Monday, January 31, 2011

Kathy Bates investigates

Article first published as TV Review: Harry's Law with Kathy Bates on Blogcritics.

I hate lawyer shows. I used to watch Law and Order when Jerry Orbach was on it, but never liked the law part of the show, especially Sam Waterston's annoying DA. I don't like arguing for the sake of it—or I should say, watching others do that. I really don't like all the little catches and loopholes in the law that could affect someone in a good or bad way, depending who's writing this week's script. Which is why Harry's Law appeals to me. Many are saying its target audience are Golden Girls from Bates's generation who miss Murder She Wrote. I'm sure the show will appeal to them, but I used to like watching Jessica Fletcher solve her biggest-guest-star-dunits with my grandmother, too. How can you not like Cabot Cove, the murder capital of the world? It was Angela Lansbury, for Pete's sake.

And that's exactly why it's fun watching Harry's LawKathy Bates. She's having a blast being ornery, saying all the curse words that her time slot will allow (asshole ... asshole). And she's Kathy Bates. It's refreshing to not see yet another show headed by an unbelievably thin and perky cast. There is the token cast cutie in Brittany Snow, who thankfully also seems to have a sense of humor. Nate Corddry is a great foil and sidekick. The show is supposed to be set in Cincinnati. I've never visited Cincinnati, but I've lived in New York and D.C. and I'm sure the bad part of town doesn't look like the block where Harry's Law and Fine Shoes is located, but who cares; we know it's a backlot. That's not the point. It's a chance to watch Kathy Bates kick some smarmy lawyer butt and get the wind taken out of her sails at the same time, with one client wackier than the next. But like I said, it's really not about the law, it's about the personalities.

What this show really reminds me of are two great British shows that I used to watch, Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, starring Patricia Routledge and Kingdom, starring Stephen Fry. Maybe David E. Kelley has been watching BBC America reruns lately. Hetty Wainthropp was ostensibly a detective show, but no one, no matter how guilty, ever went to jail. They may have gotten a stern lecture or a "tut-tut" and an expressive roll of the eyes from Hetty, but that was about the extent of it. So far Bates's Harry is 2-for-2 getting her criminals off-the-hook, too. Hetty was a fun hour watching Routledge and a very young Dominic Monaghan team up to solve crimes in Northern England. Kingdom starred Fry as a small-town lawyer surrounded by a cast of extremely eccentric but lovable characters, including the wonderful Tony Slattery, Hermione Norris and Celia Imrie.

Harry's Law is so much more entertaining than the show that precedes it, the hyped but horrible The Cape. I'm so sorry, James Frain. I love you but I don't know if I can sit though another episode with such heavy-handed music and dialogue like, "Either you wear the cape or the cape wears you." Yikes. Or, "Every cop cell in my body tells me that guy's bad news." Seriously, a killer cape that can behead department store dummies? I just hear The Incredibles' Edna Mode's voice in my head on an endless loop, "No capes!"

Instead of suffering through The Cape again maybe I'll check out Kingdom on Hulu and Hetty on YouTube as the perfect openers to Harry's Law. And Kathy Bates and her show can ride on the cape-tails of a comic, but deliver the real comedy.
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

who you staring at?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egyptian art under siege

Article first published as Egyptian Art Under Siege on Blogcritics.

When I went to Egypt in 1993 it was truly the trip of a lifetime. As an artist who also loves mythology, I was in heaven in a place like Egypt. What I didn't realize until I got there, was how far the most famous sites were from one another—The Pyramids, Abu Simbel, Karnak, King Tut's tomb. We saw it all.

Relief sculpture at Abydos
Relief sculpture at Abydos

One of the highlights of our trip, after we had cruised up the Nile, was our return to Cairo and a visit to the Egyptian Museum to see King Tut and all of the beautiful objects that had once resided in the empty tombs and temples we had spent the last ten days exploring.

Sitting at the foot of Ozmandias
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.—Percy Bysshe Shelley
Which is why it is so hard to look at the images coming out of Egypt over the last 24 hours. Mummies defiled, exhibit cases shattered. This is not the way to protest President Mubarak's policies and government. Egypt and its treasures have a long history of being ransacked, mostly by Egyptians themselves. It is a shame the tradition is being continued with this latest attack on its culture coming from within.

More photos of the looted Egyptian Museum at Hyperallergic
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Friday, January 28, 2011

re-watching Jason and the Argonauts

My favorite movie growing up was Jason and the Argonauts. I grew up with a beautiful edition of D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and seeing a movie like this, with Ray Harryhausen's great effects bringing my favorite hero to life was beyond a treat, it was a dream come true. Plus, Todd Armstrong as Jason was pretty cute.

I watched it again recently with my daughter and was impressed by how much fun it still is. Talos the enormous bronze warrior was still pretty scary to my almost seven year-old. At a critical point where Jason deactivates Talos my daughter yelled, "Go Percy!" I gently corrected her that it was Jason doing the heroics she was watching and not the lightning thief, but I wasn't too bothered by the slip. I think it's great that mythology is making an impact in her life, as it did in mine.

I enjoy most of the filmic attempts to bring myths to life—Clash of the Titans with Harry Hamlin, the Jason miniseries from the 90s. I even enjoyed the recent Clash of the Titans remake, even with Liam Neeson's oft-criticized "Release the Kraken!" and Ralph Fiennes honing his onscreen villainy.  It wasn't a great film, but it wasn't as bad as it was reviewed. The Medusa segment was a nice homage to Harryhausen and the addition of the female character of Io on most of the quest was a welcome addition. I saw it on the small screen, so didn't have to deal with the reportedly sloppy 3D conversion.

When I was a kid my mom also had a huge crush on Steve Reeves, so whenever any of his Italian-produced Hercules movies came on television we were all sure to be front and center. The Kevin Sorbo series was always a lot of fun, too. The two Odysseus depictions, Ulysses with Kirk Douglas and The Odyssey with Armand Assante are way over-the-top, primarily due I think to their larger-than-life leading men—but they are still a lot of fun to watch.

Some might consider this 1963 film a little cheesy or primitive compared to today's CGI special effects. But I still feel that this film is superior to all of those listed above. As a Greek myth-nerd, I love the little touches of authenticity, like the goofy beards and costumes of the Colchians, the painted shields of the Argonauts. The Argo is correctly depicted, as is the rowing technique used to propel her from Greece to Colchis. And how could you not love Harryhausen's many-headed hydra and the fighting skeletons?

