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A Houston video producer takes on film, television, culture, the church, and his own hubris without even the help of a fact-checker.

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I got two fortunes in a row that said "You have a bright career in medical research!" So, I've got that going for me.

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~Samuel Butler

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Tuesday
Feb262013

A Few More Oscar Night Thoughts


A few random thoughts from today I wanted to add to the Oscar post from below:

1. Most of the articles I've seen (or podcasts/interviews I've heard) about Seth MacFarlane's performance at the Oscars have led with professions of open-mindedness - something along the lines of "I'm not too familiar with MacFarlane's work, so I was fully willing to be impressed." Then they transition into shock and horror at what came next.

I think that if you open any piece defending your open-mindedness with a "it wasn't me - I was willing to give him a fair shake, you know," there's a very good chance that you didn't start from a very open-minded position at all. Alex Pappademas gave offhanded reference today that Seth MacFarlane "hates women," as if this was an inarguable fact, based on hundreds of firsthand accounts, and not based on a dislike for the no-holds-barred style of his television show.

When you expect someone to come out and be racist and misogynist - and he gives winking reference to the fact that this was what you expected of him - it's awfully easily to have reality play into your preconceptions.

2. MacFarlane tweeted today "The Oscars is basically the Kobayashi Maru test" - a reference to the Star Trek challenge involving a no-win situation, where the only thing being rated is how you hold up under pressure, or redefine the situation. It's an apt metaphor, but I think a better one is War Games - "the only way to win, is not to play."

3. There's a real tone to these MacFarlane commentaries that have been bothering me, and I finally put my finger on today.

It's the fact that "Family Guy" is watched by "the wrong sort of people." You know, bros. Unintellectual types. Poor people. Not our tribe. And that makes MacFarlane an outsider - and the wrong sort of outsider. Not an outsider like Letterman or Jon Stewart, who showed up to skewer the puffed-up celebrities. The sort of outsider who'll track mud through the ballroom. That type.

It's classist.

4. I've defended MacFarlane's performance on the Oscars, which might have given the impression that I thought the Oscars were well produced. They were not.

The producers this year, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, decided to do a tribute to movie musicals. Which is... fine, I guess. There was one musical that came out this year, Les Misérables, so there's some connection. The big discussion leading up to the awards was actually "truth and history," but that's kind of a bummer, so... musicals! You've even got a host who loves musicals, so it works out.

But we didn't do a tribute to movie musicals. There was nary a mention of The Music Man, Greast, A Star is Born, Singin' In The Rain, Meet Me In St. Louis, Cabaret, West Side Story, or The Wizard of Oz. The closest they came was MacFarlane doing a gag about The Sound Of Music, where he announced the Von Trapp family but they failed to appear. We did a tribute to movie musicals from the last 10 years - Les Mis, Dreamgirls, Hairspray, and Chicago. In fact, we did Chicago a number of times - Catherine Zeta-Jones sang a song, the cast reappeared to announce a winner, MacFarlane talked about it being the ten-year anniversary of its Best Picture win... why this emphasis on Chicago? Because the producers of Chicago were Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.

So, so classy, guys.

5. And finally, I'd just like to remind everyone again that last year, Bill Crystal did blackface during the Oscars. Unironic blackface. Completely out of context blackface As in, he just had a blackface Sammy Davis, Jr. bit he wanted to shoehorn in, and he did.

I just thought we've all forgotten about that too quickly.

Never forget.

Monday
Feb252013

Oscar Wrap-Up: Not My Usual Thing


I was going to do a bigger piece on the reaction to last night’s Oscars, but the more I worked at it the less I wanted to do it. I read a lot of commentary this morning, and much of it seemed illogical. Most of it is anti-MacFarlane, and while everyone's entitled to their two cents, some of it seems entirely out of left field. The notion that actresses feel the need to starve themselves for weeks and get all dressed up in sequins on the night is MacFarlane's fault seems... spurious at best.*

*Multiple articles I read made this very case. I think there may be some confusion at the amount of power an Oscar host has.

There has been a lot of commentary about the jokes MacFarlane made during the show, none of it good. What struck me is that all the articles seem to contain the line “the joke is that…” followed by an explanation that shows a real misunderstanding of the joke. Whether you liked MacFarlane’s Quvenzhané Wallis joke or not (“at age 9, Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest Best Actress nominee ever. To give you an idea of just how young she is, it’ll be 16 years before she’s too old for Clooney.”), the joke’s at George Clooney’s expense, not Wallis’. The idea that “the joke is that black women aren’t good for anything other than being sexual objects” is a deliberate misreading, and a damaging one. We train ourselves to view everything as an attack, and then we can’t tell the difference between real prejudice and the echoes of our own voices.

