Archive for February, 2012

Don’t you just love when the Academy gets it right? I sure do.

Once again my Oscar Ballot got completely murdered. My friends have a tendency to just go online and copy down the predictions of some “expert” whereas I consider each category personally. I also tend to vote with my heart and not with my head, which means I’m wrong a lot.

But not on what matters. The Artist and its director Michael Hazavanicious (spelling likely wrong) took home their well-deserved trophies, as did “Man or Muppet,” my boy Jim Rash (who also launched the internet meme of “jolie-ing”) and A Separation for foreign film.

I was wrong, but not surprised, about Christopher Plummer and Octavia Spencer’s supporting wins and I was wrong AND surprised by Jean Dujardin and Meryl Streep’s acting wins. I thought George and Viola had it in the bag and I can’t help but feel bad for Glenn Close, how many times does she have to sit in the audience and watch Streep make a colorfully endearing acceptance speech? Poor thing.

Also, how awesome is Billy Crystal? Sure, it didn’t blow me away but THE host’s 9th outing was a solid, respectable, pleasing success and after so many dismal failures that’s just what I wanted. For next year I just wish Hugh Jackman would get off his high horse and host again.

Best Moments.

  • LOVED Emma Stone, hated the bow on her dress. Why can’t we just let her do everything.
  • Jim Rash, pure genius.
  • Dujardin’s sudden outburst of French joy (or whatever the french have in place of joy)
  • Billy Crystal and George’s kiss
  • Christopher Plummer’s acceptance speech. “You’re 2 years older than me, darling, where have you been all my life?”
  • Jason Segel emotionally effected by McKenzie’s acceptance
  • Cirque du Soleil, I had my doubts but they pulled it off.

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First off, I wanted to make a note of something interesting about this year’s Oscar race. Since I live in a Red State, I am constantly hearing the moans and gripes from social conservatives about the steady moral decline shown in modern cinema. “Hollywood is nothing but Filth!” they scream, clutching their children to them and running from darkened theaters as the 20th Century Fox fanfare begins to play.

In their minds, every year movies are getting worse and worse, unlike the good wholesome entertainment that they were used to when they were younger. The explanation for this is obvious, when they were younger they didn’t watch every movie that was made. Have you seen Bonnie and Clyde lately? or Scarface? You’re right, compared to Bambi, The Hangover Part II seems a little crude but even the old Rock Hudson/Doris Day rom-coms are pretty much 118 minutes of sexual innuendo. I mean, Pillow Talk? Come on.

Why am I talking about this? Because amazingly, 8 out of the 9 Best Picture nominees are rated PG-13 and the lone R-rated offering, The Descendants, is far from a prurient romp. It’s actually a touching story about a family dealing with the loss of their mother and gets the big “R” because, understandably, the characters use a few F-bombs as they try to vocalize their emotions.

It’s unprecedented. Besides the fact that 8 “13s” is a statistical first — due to only 3 years of 5+ nominees — you would probably have to go back to the days of the Hays Production Code to find a crop of candidates that would please the Parents Television Council this much. I can actually talk about the nominees, all of the them, with my mom. This has never happened before in my lifetime.

So, to all the easily offended, take advantage of the one year when you can actually go and watch all of the Oscar nominees during AMC’s marathon (this weekend). And just remember that next year, when you talk about how bad movies are getting, I will shove 2011 in your face. The proof is in the pudding.

OH, you want to know who’s going to win? That’s easy.

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michael Hazavanicious (I probably spelled that wrong)
Best Actor: George Clooney
Best Actress: Viola Davis (Meryl has enough, don’t you think?)
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (conventional wisdom would suggest Christopher Plummer but something in me thinks Hill will be the surprise of the night)
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Chastain (most people are betting Spencer, but 2011 was the year of Chastain and I think it will be a message award for her entire body of work, then again, this is the Oscars not The Globes so I’m only 60% confident on this one)
Best Animated Feature: Rango (you can hear Gore Verbinski saying “Thank you Cars 2 for sucking so bad”)
Best Foreign: A Separation (this was on soooo many top 10 lists this year, EW’s Owen Gleiberman would have put it in the top category)
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight in Paris, FTW!
Best Adapted Screenplay: My man Jim Rash (I interviewed him, he’s a complete stud)
Best Song: “Man or Muppet” (I mean seriously, Rio? Please)

And…no one cares about the rest.