Little references to the deeper mythology of Jason—his knowledge of healing, his complicated relationship with Medea—she declares his love for him and he accepts it, but it's hardly a true romance, which bodes ill for everyone's future—these are all touches that make re-viewing the film a pleasure. Jason, like another mythological hero I love, Batman, is a normal guy who becomes a hero out of necessity. His evil uncle has cheated him out of the throne of Iolcus and Jason must go on the quest for the Golden Fleece to prove himself and get the throne back for his family. His quest for the Fleece requires his gathering an assembly of superheroes: the Boreads, Heracles, Orpheus, Castor and Pollux, Atalanta—talk about a justice league. Jason is also a tragic figure, although this movie doesn't take his story that far. As Zeus says at the close of the film, "For the moment, let them enjoy a calm sea, a fresh breeze and each other. The girl is pretty and I am always sentimental. But for Jason, there are other adventures. I have not finished with Jason. Let us continue the game another day."

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

man o' man o' war

While walking on the beach the other morning I noticed the sand was littered with little blue jellyfish. It's been pretty cold in Florida this winter—nothing of course, to what the northeast has been experiencing, but still cold. I'm not familiar enough yet with the area to know weather the temps are radically affecting the sea life or this is the seasonal jellyfish time. I'd seen them before on the beach, but not in such great numbers. Anyway, I rolled up my pants and strolled along the water's edge.

After my walk, when I got back upstairs I noticed that there were some red marks on my lower legs, which felt itchy and hot. Not welts or anything, more like a slight allergic reaction. I put on some hydrocortisone cream while I did some quick internet surfing to determine the cause, or more correctly, my suspicions of the cause, suddenly remembering that the day before the lifeguards had put up the purple flag—dangerous marine life. This is the sign I ignored:

Lo and behold, man o' war, which are not exactly jellyfish at all, but technically—Animalia Cnidaria Hydrozoa Siphonophora Physaliidae Physalia P. physalis—or Physalia physalis for short. Thanks, Linnaeus. But who's quibbling? The bottom line is that I was very, very lucky, as I was probably only slightly brushed by a creature while wading. Or maybe I was just reacting to residual venom in the water. Or maybe the small size and youth of the animals was a factor. Either way, it was a learning experience.

The funny thing is a day later, there isn't a single man o' war on the beach. The waves brought them in and brought them back out again. Every day is different.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

the heretic's daughter

Article first published as Book Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent on Blogcritics.

If you are interested in one of the most fateful chapters of early American history and want to experience the Salem witch trials from the viewpoint of a young girl, there is much to like in The Heretic's Daughter. It's hard to fail with a story about the events that happened in and around Salem in 1692. The fact that a bunch of girls, whether hysterical, spiteful, misguided, or a combination of all of the above, could bring a town and then a region to its knees with accusations of witchcraft will forever be fascinating. That so many people suffered and died as a result of their behavior will always be tragic. That we should never forget how easy it is to become party to a witch hunt is instructive.

Title page of "Wonders of the Invisible World," 1693, by Cotton Mather, John Dounton, London, 1693.

The drama is already built into The Heretic's Daughter, which tells the story of one of the victims, Martha Carrier. What is interesting and different about this book is that it is told through the eyes of Martha's daughter, so the focus is on how her predicament affects her family. In the atmosphere of fear and accusation that characterized the Salem Witch Trials, anyone who was connected to an accused witch was subject to the same suspicions and danger. As family members were carted away to trials and prison, the necessary duties of life—gathering food, protecting the homestead, and caring for children were jeopardized.

The book starts off well, with author Kathleen Kent bringing to life the 17th-century town of Andover, Massachusetts and its daily life. Andover, a neighboring town to Salem Village, was still not far enough away to escape the atmosphere of fear and finger-pointing that started there. Kent does a good job of introducing factors that led to a general feeling of paranoia, dread and depression in the Massachusetts winter of 1691—the threat of Indian raids, smallpox outbreaks, bad harvests.

Her depiction of the claustrophobic and beyond-unsanitary conditions of the prisoners in Salem Jail is also well-done. It's a little known fact, or at least, not as frequently written about, how long the accused spent in the Salem jail. Some, even after they were exonerated for witchcraft, had to remain in prison because their families couldn't afford to pay their fees. The victim was expected to pay the costs of his own imprisonment.

Somewhere about halfway through, however, the book loses its way a little. Kent's narrator, Sarah Carrier, tells the story in increasingly florid metaphor, which gets progressively harder to slog through. "A child is like an early spring bulb that carries all the resources needed within its skin for the first push through the soil towards the sun. And just as a little bit of water can start the bulb to grow, even through fissured rock, so can a little kindness give a child the ability to push through the dark."

Passages like this one repeatedly use the farm and harvest to make a point. We get it, farming was life to these people. "But then, as I lay sweating in bed, restless and prickly, it came to me that to harvest a field of corn one does not wade into the dark middle of things and cut the stalks from the inside out. It is best done starting with the outside ears and working inward, stalk by stalk, keeping the light of the sun always at one's back so that its rays can illuminate each ear of corn, be it whole and sweet or black and blighted. And in this way does one make a meal that feeds a starving body back to wholeness."

The book is being told from the perspective of an elderly Sarah telling her granddaughter her childhood memories of the events of Salem and Martha Carrier. Surely her life had expanded a little beyond the hard life of the farm by her dotage? Or at least, she could tell it like it was, rather than constantly reverting to metaphor? "I believe many of us would peel ourselves away from our immortal selves as easily as the skin from a boiled plum if it meant we could remain on the earth for awhile, our bellies full and our beds warm and safe at night."

It's not that Kent is a bad writer or that the imagery is bad—it just gets a bit much. The author is a descendant of Martha Carrier, so I'm sure all of the flowery phrasings were her attempt to do justice to her ancestors. Her recently published book, The Wolves of Andover, which I haven't read, is a story about Martha Carrier's meeting her husband Tom, and his life before coming to America. His shadowy past was one of the weaker aspects for me of The Heretic's Daughter, as Kent could never adequately explain why the father was able to escape the persecution most of the rest of his family was subjected to.

Memorial to the victims of the Salem witch trials, Salem, Massachusetts

I applaud Kent's interest in her family's history and her attempts to bring it to life. I am a descendant of Sarah Wildes, one of the first five people hanged as a witch in Salem. So many of the people who were targeted as witches were strong thinkers, or just plain ornery, or had some quarrel with neighbors, which were used against them later as the hysteria spread from town to town. Kent does a good job in showing the petty resentments and small-town prejudices that made the perfect seeding ground for such accusations to grow. Now she has me plying metaphor as well.

