Sunday, February 24, 2008

Oscar Picks Part II

Hollywood loves a sequel, and I'm no exception. At the time I posted my first round of Oscar picks, I said they were likely to change. I just wanted to put my final predictions up today, so I could be on the record for better or worse. Sure, I could back date a post and make it look like I picked 100%, but where would be the fun in that? Anyway, here are my picks for the major categories.

Original Score: Sticking with Atonement.
Cinematography: I want Atonement, but my guess is There Will Be Blood.
Animated Feature: I'll stay with Ratatouille. The arthouse pick is Persepolis, but I really don't think it has a chance.
Original Screenplay: Juno. No doubt.
Adapted Screenplay: This one is really tough. I think they all deserve it. I'm switching from my previous pick to No Country for Old Men. A few thoughts on this category, though. I think Atonement is the source material most likely to have been read by Academy voters. Will that help or hurt it? I think There Will Be Blood is the most different from the source material. I'm a little worried that whatever wins this will not win Best Picture (sort of a consolation prize).
Supporting Actress: Another tough one, but for different reasons. Everybody loves Cate Blanchett, but I'm going with Ruby Dee so the Academy can show some color.
Supporting Actor: Staying with Javier Bardem.
Actress: Another tough one. Originally I had Ellen Page, but I've since seen La Vie en Rose, and Marion Cotillard was incredible. Plus, there's the lifetime achievement factor for Julie Christie. I think I'll stick with Page, but I have no confidence in this one.
Actor: Well, it ain't gonna be Viggo, although I did have good reasons for picking that originally. The smart money seems to be on Daniel Day-Lewis, and who am I to argue.
Director: My original pick for Julien Schnabel for Diving Bell was really just wishful thinking. I gotta go with the Coens for No Country.
Picture: Staying with No Country for Old Men.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

TABC Torture

Well, this isn't the post I intended to make, but maybe I'll make two posts in one day.

Right now, I'm taking an online class to get my TABC certification. This allows me to serve alcohol as a bartender, or in my case, as a volunteer at Saint Arnold Brewery. They offer the class at the brewery, but I didn't feel like going to it, plus it's a little cheaper online.

However, what I didn't realize is that the online version is deliberately and excessively sloooooow. It said at the beginning that it would take six(!) hours. I thought it meant "up to" six hours, but clearly that is not the case. Even when I finish reading a section early, I have to wait for the timer to count down before it allows me to continue. Not that I'm just allowed to read anyway. No, each section has to be read aloud to me, apparently just to waste time.

I took an online defensive driving course last year that was similar, but at least it was reasonable. In that one, you would have segments that lasted about 5 to 10 minutes, or films that ran as long as 15. With those times, you can easily do other things. This one has much shorter segments (3 to 6 minutes on average), but worse, it requires a mouse click about every 30 seconds to continue. It's maddening! I tried to do laundry-- fold a shirt, click, fold a shirt, click, fold a shirt, click. I'm trying to post to the blog-- write a sentence, click, write a few words, click, write a few... oops, what was I saying? I had to go click.

Another bad comparison, the defensive driving course could be broken up over the course of several days if I wanted. Not this one. As far as I can tell, I've got to sit here for the next six hours (well, only four now). However, I'm on lesson 8 of 10, so maybe I'm wrong and I'll finish this ordeal much sooner.

But worse than the inconvenience are the stupid animations. Every lesson has several slow animations introducing the lesson. It looks like someone was really bored with PowerPoint.

But the absolute worst part of this whole deal is the reasoning behind it. I was recently listening to the Get-It-Done Guy's podcast (quite interesting, I recommend it), and he was talking about finding the "why's" behind actions. That really made me think about this stupid online certification process. Why does it take six hours? What is the goal?

Since I have to take and pass a test at the end to receive my certification, it seems to me that the goal is to ensure that I am familiar with the information they are presenting. If that's the case, why can't I just read the information at my own pace? I'd still have to pass the test, but I wouldn't have to waste so much time.