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For REQUIRED audio accompaniment to this post click here.

It’s not often that I get sentimental about my time in Brazil, but as I was passing through the internet today I came across a CNN article about the number of tourists at this year’s Carnival celebration in Rio De Janeiro. CNN is a good place to get your Carnival fix because they’ll give you a taste of the fun/shenanigans without throwing you in the deep end of nudity/decadence.

I love Carnival, and as I was reading a memory popped into my head that I wanted to share on Twitter or Facebook but before I could open up the page I had a second memory, and a third, and a fourth and pretty soon I was just giggling in my chair. So maybe this is more for me than for you, but here’s a list of things I miss since I had considerably less fun this weekend than my Brazilian brothers.

1. I miss the Carnival-season billboards, paid for by the city, that showed two faces looking at each other (of various gender combinations) with the caption: “Don’t Play Without a Condom” (Nao brinque sem camisinha).
1.5 I love the Brazilian word for condom, “Camisinha,” which translated literally means “little shirt.”
I miss the music. Except for a small minority of cultured individuals, Brazilians mostly listen to America’s table scraps (Hanson is HUGE there) but around Carnival it’s Frevo and Samba, all day, all night, all the time baby. Do a youtube search for Frevo, it has to be seen AND heard.
3. I miss the colors. It’s as if the entire country was taking part in a pride parade.
4. I miss how giant trucks covered inch by inch in loudspeakers (carros de som) would lead random, spontaneous “parades” (blocos, really they were mobile dance parties), suddenly appearing out of nowhere and passing you on the street sweeping up bystanders in its path.
5. Let’s not kid ourselves, I miss being surrounded everywhere I went by beautiful, dancing, half-naked Brazilians.
5.5 It was not uncommon for a bloco to stop in the middle of the street, for women to climb on top of the carros de som and proceed to remove what little clothing they were still wearing amidst the roar of the cheering crowds.
6. I miss the Galo da Madrugada (Early-morning rooster). It was, in fact, a giant rooster they put in the middle of a bridge in Recife with a million people dancing around it. Google it.
7. I miss the sheer magnitude of it. I’ve been in New York for the Thanksgiving Parade, I’ve been in Los Angeles on St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been in Salt Lake City on Pioneer Day. Drawing a crowd is child’s play. Nothing I have ever seen compares to the unhinged, ecstatic chaos of Carnaval where an entire country throws the rules out the window for an uninterrupted 5-day party.

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Following the return of The Voice and the debut of Smash, the next offering in NBC’s “Why Don’t You Like Us Anymore?” spring awakening strategy is Awake, a crime procedural with a twist. (Sidebar: since every crime procedural has a twist these days the easiest way to be ‘fresh’ would be to just solve a crime ever week, wouldn’t it?)

In this case we have Michael (played by Harry Potter’s Jason Isaacs) a police detective who, after surviving a car crash, finds himself alternating between alternate realities. Upon awakening, Michael finds himself in a reality where either his son, or his wife, died in the crash and at the end of the day when he goes to sleep he wakes up in the morning of the other reality.

The series’ greatest strength is how un-complicated they keep the premise. The twin realities have enough differences — two psychiatrists, two police partners — aside from the living family member to know which is which, an audience stand-in for Michael’s practice of wearing color-coded bracelets to tell life from life: red for the world in which his wife is alive, green for his son.

After so many years of Law and Order and it’s unending slate of imitators, solving crimes is the last thing on anybody’s mind over at Awake. Since broadcast television has to be mass-marketable (read: dumbed down) Michael works on a case-of-the-week which double as a MacGuffin for the day and also as a fun trick to show the overlap between the two worlds. In the debut, a murder at the address of 611 Waverly is mirrored by a child kidnapping where a key piece of evidence is found at stall number 611 at the Waverly parking lot. See what they did there?

The real question, of course, is whether or not any, or all, of this is “real.” Michael’s twin head-shrinkers (played like fire and ice by B.D. Wong and 24’s Cherry Jones) provide a lot of the thinking-man’s fun by suggesting their theories of reality and making convincing arguments that each of them is a corporeal human being and not, as they simultaneously suggest about each other, a figment of his imagination. “I can assure you,” Jones says, “that this is real.” “Funny,” Michael responds, “that’s exactly what Dr. Lee said.”

