Saturday, December 26, 2009

An Education: Please go see it

I just watched "An Education" and had to quickly sign in to encourage all of you to see it when and if you can. Obviously, in our little market here, it likely won't be in theaters unless it receives lots of attention at the Oscars. But A) it's worth the drive to the Twin Cities, and B) it most definitely will receive such attention at the Oscars, so maybe we'll get lucky in a couple of months.

Carey Mulligan delivers a breathtaking performance as a 16-year-old private school student, Jenny, in a small town in England in the 1960s. She is well on her way to Oxford if she can get her Latin skills up to par. Jenny is bright and witty, and she's mature beyond her years.

Jenny is picked up while waiting for a bus in the rain by Peter Sarsgaard (who I have adored for years), who plays David, a handsome and seemingly wealthy man in his late 20s or early 30s. We're never sure of David's interest in Jenny. She's young and inexperienced in all of the ways that David isn't. But as he seduces her and even her parents, we're taken along as well -- to jazz clubs, to Paris, on weekend trips to Oxford. We're hesitant to root for the relationship, because Jenny is so young and naive, but part of the brilliance of this film is that the audience is inevitably seduced by David also. We want her to indulge and forget herself. We want to believe that he is the man he seems to be and that she is ready, even at her young age, for all she is experiencing.

As Jenny becomes tangled up in David's life, skipping her final exams and believing that he is her most promising future, she demands to know from the headmistress at her school why she shouldn't make the decision to live her life to the fullest now. What is an education for, she asks. To work hard and to be bored the rest of her life? In the 1960s, a woman's choices for work were limited. She could work at a school or do civil service. The headmistress and her favorite teacher don't have answers, which only makes David seem more appealing.

So much is written between the lines: 1960s sexual politics, the parental roles in guiding a teenager's future, the ease of love to blind us to reality, the prison marriage could be to a woman 40 years ago. The true beauty of "An Education," however, is that nothing is black and white. No characters are bad guys or good guys. No choices made are right or wrong. The film shows us the gray areas of all of Jenny's decisions and also of our own.

"An Education" is one of the best coming of age movies I have ever seen. And if Carey Mulligan doesn't get an Oscar nomination, I'll be writing the Academy a firmly worded note.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Oscar watch 2010

I feel, one of my better qualities, is my willingness to admit when I am wrong. And, as I've been watching some of the likely Oscar contendors, I've realized that stating there are practically no good movies coming out in the final quarter of 2009 was a bit hasty. I have seen several now that I have very much enjoyed.

Two that you all MUST SEE are Inglourious Basterds and Precious. Precious was incredibly hard to watch. Don't expect a Walt Disney ending, where Precious graduates high school, gets a job, meets a great man and they all live happily ever after. The greatness of this film lies in how brave it is in staying real. No punches are pulled. Finally, we're given a look at what a life of poverty and oppression in the black community is really like. This is the story of one abused, neglected teenager having children fathered by her own father. She can't read or write. She's dependent on a mother who beats and verbally abuses her and who wants her to go to the welfare office to start collecting government checks in lieu of going to school. Be prepared for the worst, and then don't be surprised when your expectations are blown away.

Inglourious Basterds is probably Quentin Tarantino's best work to date. Every time I watch one of his movies, I think, "This guy is nuts." And he is! He's just as nutty in this movie, and at every turn there's always something that makes me think, "Now, why would he do that?" Which is part of the fun. This story, like all of his, unfolds in chapters with various characters being introduced that all play an intricate part in the grand finale that is sure to amaze you. He's topped himself once again, and so far, this is my favorite movie of the year.

I have a ways to go. I've compiled a list of all the Golden Globe candidates, except for foreign films, which are harder to find before the show. I vow each year to see all the movies up for awards before the awards show so that I can make educated guesses on winners and also choose my favorites. Below is the list of what I've seen and what I haven't. Twenty-three days to go! I'd better get to work.

Seen so far
Brothers, The Hangover, Julie and Julia, The Proposal, Duplicity, Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Everybody’s Fine, Precious, Inglourious Basterds, The Blind Side, (500) Days of Summer, Where the Wild Things Are

Movies I Need to See Before Oscars
The Hurt Locker
Up In The Air
It’s Complicated
The Young Victoria
The Last Station
An Education
Crazy Heart
A Single Man
The Informant!
Sherlock Holmes
A Serious Man
The Messenger
The Lovely Bones
Fantastic Mr. Fox

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The nominations are in and are thin on greatness

Golden Globe announcements today ...