If instead the goal is some sort of punishment, then they've got it right. I understand that in the context of defensive driving, but not at all in TABC certification.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Indiana Jones Trailer!

Of course, by now this is old news, but I'm very excited about it anyway. I'm a huge Indiana Jones fan, and despite everything, I'm still really looking forward to seeing this.

Now onto my criticisms.

  • Wow, Harrison Ford looks old.
  • Roswell? Really? Geez, as if that event hasn't been played out enough. However, I do like the idea of tying it to the Maya and the theory of the Ancient Astronaut.
  • Cate Blanchett = awesome.
  • It looks like Spielburg has changed his style for these movies, and I don't like it. Not one bit. There were a lot of overhead shots, which really breaks from the more traditionally shot previous films.
  • The CGI bothers me a lot, too. That's gotta be Loony Lucas' influence. The grandeur of Raiders comes from scenes where they really crashed a giant Anubis statue through an Egyptian wall. What's awe-inspiring about watching people mug in front of a green screen? Hopefully, in the next few months of post-production they can make it look more realistic.
  • So I guess the kid is going to be Indy's son. I'm okay with that, but I have trouble understanding how he wouldn't have been there for him. It seems quite out of character for Indy to either be a deadbeat dad or to not know he had a son.
  • The trailer has a pretty comedic tone; I can only hope that the majority of the movie isn't played for laughs.
Bottom line, I'm worried that this installment won't be very good, but I'm still thrilled to have a new Jones adventure. I'll be there opening day regardless.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Terrible Poker

So, the other day I was able to play poker with my friend Rich and his regular poker group. These are a bunch of married guys who play tournament style on the first Saturday of every month. Not only is there money for the tournament that night, but you can win points based on your finishing position. Rich does very well, and last year won the whole year on points.

I, on the other hand, have not played in over a year. This made me nervous, which is never a good way to play poker. Without going into what would be a long and boring story, suffice it to say I played terribly. It was just plain awful. I wasn't the first out, but only by a few minutes. I'm still glad I went, but it sucks when you don't have a job and you blow $50 playing poker. That voice inside your head keeps reminding you of bills, groceries, rent, etc.

But the real point of my post has to do with the aftermath. I decided to buy a book on poker (specifically Texas Hold 'Em) so that when I go next month (oh yes, I'll be back) I'll play at a respectable level. I just wanted something simple that covered the basic strategies, the lingo, and maybe talked a little about pot odds. A guy at the tournament had a tiny, pocket-sized Dummy's Guide to poker, and that would have been perfect.

I was unable to find that Dummy's Guide or even an Idiot's Guide that wasn't too expensive. But I did find an Everything book. Apparently, these are some sort of knock-off like the other two. It was less than $10, so it seemed perfect.

Well, it kinda sucks. I'm going to read the whole thing anyway, because I'm sure I'll pick up some useful information. Unfortunately, the book is constantly using hip poker lingo without really explaining it. Sometimes, it comes across as using it just to show how cool they are and how uncool I am for being confused. And that's another thing-- for being a helpful guide, it really isn't very helpful. Too often they gloss over things that I would have preferred to have explained more clearly.

But hey, it's just a dumb poker book. However, there was this one paragraph I read that just sent me over the top. My last post was about terrible writing on TV, so I couldn't let this one go without a comment here. Have you ever heard of a mixed metaphor? Well check this out:

Think of your hole cards as your new bar squeeze at closing time. The flop will sober you up quickly, and suddenly the squeeze can appear a lot different. Other times, your hole cards will stay true and faithful, but it's still a long way to that mountaintop where the pot of gold awaits. If you're still in there swinging, you want to be aggressive. The flop is no place for the faint of heart.