Of course the joke is on all of them. While we can all sympathize with their assumption that Michael has developed a coping mechanism to deal with his loss, we, the audience, know full well that each reality is just as real as the other. Either Michael is, in fact, bouncing between two parallel realities or, as I suspect, something else is afoot entirely. We get our first glimpse at the game thickening towards the end of the premiere episode as it becomes clear that Michael’s memory of the cause of his accident is shaky at best and, in a more dramatic example, we see a taste of the potential madness that Michael is headed toward if he doesn’t get a handle on his situation. The mind, as we all know, needs rest. (Sidebar number 2: did it bother anyone else that James Cameron never addressed this in Avatar?)

Awake intrigues, and implies that there is more fun in store. The supporting cast seems to have their fun without chewing the scenery and is an eclectic mix of “I know that face but not that name” actors including Wilmer Valderama and Steve Harris, the latter being the character in the most dangerous of entering caricature land with lines like “You know I’ve had a cold since the Clinton Administration.” Isaacs, in an attempt to bury his English accent, has buried much of his personality and charm as well and comes across as a monotone block of wood but hopefully with time he’ll be able to get comfortable in the skin of his alter-ego from across the pond, like his countryman Hugh Laurie.

In all, an interesting concept wrapped in an easy to swallow candy shell. I don’t see CBS-level audiences latching onto the show but, typical for NBC, it’s better than most of what’s out there and has me intrigued for more. B

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For recommended audio accompaniment to this post click here.

I’ll dispose of the normal chronological format for this Quarter Century post since, given the subject, it would be pointless. In my life I’ve had (what I consider) my fair share of romantic flings but in all 25 years of my life there have only been two women that I called “girlfriend.” Of those two, only one coincided with a period of time that overlapped Valentine’s Day — and even then, just barely — and so my Valentine’s score is a hefty 1 for 25.

I suppose that’s not entirely accurate. The elementary years being what they were I believe there was at least one time that I had a “valentine” so we’ll bump it up to 2 for 25.

Why is the picture for this post me, alone, on a mountain? Because all things considered that’s how I’d like to spend the day. My all-time favorite Feb. 14 was my freshman year of college. None of us guys had anyone expecting us to spend our money on them so we all went down to the Fieldhouse for a rousing night of Racquetball followed by, if I’m remembering correctly, a viewing of Transporter 2. World, you can keep your chocolates, I’ll take the courts and Jason Statham with the guys any day of the week.

Don’t mistake my tone, I do not mean to imply any sadness in having missed out on 23 opportunities to spend inordinate amounts of money on a female simply because the gift card companies would like me to. Valentine’s Day is a joke. Every other gift-giving holiday has a semblance of reason behind — someone’s birthday, the anniversary of your marriage, the birth and resurrection of the “alleged” (I don’t want to get political here) savior of mankind. But a day to celebrate love? Come on.

I remember very few of my earlier V-Days. At Valley Elementary the tradition was for every student to bring a personalized box to school. You would place it along the wall of the gymnasium and put a Valentine Card in each one. I support this practice. One year my box was Buzz Lightyear’s spaceship, I was pretty proud of that one.

I remember in 2nd grade I pestered a nice girl named Rose to be “my Valentine.” I think she said yes (scoreboard) and I’m fairly certain that as of February 15 1993 I never spoke to her again.

The next year I asked a nice girl named Karen to be my Valentine. She said yes, but un-Valentined me when she found out that I really had my heart set on someone else. That was pretty much the last time I put any effort into the holiday until 2010.

I don’t remember a single Valentine’s Day during high school, which baffles me. My senior year was spent mostly with the same girl who I think over the course of 1.5 academic years I broke up with 7 different times. Frankly, after 5 you just start to lose track. Somehow, miraculously, we never really struck “boyfriend” status and somehow, somehow, we must have leap-frogged over V-Day during one off our “off” periods. Valentine’s at High School was mostly consumed by the school dance anyway, which was girls choice and since I lived in the valley I rarely got asked out to girl’s choice dances.

That sounds worse than it is. Girls at Weber High School were a little lazy (and snobby) in my day and a 30-minute drive was just too much effort for most. On top of that, many of the wonderful (sarcasm) North Ogden parents don’t allow their children to drive to the Valley because of how dangerous the canyons are — as evidenced by the fact that 400 of us did it every, single, day to get to school.