If you feel that it’s wrong to include Wallis in any such joke that speaks about her eventually being a woman who can date people because she’s too young, I think that’s fine. But that’s not what’s being argued.

The Onion’s joke is more problematic, but again suffers from a lot of people misunderstanding what the joke is – or rather, what it isn’t. It isn’t a personal attack on Wallis. It isn’t an “indefensible expression of racism” or an “abhorrent verbal attack on a child.” (it’s not even verbal!) If you’ll indulge me as I do the very thing I was complaining about earlier: it’s a joke about how everyone loves Wallis and it’s impossible to find her anything but charming, and so to call her a bad word is patently ridiculous.

You don’t have to like the joke. You can find the joke horrendously offensive. But you shouldn’t make it into something it isn’t for the sake of being offended more.

Since I meant to start this as a defense of MacFarlane, let me loop back around: I thought he did a good job. It was designed to be a little something-for-everyone, and the backdoor way of landing edgier jokes through the guise of James Kirk-from-the-future showing him clips of his critically-panned show was a good idea. The criticism against his show being “utterly free of laughs” seems more a result of people wanting him to be terrible more than it actually being bad  - the Hollywood Reporter had a good piece this morning about this being a no-win situation for MacFarlane, but that he ended up winning anyway.

I was most enthused that he went out of his way to actually host the show – appearing before each presenter to make a crack as they walked out, introducing guests and performances, etc. Most hosts do a big comedy bit in the beginning, then appear only sporadically throughout, and the show suffers from it. Even Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, as great as they were at the Globes, were absent throughout much of the telecast. MacFarlane made sure that the show never felt like it was going off the rails, despite a number of truly abysmal musical performances. 

Anyway, let’s check in on the results and… not bad. I ended up having a pretty good showing: I missed only 7 out of the 24 categories. I actually thought I did better than that, because during the show, I seemed to never be wrong*. But it also became apparent early in the night that the Academy liked all of the films nominated (except Zero Dark Thirty), and wanted to honor as many as possible. Therefore, my gamble on Amour not winning Best Foreign Film proved a bad one, but you’ve got to take a few risks if you’re hoping to stand out. Everyone remembers the time you correctly picked the 16-seed to upset Duke, y’know? That metaphor may not apply here, since no one will ever remember any of these picks I made, including me.

*Though that’s also how I normally feel, so I guess I can’t trust my gut on that one.

Of the ones I missed, I was surprised to see Lincoln get little love: the Oscars gave Best Supporting Actor to Christoph Walz instead of Tommy Lee Jones (a decision I heartily endorse, by the way), and gave Best Screenplay to Argo (a decision I mildly disagree with, but fine). Not to mention that Spielberg was expected to land Best Director, but it went to Ang Lee instead, which I’m ecstatic about.

Okay, fine, not ecstatic. I’m smiling, though. Good for the Academy. It was the best-directed film of the lot, and I know a lot of voters were put off by the film’s religious content. So, to see the movie land the award while espousing a deep belief in God? A nice sight to see.

Sunday
Feb242013

Oscar Night Drinking Game!

Hey, it’s the first ever Ten-Four Films Oscar Night Drinking Game! So, even if you’re enjoying the festivities tonight alone, you can take comfort in the fact that if you follow my rules exactly, by the end of the evening, you will be dead.

So come, my tan-faced children! Follow well in order! Have you your pitchers? Have you your lime-flavored Budweisers? O Pioneers!

 

Red Carpet Section: 

1. If you find yourself watching any part of the red carpet section, finish your drink.

2. Yes, I know we just started. Finish it. Now pour another. Here we go.

3. Every time a camera cuts to a close-up of someone’s shoes/bracelet/necklace/sash/broach, take a drink. Stop only when you feel the tide of death upon you. 

4. If you say aloud, “say, isn’t that guy/girl from that show?” and it turns out not to be, take two drinks.

5. If you say aloud, “oh, I don’t like that at all,” go read YouTube comments for six minutes.

6. If you say aloud, “boy, _____ is really the color this year,” quit drinking and devote yourself to a life of charity.

7. If you say aloud “ooh, I actually pinned that the other day,” drink until you can’t feel your legs. Then, find a sharp object and remove your legs.
 