I wish her characters had a stronger reaction when told of the first executions. There is a scene where they mention Bridget Bishop, the first person who was hanged in June. But surely people must have realized how seriously crazy things were getting when they hanged five women—Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin and my ancestor Sarah Wildes on July 19, 1692. Kent's characters all seem so stoic, thinking that reason or the distance from Salem to Andover will protect them. Kent is entitled to her interpretation. Maybe for many it was like walking through a bad dream until the blow finally came.

Book #7 in reading challenge Cannonball Read 3, sponsored by Pajiba
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

everybody would like to be Cary Grant

Article first published as Documentary Review: Cary Grant: A Class Apart on Blogcritics.

I watched the 2004 documentary, Cary Grant: A Class Apart on TCM recently and I've been thinking about it off and on ever since. It's not so much that it was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. It's a pretty standard movie star biography. What made the deeper impression was Cary Grant, the man, as portrayed by his own words, the facts of his life, film clips, and affect he and his actions had on others.

He was a complex personality. He was a womaniser, or at least, a man who loved many, many women. But he was Cary Grant—how could he not be? Two of his former wives appear in the documentary, Betsy Drake, to whom he was married for thirteen years, and Barbara Harris, who was his wife from 1981 until his death five years later. They both dismiss the ever-present gossip that Grant may have been bisexual, Drake most entertainingly, "Why would I believe that Cary was homosexual when we were busy fucking?" She is definitely a woman scorned, or at least, severely bruised still by her marriage, which she describes all-too vividly as a dictatorship, where she lost her identity and Cary was the only star. She desperately wanted children, but Grant either ignored her desires or refused to participate. Th viewer must take all her hurt feelings into account when she adds, "Maybe he was bisexual. He lived 43 years before he met me. I don't know what he did."

Harris completely dismisses the rumors which have perpetuated all these years based primarily on hearsay and publicity photo shoots he did with longtime friend and roommate Randolph Scott. Certainly no homosexual couple, in the 1930s, in a town like Hollywood, which was notorious for cooking up false romances to cover up its gay stars' sex lives (Monty Clift, Rock Hudson), would promote and publish such photos. It's a case of wishful thinking and different times meaning different things. It doesn't matter to me one way or the other if Cary had a boyfriend, but it seems strange how fervent the desire is to attach gay rumors to celebrities like Grant. Why is who a star, whether they are living or dead, is sleeping with, so important to some people?

Grant made four wonderful films with Alfred Hitchcock, who knew how to exploit his
flawless profile as well as his dark side.

Noticeably absent from the documentary is Dyan Cannon, who parted most acrimoniously from Grant after two years of marriage, but also gave him his only child, daughter Jennifer Grant, who he absolutely doted on, "If I had known then what I know now, if I had not been so utterly stupid, I would have had a hundred children and I would have built a ranch to keep them on." Grant finally becoming a father and crowing about it must have been hard for Betsy Drake to take.

The film tries to make the case that Archie Leach, as he was named at birth, created the persona of Cary Grant and was ultimately trapped by it. I think that's overly dramatic and not entirely true. Grant did create Grant. With the help of influential women he was involved with, and producers and directers that he worked with, but Grant was always also Archie Leach. He never forgot where he came from—a difficult childhood that he escaped as soon as he could by joining an acting troupe at 16.

He never lost his edge, even while looking more urbane, more handsome, more sleek than anyone has ever looked in a tux. Grant has said, "I have spent the greater part of my life fluctuating between Archie Leach and Cary Grant, unsure of each, suspecting each." And, "Everybody wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant." I think what Grant is really saying is that as an artist he created the Cary Grant persona, but it was actually just a bigger version of himself. We all do that, in some way. Our work persona versus how we act with our friends and family. What makes Cary Grant's persona that much bigger, makes him "Cary Grant," is that it had to be big enough to withstand audiences seeing him blown up 100 times larger-than-life on the big screen. It must be hard to see yourself that exaggerated, filmed sometimes harshly, sometimes lovingly, but still objectified. Like an old snapshot blown up to billboard size.

Grant was so good at being Cary Grant that it was almost forgotten by all that he was acting. Audiences just wanted to see him, as he realized, "I've often been accused by critics of being myself on-screen. But being oneself is more difficult than you'd suppose."

The film also confirms that Grant took LSD, when it was still legal, in the early 60s, "My intention in taking LSD was to make myself happy ... I took it with a group of men, one of whom was Aldous Huxley. We deceived ourselves by calling it therapy, but we were truly interested in how this chemical could help humanity." Grant was trying to exorcise his demons, and he did seem to lead a happy, more peaceful life after he left Hollywood.

What the documentary does have in abundance is clips from his films, both classic and forgotten. It is amazing to be reminded how many wonderful movies he made. As handsome as he was, when I think of Grant I first think of screwball comedy. No one had his acrobatic approach or could do it better, keeping pace, word-for-word, with female costars such as Katherine Hepburn and Rosalind Russell. But he was also wonderful in Hitchcock thrillers. Luckily these films and more are still on frequent rotation on TCM. I'm looking forward to seeing him again in such films as Topper, The Philadelphia Story, Suspicion, North By Northwest, Bringing Up Baby, and Arsenic And Old Lace.

Grant wonderfully sums up his experience of Hollywood, his career, "When you're a young man, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is driving. Wally Beery is the conductor, and Chaplin's got a front row seat. You take your seat, and back behind you is Gary Cooper ... Suddenly a young man named Ty Power gets on. He asks you to move over. You make a picture with Joan Fontaine. You think you do a good job, but she wins the Oscar, and you get nothing. And pretty soon more and more people get on, it's getting very crowded, and then you decide to get off. When you get off the trolley, you notice that it's been doing nothing but going around in circles." He may have felt at times he was going in circles, making the same movies, never getting recognized, although he was finally awarded an honorary Oscar in 1970. But he had an acting career that was truly unique. As much as other actors like Tyrone Power or Louis Jourdan may have made him feel that his time had passed, there has never been another leading man like Cary Grant.

Quotes imdb
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Monday, January 24, 2011

wolf hall

Article first published as Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel on Blogcritics.

After watching The Tudors, with the wonderful James Frain as Thomas Cromwell, it was impossible to read Wolf Hall without a sense of dread—fear and knowledge of what's coming, for all of them—Cromwell, Henry the VIII, Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon. But even with apprehension for the inevitable fates lurking around the corner for these characters and historical figures, Wolf Hall is a wonderful book, a great read.