What happened in 2010 you ask? That was one of the two official girlfriends. I was pleased at myself for a) having an official girlfriend and b) having an official girlfriend during February so I figured “hey, I probably won’t get another shot at this. Might as well go all out.”

So I did. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right. I haven’t gotten another shot at it.

I bought her flowers (Asiatic lilies in a red vase, she dug it), we went on a short wintery walk along the river, I put on a suit and she put on a little black dress and I took her to the most expensive restaurant in Logan (Le Noni, soooooo good) where we dined on Salmon Crepes, Gnochi and Creme Brule — sidenote, I believe in “companionship” and “love” and all that good stuff but truly, I just want a girlfriend so I have an excuse to eat good food — and then we went back to my apartment for a low-key viewing of Annie Hall. It was, in fact, a very enjoyable evening.

We broke up two weeks later.

Not that I don’t have my own traditions. In recent years I’ve enjoyed buying children’s Valentine’s Cards and distributing them ironically to my friends. In 2009 it was Marvel Super Heroes, 2010 it was Transformers and last year it was Justin Bieber. That set was especially cool because it came with a JB Poster that I gave to my friends Emily and Kasey, it’s still hanging on the wall in their apartment. This year I don’t even have that little activity to cheer me up. Since I just relocated less than a month ago — and since all of my friends are, like me, recent college graduates — I have more friends abroad than domestic at the moment. It would take WAY more effort than I’m willing to give to an ironic gesture.

So what am I doing this year? Well, besides writing the obligatory Valentines day article for The Deseret News (every newspaper has one) I’m going to have some Ben time. I might go see a movie, I might treat myself to a nice meal, I might even stop by Gallivan and see how crowded the ice is. I haven’t really made up my mind.

Maybe Transporter 3 is at the Redbox?

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Today, a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California’s controversial proposition 8 is unconstitutional. This was the second time a judicial body has struck down the voter-approved ban on Same-sex marriages and, undoubtedly, not the last.

In short, Judge Vaughn R. Walker deemed Prop 8 unconstitutional, the 9th Circuit Appellate Court deemed it more unconstitutional and now we wait until the United States Supreme Court deems Prop 8 MOST unconstitutional.

Which they will surely do, because it is hard to imagine a scenario where a body of judges would find Prop 8 anything BUT unconstitutional. Why? Because it IS, unequivocally, a violation of equality and basic civil rights.

“Proposition 8 served no purpose, and had no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California.” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the 9th Circuit Court opinion.

He’s right, denying marriage to same sex couples is discrimination in its most basic form, akin to denying the right to vote based on race or sex. Equality means equal rights to all citizens and when stripped of all the rhetoric, denying marriage to a particular group of people means granting one class of individuals more rights than others: in this case, the right to marry.

I am a religious man and a conservative. I have my beliefs, deeply held, about gender and human life. I am also an opinionated man and in the same vein as Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” I may or may not disapprove of men marrying men, but I will defend to the death their right to do so.

That is the question we should be asking. Not whether our religion, or our god, approves of such unions, but whether our secular society, which operates under the separation of church and state, can quantifiably dictate a rational, logical and more importantly secular argument as to why two men — or two women — should not be wed.

As I see it, we can not. Some will speak of the sanctity of marriage, and yet heterosexual couples make a mockery of marriage every day. Some will speak of the nuclear family being the fundamental unit of society, that may or may not be true but allowing two gay partners to marry does not diminish the number of potential nuclear families. If anything, it increases the potential number of two-parent adoptive homes and encourages monogamy, which in turn decreases the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Also, the chief critique — by religious conservatives — of the gay community is their “philandering,” how laughable is it, then, that the same people who bemoan their supposed casual relationships forbid them from entering into a legal and binding union.

No, I do not support civil unions, unless “civil unions” is the term applied to every legal and lawful union of two people, gay or straight. I support equality. If you are not allowed to marry then neither should I be allowed. I believe the founding fathers intended for the U.S. to become a society of equals. Above all, I believe that government should operate in a secular realm and if every voice spouting religious dogma was filtered from the discussion, there really wouldn’t be any argument left.

Kudos to you, 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and kudos to all of us for taking one step closer toward equality. May we arrive there swiftly and without further incident is my hope.

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