play out, except that so far, both sides seem really selfish and out for themselves.

It’s quite jarring to watch, after last season’s moments of peace and beauty.

Also, there was no “virtual living room” tonight. People were stupid, doing stupid, selfish things. Not sure how much more of it I’m going to watch. It’s certainly not Must Watch TV like last season was.

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