I gotta tell you, not super excited. Every year, I wait for the Golden Globe nominations to tip me off about the movies that would never come to Mankato -- the Oscar-worthy films that only come out in the fourth quarter, the ones I've been waiting for all year. I then spend the next two months catching up on them all in anticipation of Hollywood's biggest night.

This year ... Well, I'm not going to run down every category, but just as an example of the tripe I'm seeing nominated in many categories, Sandra Bullock was nominated for best actress in a comedy or musical for "The Blind Side."
Picture this scene:
Friend of Sandra: "You're changing that boy's life."
Sandra: "I'm not changing him." She pauses, the music swells. "He's changing me."

So, yeah, as I stated: Not excited. I'm thinking this will be a musical year. "Nine" will likely be the big one. Which is fine. This is a recession year, and it seems fitting a musical -- something light and fun -- would win. And perhaps that's the explanation for all of this. Maybe the film industry decided to play it safe in this recession year, making movies that are sure to sell tickets ("Avatar," anyone? Not me!) rather than award winners that barely anyone will see.

Regardless, click here for the full list of nominees.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dexter Season Finale: HOLY $%&@!!!

Expletive! Expletive! Expletive! Expletive!

My stomach is in knots. All you Dextees out there, can you believe the twist ending to the "Dexter" Season 4 finale???




Rita. What in the world? Did anyone see that coming? I'm absolutely flabbergasted. I couldn't have been more thrown than if, say, Debra came forward as a vigilante killer herself. ...OK, well, maybe then.

Incredible. Immediately, I wanted to go back to the scene where Dexter kills Trinity. So much more was going on in that conversation than we ever could have imagined. A dark manipulation, so much gone unsaid. Even in death, Trinity has the final say.

So very many questions now ...

What will this do to Dexter? I'm sensing a major meltdown. Rita was so much of what kept him stable and grounded. She and Deb were the constant sources of support and also the people he needed to stay sane for. When half of that goes away, what will that do to him?

What will happen to the code? When a serial killer goes through something like this, and no longer has the source of his pain to take it out on (Trinity), will he no longer care about playing nice?

What will happen to the kids? How will Dexter care for them himself? And also, what will this do to Harrison's psyche? Will it do to him what it did to Dexter? Will Dexter have to prepare to groom a serial killer the way Harry did?

Will Dexter be suspected to have been involved with Trinity? Inevitably, the department will question why Trinity chose Rita. I'm wondering if it's possible that someone will remember Trinity's visit to Homicide that day and the person he spoke to: Dexter. Also, Deb was already suspicious when Dexter shows up out of nowhere in Trinity's garage before anyone else. And then, there's always Trinity's family who know Dexter as Kyle Butler and will see him in Homicide, or will see him in the paper, perhaps, after Rita's death.

This one's a longshot ... Will Dexter dispose of Rita the same way he disposes of the rest of his victims to avoid all of the above questions? Would he be able to do that?

Many, many questions, and unfortunately, we have nine months to wait for the answers. Hopefully, we'll all find shows to distract us in the interim. As for now, this is my absolute favorite show. This season was so great and totally pushed the show into the "amazing" category. "True Blood," I'm sorry, but you have some work to do to catch up at this point.

Here's the discussion between Michael C. Hall and John Lithgow at the end of the show. They make some good points and raise some good questions about next season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Most fascinating people? Really?

I wonder if Barbara Walters has complete control over choosing her 10 most interesting people of the year, an annual special that aired 9 p.m. tonight (Wednesday) on ABC. If so, maybe ol' Babs is becoming a little out of touch.

Barbara's List: Tyler Perry, Kate Gosselin, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama (she was the secret No. 1), Michael Jackson's kids, Wife of Mark Sanford Jenny Sandford, Adam Lambert, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Brett Favre.

Dumb ones: Wife of Mark Sanford, Michael Jackson's kids, Tyler Perry

Glaring omissions: Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Susan Boyle

First of all, let me just say I'm not a fan of Taylor Swift. However, given the incredible year she's had, sweeping every awards show, hosting SNL and writing her own monologue which hilariously poked fun at this crazy year of success, she should have been damn close to the top of this list.

Did I miss something where Susan Boyle would be overlooked? Is Barbara unaware of YouTube? Does she not watch her own network? Is she unaware that Boyle's album sold a bajillion copies and it was just released? A small-town spinster from England proved to the world she had incredible talent. I was thinking Boyle or Swift would be No. 1. Michelle Obama deserved to be on the list, but certainly the election year would have been more appropriate for her to be in the No. 1 slot.

Lastly, the Rihanna story was huge. When a pop star is beaten, with photos leaked to the press, and she takes her attacker back before realizing she is worth so much more than the way he is treating her -- that's a very public and fascinating story, especially when said attacker is also a very famous musician.