James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in The Tudors

There is something still so poignant, so fascinating, about a king who was so obsessed with a woman, with having a male heir, so torn between what he thinks is right and his heart's desire, that he would eventually sacrifice everything—his queen, his Catholicism, his political ties. Henry Tudor's story, his desperate attempts to continue his personal Tudor dynasty, wouldn't be interesting if it solely centered on the fact that he and Katherine couldn't have children and he cast her aside for a younger woman. Other kings did the same in the same situation.

What makes the story, the history so enduringly fascinating is Henry VIII himself. His conscience and religious fears refused to allow him to just discard Katherine—at first. Henry wanted the church and his peers to approve, or at least not stand in his way. The timing of his great problem coincided with the Reformation. Disaffection was rising with the control exerted by the Catholic Church on people's, and most importantly in England's case, king's lives. Henry and his advisors, most of all Thomas Cromwell, saw the opportunity to change England's position both politically and religiously, shaking off the hold the Holy Roman Empire had on them. Not only a potential new heir was to be gained, but all the money that went to Rome and the Church could now be funneled to "poor" king Henry, if Cromwell, where his predecessor Cardinal Wolsey and so many others had failed, was able to succeed in getting Henry what he wanted.

As Cromwell is told, and as he tells everyone in in his household, "Arrange your face." Everyone involved in the king's "great matter" had an angle, just as everyone in life and politics does today. Henry wants a son. Cromwell wants a king he can influence. Anne Boleyn wants to be Queen. Katherine is queen and doesn't want to see her daughter Mary, the rightful heir, disinherited. But these desires are not pure, they are motivated by outward pressures. Henry by his masculinity and obsession with his Tudor lineage. Cromwell needing to make a better place in the uncertain world for himself and his family. Each of the central players is torn between two opposing forces. Henry his strong religious beliefs and guilt. Cromwell between his past loyalty to Cardinal Wolsey and his desire to break the Catholic Church's hold on England and be the perfect, best advisor to Henry. Anne Boleyn between her ambitions to be queen and her desire to be an independent woman who can love who she wants. Katherine between her enduring love for Henry and her desire to not lose face or position—the proud daughter of Spain's Ferdinand and Isabella, she has lived in England since she was a child, but she can't go back to Spain and she can't remain England's queen.

Henry's reconciliation with Anne Boleyn, etching, published by Cunningham & Mortimer, 1842.

Anne Boleyn is always fascinating. How did she exert such a hold over Henry for the seven years it took to make her queen? Not just because she wouldn't sleep with him. She had a mind and modern attitudes about religion. She was fresh and new, represented hope. She wasn't like anyone the sheltered Henry had ever met before. As the second son Henry would have gone into the church if his older brother, the heir, hadn't died and left him, the spare, as king. The Boleyns wanting to be "the" family in England, so they push first one daughter, than the other at any king who will have them. Using their daughters as political pawns and sexual favors, older sister Mary is offered as a king's plaything, first to Francois I of France and later to Henry. Even after her sister Anne managed to achieve the impossible and become queen, Mary was still at Henry's service until she managed to escape—but only by marrying into obscurity. Her social-climbing family were so ashamed that she had eloped with a commoner they cut her off and she all-but-disappears from history.

Cromwell put his hopes in Anne and the Boleyns, even though he saw how dangerous a risk that was. Precarious times for everyone—Cromwell at the whim of the Kings favor, Anne's fortunes dependent on whether she can produce a healthy male heir, Henry's kingdom and legacy based on whether he can father a prince.

The story is so dense, so intricate. All of this political intrigue and what passed for romance at the Tudor court is still just background to the real story of Wolf Hall, the depiction of the man, Thomas Cromwell. Hilary Mantel's Cromwell is a genius at adapting to his surroundings. Born to a blacksmith, he runs away from an abusive father and makes his way to France and Italy as a servant, soldier and ultimately advisor. How a blacksmith's son could travel the world, learn law, multiple languages and manage to carve out for himself a dynasty back in England is made utterly believable. But Cromwell remains a puzzle to those who surround him. "A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies, desires." Mantel brings history to life with her Cromwell, a modern man, forward-thinking and always on the alert for advancement. Anne Boleyn could never have become queen and Henry would never have become the head of the Church of England if not for Cromwell.

In the Netherlands Cromwell met his wife and worked in the wool trade. Eventually he returned to England and found a place in the household of Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor to Henry, where he quickly advanced, due to his fine wit and legal knowledge. He learns from Wolsey the appreciation of the finer things of life, but like Wolsey is not a "gentleman." Wolsey was the son of a butcher and the noblemen who surround Henry never let either of them forget their low origins. The lords treat Cromwell with disdain, exactly like they treated the cardinal. But where Wolsey eventually fell, Cromwell manages to not fall with him, a huge feat in itself, and catches Henry's eye and respect—as long as he continues to provide good counsel and help Henry get what he wants. Everyone condescends to "Le Cremuel," but he lets all slights and abuse fall off of him. He endured much worse before he came to Henry's court.

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell. New York, Frick Collection. Oak panel, 76 x 61 cm.
Date between 1532 and 1533, The Frick Collection, Hans Holbein the Younger (1498–1543).

Cromwell is a keen observer of people and has a true survivor's intellect, always watching how the wind blows and how it might serve his advantage. But he never seems scheming—just bound and determined to give his family the best and most secure future that he can. One of the best parts of the book is Mantel's take on Cromwell's generous nature. He loves a full household. He can see the potential in anyone, from a young lord sent to him to learn accounting, to a tavern boy who has lived by his wits from moment to moment. He finds a place for all of them in his household and gives them shelter and opportunities. From this he gets the family that he never had as a boy and replaces the family (wife and two daughters) that he lost too soon to the sweating sickness.

Wolf Hall was written over the span of five years. Mantel told The Wall Street Journal that "The trickiest part was trying to match her version to the historical record. ... You really need to know, where is the Duke of Suffolk at the moment? You can't have him in London if he's supposed to be somewhere else." Such attention to detail pays off, as the reader really feels how Henry and his court pull Cromwell closer, inch by inch, day by day.  If I have any criticism of the book it is Mantel's choice to write Cromwell using only "he" to identify him and portray his thoughts and impressions. She obviously wanted to avoid writing in the first-person "I" to avoid Cromwell sounding narcissistic, or the third person and make him seem distant. But it makes it a little confusing to know who is speaking at times, with so many potential "hes" to choose from in this huge cast of characters. It's an affectation, but you get used to it, and the rest of the book is so great it becomes only a minor annoyance.