Hosting/Presenting

1. Take a drink when Seth MacFarlane makes a joke about how he isn’t famous.

2. Take a drink whenever the camera cuts to an actor or actress not really laughing after MacFarlane’s made a joke at their expense.

3. Take two drinks if that actor or actress has a confused look on their face, as if desperately trying to place the name of the spray-tanned man on the stage mocking them.

4. Whenever Seth MacFarlane does an imitation of someone else, turn to your neighbor and attempt your own imitation of a famous person.

5. Take a drink if that imitation is not of “Cagney” and/or “Lacey.”

6. Keep drinking until your Cagney and Lacey imitations are better.

7. Whichever religion MacFarlane mocks first, join that religion.

8. Every time a presenter mentions Emmanuelle Riva’s age, consider the fragility of human life.

9. Every time a presenter mentions Quvenzhané Wallis’ age, reflect on the innocence of youth.

10. Every time a presenter mentions Quvenzhané Wallis in a way that makes it clear that they’ve practiced the pronunciation of it in their bathroom mirror for several days, make a resolution to learn a new language this year. Forget this resolution by sunrise.

11. Every time a presenter mentions a movie not released in the previous year, fix yourself a drink appropriate to the year of that movie’s release. You may have to stock your liquor cabinet beforehand. I have a moonshine guy if you need one.

12. Induce vomiting if an animated version of “Ted” or a “Family Guy” character appears to announce an award. You’re probably near alcohol poisoning at this point anyway. Let it all out. You’ll feel better in a minute. There you go.

 

Special Performances

1. If someone besides Adele sings a song, take a drink.

2. If someone besides Adele sings a song not from the past year, finish your drink.

3. If someone mentions a “revival” of movie musicals, travel to Los Angeles and kill them.

4. If MacFarlane starts singing at any point, see whether you can hold your breath the entire time.  If you pass out before the song finishes, rewind the ceremony to the beginning and start again.

5. If Adele sings a song, take no drinks. Weep softly, cradling your glass, and think fondly of times that never were.

6. Travel to your nearest grocery store and buy all the Peeps. Consume them before you get back to your car. You don't need a reason. You know you want to.

 

Speeches

1. Take a drink if a speech starts with “wow!”

2. Take a drink if a winner mentions more than 8 people in any speech.

3. Take a drink if someone not nominated has received more than one reaction shot during the ceremony (as a quick cheat sheet, George Clooney is nominated as producer for Argo, while Meryl Streep is not nominated at all). Exception: if the person receiving multiple reaction shots is the spouse of the winner and the winner is telling that person how much he/she loves them and that this is all for them.

4. If a spouse of the winner receives multiple reactions shots while the winner is telling that person how much he/she loves them and that this is all for them, finish your drink. (Thought you were going to get off easy for a minute, didn’t you? Not likely)

5. Every time someone mentions a relative who in not in attendance, trade glasses with your neighbor.

6. Every time someone mentions a relative who in not in attendance because they are dead, trade glasses with your neighbor, then finish their drink.

7. Every time Anne Hathaway mentions someone she admires, take a drink.

8. If Anne Hathaway mentions another other actresses nominated in her category, finish your drink.

9. If Anne Hathaway mentions all of the other actresses in her category, the person in the room who can name the fewest Shakespearian plays must finish all the other drinks in the room.

10. If you didn’t get that joke, you are not allowed to watch the Oscars tonight until you’ve finished reading three books.

11. No, you don’t get to pick the books. I get to pick the books. Also, take another drink.

12. You may come to hate Anne Hathaway by the end of her speech. But, if someone at your party makes a catty statement disparaging Hathaway, slap them forcefully into silence. That young lady is above your disdain.

13. After any shot of Quentin Tarantino laughing, do ten pushups.

 

Show Closing

1. For every second the ceremony runs over, eat that many jelly beans, including black ones.

2. Tally up your Oscar Predictions scorecard, then grab a pair of scissors. Calculate the percentage you got right. That’s the amount of hair you’re allowed to keep.

Hope you all have fun at the ceremony this year! I’ll see you all again next year, or as soon as about 40% of my hair grows back.

Saturday
Feb232013

Just Under The Gun: Oscar Predictions 2013

      I’ve determined over time that no one who reads this site seems to care about the Oscars nearly as much as I do.