What the hell? That first sentence alone is probably wacky enough for a post, but then it just keeps going. "Okay, so my hole cards are like some chick I'm trying to pick up at the end of the night when I'm drunk and desperate, and when the last call lights come on she could end up being hideous or pretty, but then I have to go climbing and hope I find a leprechaun, because if I'm still at bat, I have to be brave." Huh? The whole book is like that. There's another quote I wanted to put in here, but I can't remember where it is. Basically, it was so overloaded with poker jargon as to be indecipherable. I guess that's to make the reader feel cool when he finally figures out what the writer is talking about.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I may need another poker book. Hopefully, I can find something cheap that isn't as ridiculous as this one. My goals for the next tournaments are on three levels. My primary goal for every tournament, I would like to do better than the previous one (that should be easy for March). My secondary goal is to make it to the final table. My tertiary goal is to win money. I expect to meet my primary goal every time, but I don't expect to meet the others for a few more tournaments at least. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Terrible Writing

Although I like to think of myself as a writer, the fact is that I'm not. However, that doesn't stop me from having a critical eye when it comes to watching television or movie writing. I often criticize things for having "terrible" writing, so I thought maybe it was time I defined what I mean.

To me, terrible writing is any writing that calls attention to itself. It's conspicuous. Anytime you're watching something and you think, "That would never happen" or "No one would say that," then you're experiencing terrible writing. Now, to be fair, suspension of disbelief or strong likable characters can overcome those thoughts. In that case, it's more like bad writing that works, or a plot or characters that are so good, the little bad things don't hurt them.

I have a favorite quote from the movie The Rocketeer, as a director gives advice to a hapless young starlet: "Act, but don't act like you're acting." I believe the same applies to writing. If the viewer (or reader) forgets the writer by getting wrapped up in the story, you're doing a good job. Anything that reminds the audience there is a writer is bad.

So, I'm watching Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles yesterday. Honestly, I don't expect it to be good. But the first episode surprised me, and I thought it was quite good. The second episode, however... terrible.

The first infraction was admittedly minor, but it was so stupid it yanked me out of the show so hard I got whiplash. Young John Connor is working on some random electronic kit. He complains to his mom (the titular Sarah), "You got me the wrong needle-nosed pliers." She responds, "You said the red handled ones, right?" He holds up, gasp, blue handled pliers. Then they get in a little argument about why he isn't allowed to go outside.

What's wrong with this scene? The writer needed something to spark the argument. Grasping at straws, he decided Sarah bought the wrong tool, thereby also establishing John as a Radio Shack genius and his mom as unable to stop the blinking clock on the VCR. But "wrong needle-nosed pliers"? How many types of needle-nosed pliers are there? And seriously, the color of the handles makes a difference? I've used needle-nosed pliers with red, yellow, and black handles. That was the only difference between them. If he had said, "No, the kind with the bent tips on the end" or "These are regular pliers, I asked for needle-nose" I would've been fine with it (dumb as it is). But, those options would've taken a few seconds and not been as effective as the visual of holding up blue pliers. Terrible.

The next infraction was far more of a violation. I use that word both to reflect the seriousness, but also because it broke one of the laws established in the show. I mean, come on. It's only the second episode, and already you're breaking your own rules?

The rule is this: When traveling through time, only flesh can be transported. Clothes don't go through; weapons don't go through; the only reason the Terminators go through is because they're covered in human skin. At the end of the first show, John, Sarah, and Cameron (nice nod to the creator there) pop through a time bubble just as they explode the Terminator about to destroy them. They arrive in present day, naked, in the middle of a freeway. This provides a nice gag and some eye candy. No problem. In the second episode, we discover that when they blew up the Terminator, his head popped off and came with them through the time bubble. Which they had just said couldn't happen. It's another clear plot device (borrowed from a Star Trek: Next Generation episode) that allowed the writers to reassemble the Terminator. Boo. Terrible.

There were many other terrible things in that episode, but I just wanted to point out the two that bugged me the most. It stayed pretty consistently bad the whole time. To their credit, though, I thought the third episode was a little better. Being starved for new sci-fi (or new anything, these days), I'm willing to keep watching for now.

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