The importance of religion plays a huge part in Wolf Hall and the fate of its characters. Religion played such an important part in people's lives at that time, because it was interwoven into all aspects of life. The Catholic church ruled all, including the King. Cromwell wants to break the Church's hold on land and money and government, freeing both Henry and his people. As much as Cromwell loved Wolsey, he realizes while still with the Cardinal that they can never achieve what really needs to be done in England. A member of the Church is still responsible to the Church. Cromwell has much more power and flexibility as Henry's advisor.

Mantel's Cromwell witnessed the burning of a "heretic" at a young age and the author doesn't stint on the depiction of how horrible a death that was, nor what a spectacle. How many of the people that were burned for simply wanting to read the Bible in English, rather than Latin is unclear. It is clear that the Church didn't want the common man to interpret the Bible in his own way and they weren't hesitant to burn men, women, and children to keep their hold and control on the text. According to Mantel and others, one of the most ardent burners and torturers of English heretics (before Henry's first-born, Bloody Mary) was Thomas More, who is portrayed at times in Wolf Hall as Cromwell's equal, mentor and great adversary. Mantel's More is a zealot and a man, not for all seasons, but lost in the past.

I was relieved that Wolf Hall didn't take me all the way to the end of Cromwell. It is clear as the book is two thirds through and Anne Boleyn has just been crowned queen that Mantel has lots more to tell about the Tudors and especially, Thomas Cromwell. Luckily, she is writing a second book. Hopefully it won't take another five years to complete, but I wouldn't want her to rush it through either, as his fall deserves as rich a treatment as his rise.

Book #6 in reading challenge Cannonball Read 3, sponsored by Pajiba
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Sunday, January 23, 2011


Yesterday's sky and sunset was breathtaking ...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

as seen on TV

My daughter is a sucker for infomercials. Luckily at almost seven she doesn't have credit card access yet. Her favorite recent discovery is the "Robo-stir."

She was trying to convince me it would be great and I was sneering, "How hard is it to stir a pot?" when I suddenly remembered risotto ...
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Friday, January 21, 2011

in praise of older women

Article first published as In Praise of Older Women on Blogcritics.

Amy Heckerling needs to make more movies. And they all need to feature Paul Rudd. Apatow's OK, but more Heckerling, Rudd.

Rudd's dance scene alone should sell this movie.

This movie went straight-to-DVD, which is usually considered a bad thing, but the way people watch movies these days—on cable, the internet or via Netflix and similar services is an ideal way to catch up with "little" films that wouldn't have been at the box-office anyway. I do find it strange, however, that studios are willing to wide-release a movie like this week's latest rom-com with Ashton Kutcher and is-she-already-overexposed Natalie Portman but passed on this one with Pfeiffer and Rudd.

The quick answer is that they think that because the female lead is of a "certain age" that no one will go see it. Any woman over twelve should love this movie, as would most men, I suspect. Saoirse Ronan is great as Pfeiffer's daughter and Jon Lovitz as her ex-husband. You can see how they might have gotten together once upon a time and totally get why they aren't together anymore.

I've had a crush on Rudd since Clueless and obviously so has Heckerling. She has a new movie in the works about vampires, Vamps, starring Alicia Silverstone, which should hopefully give all those mopey and boring teen vamps a much-needed kick in their glittery pants. Maybe she should do the rumored Buffy reboot. The director is faithful to her actors—Rudd, Stacey Dash, Silverstone, Wallace Shawn—she obviously likes who she works with and works with who she likes.

One of the best and shortest scenes in I Could Never Be Your Woman is Pfeiffer reacting to a couple of Hollywood types trashing and dismissing women:

The movie is filled with funny, well-written moments, such as Pfeiffer's character Rosie bantering with younger boyfriend Adam (Rudd):

Rosie: Remember when we had that talk about you being 29? I keep thinking about how... young that is.
Adam: Well, I'm planning on getting older.
Rosie: [laughs] Yeah, well I'm not planning on getting younger.
Adam: That's just being stubborn.

I tend to forget how funny Michelle Pfeiffer can be, because it's so easy to be blinded by her beauty, but she gets to be goofy and smart-talkin' in I Could Never Be Your Woman and it suits her.
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Thursday, January 20, 2011

gary oldman makes me laugh

Article first published as Gary Oldman Makes Me Laugh on Blogcritics.

I've always really liked Gary Oldman. But his career is a puzzle to me. He is most frequently cast as the "bad guy" in movies, but I think what makes him truly special, apart from the much-touted acting chops, is his sense of humor: Oldman, on True Romance, (1993): "I hadn't read the script, and knew nothing about it. Tony (Scott) and I had tea at the Four Seasons and he said, 'Look, I can't really explain the plot. But Drexl's a pimp who's white but thinks he's black'. That was all I needed to hear. I said, 'Yes, I'll do it'." The guy always brings a funny little twist, not just an accent, to his roles. One of my all-time favorite Oldman performances, and probably the first time I saw him, is as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. He is obnoxious and tragic and eerily like the Sex Pistols' doomed bassist. But he is also funny as hell.

Oldman can do anything—biopics (Prick Up Your Ears), period good (Immortal Beloved) and not-so-good (The Scarlet Letter), crime (The Professional). He has used so many different accents in his movies that I'm not really sure what his real voice sounds like. So why is he so often called in to do the same sort of role, over and over—the crazy bad guy? Case in point. I watched The Book of Eli the other day. It's not a great film, but it was definitely absorbing. It's a little bit western, a little bit Thunderdome, a little bit classic Twilight Zone-with-a-twist sci-fi. It's mainly a showcase for Denzel Washington, which is always a good thing. I got a huge kick watching Denzel be the coolest badass post-apocalyptic superhero samurai that ever walked the West.

And The Book of Eli had Gary Oldman as the villain Carnegie. There is a nice scene in the movie where Oldman washes his lover's hair. It's unexpected and adds a nice shade to his character. And then the script and the rest of the movie forgets about it and it's stock villain dialogue for the rest of the film. It's a shame, because the man could have made the character much more interesting, if he'd been given anything to work with.

Priest Vito Cornelius: You're a monster, Zorg.  Zorg: I know.

As I watched Oldman in this movie, I kept getting echoes of a far cheesier, but much more fun performance in The Fifth Element. It's the same set-up, with Oldman as the tyrannical bad guy in charge of the outpost—in this case outer space. But his villain is so much more fun here. Maybe I just love him best when he's over-the-top. The Fifth Element, one of the best under-rated-science-fiction-starring-Bruce-Willis-pictures ever (also with an amazing and colorful performance by Chris Tucker), is just plain silly a lot of the time, but you just won't care, because it's so visually enticing and damn fun to watch.