Well, I guess I’ve always known that. What I mean is, no one who reads this site cares about the Oscars within a million miles as much as I do. I'll bet a full half the people reading this article were not aware the Oscars were even happening tomorrow until I posted this. It's just one of the varying things I write on this site that interests me much more than it interests you, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But every year I write a long diatribe about each award, and then people come to the page and scan each section quickly, looking for a leg up to win their office pools. And those are the most interested people that I get.

Frankly, though, I write this site for my own entertainment anyway, so screw all y’all. But since I’d find it much more entertaining if I went out and got some Chinese food right now, I’ll make this quick. A prediction in each category, followed by a sentence or so.

I’m sort of blasé about the Oscars this year anyway. Not sure why I’m not more enthused – I’ve seen eight of the nine films nominated in Picture (and really liked seven of them), for once several of the big awards aren’t set in stone, and I’m one of the few people alive who thinks Seth McFarlane is a good choice for Oscar host. But I didn’t read any Oscar predictions this year, and I normally churn through those. I’m sure I’ll enjoy the telecast, I’m just usually a little giddier.

By the way, I’m definitely live-tweeting throughout the show, so be sure to either check that out or unfollow me, depending on your proclivities.

Let’s start with the technical awards:

Makeup and Hairstyling:
It’s strange that this is a tough choice, but it’s a choice between Les Mis (a prestige film where the makeup department just rubbed dirt on the actors faces) and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (where humans are covered in ridiculous dwarf makeup). I’m gonna say The Hobbit, though I acknowledge that it’s just because it wins the award for “Most Makeup” rather than “Best.

Costume Design: Anna Karenina. This is the sort of movie that’s designed to win these sorts of awards, since Joe Wright’s last two movies (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) both got nominations in this category. I don’t think either won though, so that may be a bad sign. Still, the Academy loves to give awards to people who keep getting nominated and not winning!

Original Song: “Skyfall” by Adele. Like it’s even a question. The Academy wouldn’t do Adele (or, as I like to call her, “Classy Taylor Swift”) like that. That girl’s been through enough.

Production Design: Anna Karenina. The film had all that cool interlocking staging (the whole movie is reconceived to take place inside a theater), and this is the award that honors that sort of thing. By rights, this should probably go to Les Misérables, but we never saw enough shots of the actual sets to determine if they were as good as they looked while out-of-focus behind people.

Sound Mixing: That is, the award for recording sound on the set. Les Misérables should win this handily, since – if you didn’t know – all the singing was recorded live.

Sound Editing: This is the award for “creation of sound effects,” and it’ll go to Life of Pi. Because it’s a great movie and it’s not going to win anything else.

Visual Effects: Life of Pi. Except for visual effects, I mean. Life of Pi is definitely going to win Best Visual Effects.


Film Editing:
Argo. It’s probably going to win Best Picture, which means it’s probably going to win Film Editing. Most of the time, that’s just how it works. That said, it’s not a bad pick.


Original Score:
I think Life of Pi wins, but I honestly don’t remember the score from any of the other films, except for from Lincoln, because I thought John Williams did such a lousy job with it. Actually, I have a vague recollection of liking the score in Skyfall, too. I think Thomas Newman did it, but I’m too lazy to check. Wait, no I’m not. Hang on… yes, it is Thomas Newman. Not that it matters. No one’s giving an Oscar to a Bond movie – unless, of course, Adele is coming up to accept the award in a floral dress, gushing in a posh British accent.

Okay, now that the dull techie stuff’s out of the way, let’s move on to the categories no one ever knows anything about.


Live Action Short Film:
“Curfew.” It’s the only one I’d heard of. Normally I haven’t heard of any of them.


Documentary Short:
“Innocente.” It’s the story of a homeless, undocumented teenager who’s determined to become an artist. How does that not win? It doesn’t even sound like a real movie. It sounds like something made up to win an imaginary Oscar. Here’s a link to the trailer. I think you’ll agree with me.


Animated Short Film: “Paperman.” Disney did a good job of promoting this across the web, and I know a lot of voters tend to vote on this without having seen the rest of the films (it isn’t like Documentary Feature, where voters have to prove they’ve seen all five films). Possible spoiler: “Adam and Dog,” a buzzy independent film that also released their entire short to the net last week. It’s a charming concept – how man and dog first became best friends, back at the beginning of time.

 

 

Foreign Language Film: Logic dictates that this has to go to Amour, since it’s also nominated in Best Picture and none of the other films are. But the voters who cast their ballots in this category – again, a smaller group than the overall Academy voters – can be contrarians. I’m going out on a limb and picking Chile’s No instead.

 
Documentary Feature:
I’ve heard nothing but overwhelming adoration for Searching For Sugar Man. I’m gonna have to see this movie.

 
Animated Feature:
This may be the only time I ever do, but I’m going against the Pixar movie. I don’t think Brave takes it. I know Frankenweenie has won a lot of awards, but I say that the Academy goes populist, and picks Wreck-It Ralph. The movie’s so good!


Original Screenplay: This is the tough one. I think Django Unchained isn’t going to win any other awards, so the Academy gives Quentin Tarantino this one. That said, I think both Moonrise Kingdom and Zero Dark Thirty are more impressive pieces of screenwriting. But unless Flight wins for some reason, I’m fine with whatever gets picked.


Adapted Screenplay: Gosh, Argo probably wins here, doesn’t it? It’s not an undeserving win if it does, but I’ve got to hand the award to Tony Kushner for Lincoln. That screenplay is a magnificent piece of historical fiction. I can’t even imagine the research it would’ve taken to make that thing.

Okay, on to the biggest – but least surprising – categories.

 

Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway. I don’t have to explain why. Everyone knows this is happening. Only Sally Field is even making the press rounds, trying to compete against her. And I don’t see that upset happening.

 
Supporting Actor:
Tommy Lee Jones has won everything up until now, so it seems likely he’ll win this. Though word is Robert De Niro is making the rounds, shilling for Silver Linings Playbook, and he never does that. I’d let that influence me, but I don’t think he’s all that impressive in Playbook. He’s good, sure, but not remarkably so.


Leading Actress: There’s a campaign for Emmanuelle Riva that goes something like “we should vote for her, because she’s old and might be dead soon.” Which is exactly the sort of voting nonsense you hear every year. An actress no one had heard of until two months ago, and now the Academy feels the need to show her more support than they’ve ever shown any of their own family members, because people are watching. Anyway, I’m picking Jennifer Lawrence, because people seem to want to avoid voting for Zero Dark Thirty in any way, so Jessica Chastain won’t win. Which makes me sad, because she’s so, so good in that movie.


Leading Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis. I love Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s actually crazy, but in the best possible way. He’s a method actor who actually does become his role, as opposed to most Hollywood actors, who are just making idiots of themselves, wearing 17th-century underwear for three months because they think it’ll help them get in character.

My favorite Day-Lewis story is from Lincoln is that he started writing notes to people on set, as Abraham Lincoln, in Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting. If they ever made a sequel (and they cannot, for obvious reasons), he’d probably have spent so much time in the character he’d be qualified to run for President. 

He wouldn’t, though, because he’d believe that he already served two terms back in the 1800’s.  


Director:
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln. We haven’t given him one of these in a while, and the two best directed films didn’t land nominations for their director, for no apparent reason.

I know I’ve complained about this before, but this really is ridiculous. How hard was it for Michael Haneke to direct Amour, really? I know that there's something to be said for "coaxing great performances out of actors," but in his movies, actors are sitting in armchairs in well-lit libraries, talking to each other. There’s only so much directing that actually need to happen.

Best Picture: Argo. It’s won everything up until this point. Why shouldn’t it win this? And I don't mean that in a mean-spirited way, I really like Argo. It's just won everything, so odds on it wins this.

Sigh. I can't believe that's the shorter version of my Oscar predictions. Next year, I'm gonna give myself a 300-word limit and see what happens.

Friday
Feb222013

The Best of Television, 2012: Part 6: My 20 Favorite Shows of 2012

I tried to rank all these by my level of excitement to watch each show, not just my overall opinion of each show's quality. For example, "Mad Men" might have just finished its greatest season, but I didn't look forward to each episode the way I did with "Community."

Just missing the cut: "30 For 30", "Veep", and "Parenthood."

20.  Bent (NBC)

19.  The League (FX)

18.  Bob’s Burgers (FOX)

17.  Battleground (Hulu)

16.  The Good Wife (CBS)

15.  Archer (FX)

14.  Happy Endings (ABC)

13.  The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (Comedy Central)

12.  Louie (FX)

11.  Key and Peele (Comedy Central)

10.  Girls (HBO)

9.    Awake (NBC)

8. 30 Rock (NBC)

7. Downton Abbey (PBS)

6. Parks and Recreation (NBC)

5. Mad Men (AMC)

4. New Girl (FOX)

3. Community (NBC)

2. Game of Thrones (HBO)

1. Sherlock (BBC)