Thinking about Oldman and over-the-top performances, I can't help but mention one of the most OTT movies of all time, Bram Stoker's Dracula. It's got tons wrong with it (miscast Winona and Keanu and Anthony Hopkins in his usual cheesetastic mode), but also tons of wonderful effects and images, Gustav Klimt costumery, and Oldman, who throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of the original vampire. No sparkly teen fangsters here, thank you very much. Oldman manages to make all of his incarnations of Dracula—the bewigged Nosferatu, the Transylvanian warrior, the 19th-century dapper gentleman prince—appealing in some way. He loves his character and so do we, so we know by the end of the movie that Winona's Mina is in for a very dull future without him. Oldman said about his performance in the film, "I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's not Dracula crying, it's Gary Oldman, but using the technique of the character. The emotion is mine, because I don't know what it's like to be undead and live 300 years."

And that's just the first few minutes. It get's even more exaggerated from here ...

It's interesting that one of his best-known recent roles, as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter movies, may also be the best combination of Oldman's talents. It's too bad, by the very nature of the overstuffed films, that his time on screen is so fleeting. But in The Prisoner of Azkaban he was able to go from being introduced as the usual crazy-as-a-bedbug villain to the misunderstood outsider, to the warm and funny uncle. It's the power of Oldman that I always think that he's in this movie and The Order of the Phoenix more than he actually is. His persona makes that kind of an impact.

Oldman has said, "I don't think Hollywood knows what to do with me. I would imagine that when it comes to romantic comedies, my name would be pretty low down on the list." I know just what he means. His Dracula is a romantic hero. And a monster. And, and, and. But Oldman would be terrific in a romantic comedy, as long as his leading lady was up to his caliber.

In the meantime, he's got lots of interesting things on the horizon. Guns, Girls and Gambling sounds like it just might be a comedy. Here's hoping. I'm looking forward to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Red Riding Hood, as well as another Batman, which is in the works. There's always something interesting to expect from Gary Oldman.

Quotes imdb
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Article first published as Book Review: Stardust by Neil Gaiman on Blogcritics.

This book could have gone horribly wrong, become insufferably twee, but somehow, it didn't. Neil Gaiman's Stardust is a lovely little fairy tale. It's one of those books that as soon as you finish it, it sort of drifts away like fairy dust, but you will still want to pick it up again and re-read it sometime.

The Faerie market day, from Chris Jamison, Charles Vess image page

The story starts out in the Victorian-era village of Wall, which seems set in a time even older than Victorian England. This is most likely due to what's on the other side of the town and a literal wall, the land of Faerie: "In the tranquil fields and meadows of long-ago England, there is a small hamlet that has stood on a jut of granite for 600 years. Just to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Here, in the hamlet of Wall, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester. And here, one crisp October eve, Tristran makes his love a promise—an impetuous vow that will send him through the only breach in the wall, across the pasture... and into the most exhilarating adventure of his life."

Young Tristran starts his journey with one goal—to win a beautiful girl by bringing her a fallen star. Gaiman is able to mix the flowery phrasing of fairytales with more contemporary speech patterns and attitudes to create a fairy tale for adults that is frequently funny. That should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Gaiman's work, as humor often plays a big part in his otherworldly novels, such as Neverwhere. His American Gods was a great mix of mythology and road-trip novel, with wonderfully sassy characters.

The fallen star Yvaine, by Charles Vess, from Green Man Press

"And there was a voice, a high clear, female voice, which said "Ow", and then, very quietly, it said "Fuck", and then it said "Ow", once more." Tristran has no idea that the star is actually a being until he meets her. He soon discovers that he is not the only one who is after her. A witch and her sisters believe that the heart of a star will help restore their youth and beauty.

Gaiman is definitely paying homage to Tolkien with some talking trees, as well as some other nods to fantasy-related classics, but Stardust is all his own. It's a mythical quest, where the quest turns out to be the least important aspect of the story. I read the novel version, but would now like to check out the beautifully illustrated edition he did with artist Charles Vess.

There was a movie made a few years back that has some major differences to Gaiman's book, mostly in the beefing-up of Robert DeNiro's sky-pirate character (he's a hoot). The film may not be quite as magical as the original, but it's fun, and any introduction to Gaiman's work is worthwhile.

Stardust is definitely a coming-of-age story with Tristran as its hero, but the female characters are the ones that make the most impact. The star Yvaine who glows with love, the cat-eared Una who is mother of Tristran, the witch-queen who hunts Yvaine, and the girl who starts it all, shallow Victoria, whose careless words send Tristran on the quest that will change his and many others' lives. Neil Gaiman supposedly would like to go back and revisit the village of Wall at some point and I would definitely be up for another trip there, too.

"Tristan and Yvaine were happy together. Not forever-after, for Time, the thief, eventually takes all things into his dusty storehouse, but they were happy, as these things go, for a long while"

Quotes from Goodreads

Book #5 in reading challenge Cannonball Read 3, sponsored by Pajiba

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Article first published as The Far-Star-Scape-Trek-Mash-Up on Blogcritics.

Thanks to holiday gifts and the local library, we've been having a bit of a sci-fi marathon lately. My brother gifted us with the second season of Star Trek (the one with the tribbles), and my daughter has been enjoying Captain Kirk's unparalleled talent: talking computers out of destroying the universe (I am NOMAD!), as well as his amazing fighting skills (always that one little streak of blood at the side of his mouth after he takes a punch).

At the same time we started watching Star Trek I found the first season DVD of Farscape at the library and decided it would be fun to watch that again, too. I was a huge fan of the show first-run (at least the first two seasons—I started to lose track of it when the SciFi channel started messing with the schedule and the show added an annoying red-headed character), and was curious to see if it would hold up. It did. It's just as sassy, silly and scientific as I remember it. I planned at first to watch it after the kid went to bed, but being the holidays she was staying up later, and she actually stayed awake and got into the pilot episode so much she asked to see some more. So we have been having a fun mash-up of some great television science fiction.

It's no surprise that the two shows have many similarities. Ben Browder's John Crichton was clearly and consciously modeled on James Tiberius Kirk, in fact, Farscape may well be the meta-Star Trek. It is full of pop-culture references and sly jokes upon itself. Crichton makes many pop culture references in the series, including worrying that Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be dead by the time he gets back to Earth and writes "Hi there!" on a nuclear bomb.

Farscape also takes the human-thrown-into-the-barrel-of-aliens much farther than Star Trek did with its Klingons and Romulans by making its Enterprise, the ship, Moya, a living being. Farscape also has the added attraction of having main characters designed by The Jim Henson's Co., which supposedly will be producing some additional webisodes with all of the characters. I've been a huge fan of Brian Henson since he played the Storyteller's Dog in The Storyteller,  a great series also featuring Henson Co.'s human/creature collaborations. Farscape's characters of Rigel, the selfish deposed king and Pilot, the ship's pilot are very real and inspire as much involvement and emotion as their human costars.
Farscape can go full-steam with humor, but still keep its science where Star Trek could only occasionally do humor. A sign of the times. Star Trek was blazing the trail and had to be a bit more serious in its approach, whereas Farscape could do multiple riffs on Star Trek and just about anything else it could think of. There's much to love in both shows, and I think our mash-up is helping point out some of the best parts of both universes. Here are some of our favorite pairings:

"Assignment: Earth" is a great Star Trek episode, which almost spawned a spin-off featuring hipster alien Gary Seven, whose job is to save the universe (I think) is almost prevented by guest star Teri Garr and Kirk and Spock. This matched well with Farscape's "I, E.T." where Crichton and Co. have to visit a planet (similar to all of those Star Trek episodes where Kirk & Co go to an earth-like planet and have to make friends to get help with something they need, for the ship or an ill comrade, etc.) to find a special substance that will heal Moya.

In "Exodus from Genesis" space bugs invade Moya and create duplicates of the crew, which was a nice counterpoint to the classic Star Trek Mirror, Mirror episode where Kirk, Uhura and Chekhov are beamed to an alternate universe where everything is different and evil and Spock has sexy sideburns and a goatee.

Crichton gets zapped in "Back and Back and Back to the Future" and starts experiencing potential glimpses of the future - all involving the deaths of himself and his shipmates, unless he can find a way to change the current course of events. This paired nicely with "I, Mudd," which wasn't exactly about multiple time warps, but the multiple androids were funny and fun and just as potentially lethal until super-Kirk figured out how to bust up their main computer link.

When watching a series that has been off the air for quite some time it always makes me wonder—where are these actors now? We all know about the main Star Trek cast, some of who have passed on, some who turn up in the reboot and some who are all over the place. But what about all those Aussie actors and transplanted American leading man from Farscape? A little searching on imdb reveals that Ben Browder is starring in a web series, Naught for Hire.

With so many of us hooking up our laptops to our televisions and watching old favorites on Hulu and similar sites, this seems like just another way to keep working. Claudia Black who played Aeryn Sun seems to be busy with voice work since having her second child. Virginia Hey has apparently stopped acting and relocated to the US, where she is launching a business based on her long interest in natural therapies. Maybe inspired by the deleterious effects all that blue make-up she had to wear as Zhaan had on her skin and kidneys.

If you can't find the DVDs, Farscape is available on Amazon and iTunes. And Brian Henson still promises more webisodes. So there are many more mash-up possibilities in our future. And then there are the action figures ...

Monday, January 17, 2011

golden globes wrap-up

Article first published as Golden Globes Wrap-Up on Blogcritics.

I really enjoy watching the Golden Globes because it's an awards show that honors both TV and movies. It's also so much less pretentious, obnoxious and boring than the Oscars. The audience seated at tables makes for a more convivial atmosphere, for both the guests and the audience. But the television set with its weird dripping jewels background had the look of a 60s variety special. Hollywood hasn't been able to update the variety show look for the past 40 years?

Ricky Gervais was in top form as the host, opening the show by wondering not why Sex and the City 2 wasn't nominated for anything, but why the team who Photoshopped the movie poster was overlooked. He followed that rimshot by dipping way low on the taste-meter by revealing that he and his writers spend way too much time on internet gossip sites (like the rest of us) by making a gay Scientology joke. But I still think he was a great host, even if he did trash LOST.

For the most part everyone looked tasteful. Yawn. Cher's name kept getting mentioned in the broadcast, but no one brought the costume crazy like Cher used to, which used to make watching awards shows exciting. Jennifer Lopez wore something unattractive and confusing. Milla Jovovich looked a tad matronly in her all-grown-up gown. I guess when you are always wearing skin tight outfits and kicking butt in numerous Resident Evil movies when it comes to dress-up time you go for a more drapey princess dress. Scarlett Johansen looked pretty introducing best supporting actor/motion picture, but she was so much more animated here than in her movies, where she's always seems so blank and wooden. January Jones wore the only "hey what the heck?" outfit, bless her, with cut outs in all the right or wrong places, depending on your point of view. And bless the producers for bringing her on about halfway through the show to wake us all up.

All of the nominees seemed worthy, and there were no real upsets. That says a lot for the quality of television and movies last year, but doesn't make for a riveting awards show. But it was enjoyable to see deserving favorites win awards, Like Steve Buscemi and Boardwalk Empire. Steve Buscemi is who I wanted to win, and he did. Sorry, John Hamm, et al., the dude rocks. Buscemi "talked fast before the sad music came on" and gave a gracious speech. Buscemi's show Boardwalk Empire also won, I'm happy to say. Murderous and conflicted 1920s gangsters are so much more interesting to me than sexy serial killers, zombies, and 60s ad men, etc. Boardwalk Empire's producer seemed happy but surprised at their win, "Holy effin crap. We won a Golden Globe award."

Christian Bale, looking very Jesus Christ Superstar won for The Fighter. He beat out Michael Douglas, who looked well, but didn't have much of a chance with his Wall Street movie, and Andrew Garfield (The Social Network), Jeremy Renner (The Town) and Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech). All men will probably be back for the Oscars, with Rush giving them the biggest competition next time out.

Kevin Spacey and Julianne Moore (in way too much shiny rose-colored fabric) presented the award for 
best TV movie/miniseries. Any one of these could have won the award—Temple Grandin (HBO), Pillars of the Earth (Starz), The Pacific (HBO), You Don't Know Jack (HBO). Carlos, from Sundance Channel won. Of all of them, this is the one I haven't seen and on the one network I never watch. I'm not sure if it's an upset or not. 

My Gleek mom and daughter wanted Chris Colfer to win best supporting actor, TV series and he did. He made a very nice acceptance speech, short and sweet, about ending bullying—it was also the only whiff of anything socio-political in the evening. Glee won three awards. Jimmy Fallon and January Jones lip-synched their introductions for best TV series/comedy, but who was paying attention with January's red open-front dress? Glee won, and as much as I have had issues with this show, I have to say I'm happy for them all and they definitely deserve it in this group. Competition was 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, The Big, Modern Family and Nurse Jackie. The absolutely brilliant Jane  "I am nothing if not falsely humble"

 Lynch won supporting actress for Glee. She thanked her wife and family and nobody clapped or made a big deal. That's how the show was all night and that's how it should always be. Best actress in a TV series/comedy went to Laura Linney (who wasn't there because her father recently passed away) for The Big C. Sorry Lea Michelle. Maybe if you'd been in the supporting category, as the whole cast should be ... Glee also didn't win the best actor, TV series/comedy, which went to Jim Parsons of Big Bang Theory, a funny guy in a cute show which doesn't always get a lot of press. So bravo, Hollywood Foreign Press for that one.

Other wins were Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), amazing and voluptuous-looking in orange, best actress in a TV series/drama. Her win seeming to have pleasantly surprised everyone, including herself. Cher's song from Burlesque won. The competition were songs from Country Strong, Burlesque, Tangled, and Narnia (there was a song?) Cher can really turn back time. I was sure Tangled had it in the bag. Original score went to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network, which was a pleasant surprise as well. I guess the awards weren't all that predictable after all. A total surprise was Toy Story 3 winning best animated feature. Again, my money was on Tangled and I hope to have this rectified at the Academy Awards. P.S. No Shrek, but Despicable Me? It was funny when accepting for Toy Story 3 the director asked presenters Justin Bieber and Haylee Steinfeld, "Were you two even born when the first movie came out?" Olivia Wilde in dress bigger than a Disney princess and Robert Pattinson awarded best foreign language film to In A Better World from Denmark.

Just when I thought Ricky Gervais should host all awards shows forever, Robert Downey Jr. (in a grey suit and red tie, no tux, looking great) gave him a run for his money. Gervais introduced Downey after running off a list of his film titles "Iron Man, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang ... are these porn films?" Downey matched him by opening his introduction of best actress in a motion picture/comedy with, "I don't know if an actress can do her best work until I've slept with her ... Julianne ... Angie ... Annette ... Anne ... Emma I'd give it to all five of you ... right here on this stage" The man's got timing. Annette Bening won.

By far the best pair of presenters of the evening were Geoffrey Rush in a fedora and an over-enunciating Tilda Swinton wearing white on white on white. Swinton was thrilled to announce that the award for best actor/television mini-series/movie went to Al Pacino for You Don't Know Jack, a biopic about Jack Kevorkian. It's amazing when someone of Pacino's stature can sound grateful for being given "the opportunity" to play a part. Acting is such a strange profession and how precarious. Right after Pacino spoke about the thrill an actor has playing a real person, Claire Danes won in the actress category for Temple Grandin, with Temple sitting next to her and cheering her on from the audience.

Tina Fey and Steve Carell are good together, no matter how poorly their Date Night movie did at the box-office. They introduced the award for best screenplays "they could have written if they had the time," which was won, of course, by The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin may be good with words on paper, but he botched his acceptance speech for me by condescendingly declaring, "The people that watch movies are at least as smart as the people who make movies."
 Thanks a whole bunch.

Some more highlights: Anne Hathaway and Jane Fonda both tried to bring back the 80s big-shoulder look. This is not a good idea. Jeremy Irons, going head-to-head with Tilda Swinton in the Brits-enunciate-it-better dept. presented the best supporting actress/motion picture to Melissa Leo in The Fighter. What is usually a highlight of the night, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, was actually kind of low-key and more like a roast, with Matt Damon introducing recipient Robert DeNiro by confessing that he wasn't at all familiar with his movies (just joking, get it?), and a bunch of clips that seemed to feature only about six or seven of his most famous roles. God, I do love The King of Comedy. They were a nice bunch of clips, but not very much Godfather 2, which may be his masterpiece. And what, no Little Fockers? " I'm not the only one who had that thought, as DeNiro himself addressed its absence right off the bat, "It's OK. We all have our jobs to do." He then proceeded to announce a DVD box-set of all the other movies he did that no one has seen that he will be selling in the lobby after the show (just joking, get it?). It was all a bit much.

Ricky Gervais was missing for too much of the show. In fact, less presenters, more Gervais would have sped it along and spiced things up. Still, it's not as stultifyingly long as any Oscars I've seen. Presenters such as Tom Hanks and Tim Allen remarked on how mean Gervais has become in his comedy. Do they not know the man? His comedy has always had a razor-edge. Hanks and Allen (whiners) awarded best comedy/motion picture to The Kids Are All Right.
 Sandra Bullock (not thrilled with the bangs she was sporting, but wearing a beautiful dress) presented best actor/drama/motion picture. Colin Firth accepted the award gratefully, equating winning it with avoiding an embarrassing mid-life crisis. "Right now this is all that stands between me and a Harley Davidson." I think the Oscars will follow this award as well, even with the same tough competition of Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, James Franco, 127 Hours, Ryan Gosling, Blue Valentine, Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter.

The show wrapped up with best actor/motion picture comedy going to Paul Giamatti. I guess a double-Depp nomination doesn't ensure a win. Natalie Portman won best actress/motion picture drama for Black Swan, the only movie in her category that lots of folks have even heard of, even if they haven't seen it yet. She was visibly pregnant and I loved the dramatic red rose on the front of her dress, although I wish the dress had been black or white rather than baby-powder pink. The gal's having a year. Whether it will extend to the Oscars, I'm not so sure. The Oscars don't separate comedy/musical performances with drama and I think Kidman, Moore and Bening will be closer to the top of the Best Actress list for that awards show. Natalie had probably the worst speech of the night. "He totally wants to sleep with me!" Actors really do need a script.

The Social Network took home the rest of the awards. Best director/motion picture to David Fincher.
Michael Douglas presented the best motion picture/drama to a standing, loving crowd. "There's got to be an easier way to get a standing ovation." The Social Network won, as I think it will at the Oscars. Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception
, The King's Speech
 are all wonderful movies, and The Kids Are Alright should be in this category on Oscar night too.

All-in-all it was entertaining and the a pretty good preview of what's to come Oscar night. I am frankly most excited about Boardwalk Empire, a show I've loved since the premiere, but wasn't sure how much my enthusiasm was shared. I've been thinking all along that The Social Network would sweep, and so it has. The big question is whether the Oscars, just limited to movies, can take a cue from the Golden Globes and keep the show to three hours.