As for the people on the list who shouldn't have been there: Michael Jackson's kids was a cheap way to get around the rule of only putting living people on the list. Nobody knows anything about those kids. They are not fascinating. This was about their dad.

Perhaps Babs doesn't realize that the Madea movies have been coming out for years and that Perry signed on to "Precious" after it was already made. Oh, and also that he sucks.

And I honestly don't know what to say about Jenny Sandford. I didn't even remember what her first name was. If you were going to choose anyone in that situation, why wouldn't it be the person who made the news: Her husband, the strange senator who chose to go completely overboard and declare to the press he was cheating on his wife with his "soulmate."

Anyway, a few odd choices there, Barbara. But I'll be watching next year.

I LOVE awards season

Ricky Gervais plans to get 'drunker and drunker' as Golden Globes host

By Andrew Winning, Reuters

If the Jan. 17 Golden Globes show is anything like the press call we just had with host Ricky Gervais, it should be a blast.

The funny actor and comedian - who will be the first emcee for the show since 1995 - said he will completely write his material himself - "my own stuff," he says.

"I'm not going to do any sort of shtick," said Gervais, 48. "I'm not going to do pre-records or a dance number or rehearse with anyone. I'm going to plan what I'm going to say. But I'm going to be more relaxed. I want to host it a little bit more like someone from the Rat Pack would host it - playing the room, a little bit more off the cuff, roasting a few of the A-listers ..."

He will "work on a few themes," but adds, "I'm going keep it short and sharp. I think I'm best in small doses. I don't want to outstay my welcome. I don't want to overwhelm the show. It's everyone else's show."

He says he wants to be "reactive. I don't want to just go read an auto cue and do a very staid joke and have that polite titter. It's a party! ... I'm certainly going to have targets as it were - not in abad way."

Later in the call he said the word target sounded "scary," and he didn't want to worry anyone. "I'm going to ceratinly not do anything cruel or distateful, but I think gentle ribbing. Anyone who's younger and thinner and richer and more attractive than me. ... Rainn's Wilson's safe again. Steve Carell's on the cusp," he cackled. Of course he can pick on them because he co-created the British version of The Office and gets royalty checks from the American show.

During the call, Gervais said more than once that he plans to have a cocktail or two while on the job. "Over the three hours, I imagine my tie's going to come off and I'll get drunker and drunker. I don't know what the last hour's going to be like, but the first hour will be watchable."

Will there be political jokes? And what about the Oscars?

"Politics? Um, the quick answer's no cuz I haven't planned it yet. I probably don't do well with current affairs and I don't' really watch the news. It's too depressing," he said, then added that it depends on what happens between now and the Globes. "Who knows? I might have liposcution that goes terribly wrong between now and then and have something to talk about. Ha!"

Gervais says "this is the only" award show he can see doing. "In all honesty. No one wants to see me mucking around at the Oscars. They're there to see if they've won the most important award of their life. "

And the Emmys? "I couldn't do the rehearsals. This is perfect. They said I could turn up and say what I wanted and get drunk. What's also nice is I 've only been in this business about 10 years - because I'm a very lazy person - and I've achieved enough. I only do things that could possibly end my career. Cheers!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

The return of Sarah

Years ago, myself and other Free Press staff would gather at The Fillin' Station Coffeehouse in its old location, about 10 feet to the left of its current location. Every Wednesday morning, we would talk about writing and how we can get better and all that stuff. And every morning, we could count on the lovely Sarah Turbes to be the one to pour our coffee, whip up our lattes and warm up our scones. She was funny, she was sweet, and she made the best damned mochas in town when the mood struck.

No, Sarah didn't die. I realize I've been talking about her in the past tense. Thanks to Facebook, I've been able to keep up with her goings-ons. But a while back, she left the Fillin' and we've barely seen her since. Not that the other Fillin' kids didn't make great coffee, too, but Sarah's always seemed to have a little something extra special.

Well, I have some news, people. I walked into the Fillin' Thursday to order a Lincoln Park for lunch, and there she was! And there she will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays until about 11:30 a.m. She's back! So for all of you who have never had a Sarah-made mocha, RUN (don't walk) to the Fillin' and have her whip one up. AmAAAAzing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Christmas shows not to be missed

Did you see it? I was kind of nerdily excited all day about the Rockefeller Center tree lighting special on NBC Wednesday night. This is, until I saw that "Rudolph" was on CBS at the same time. Under what circumstances would "Rudolph" not win that fight? Maybe if I'd seen it three times already this season. But this was the inaugural viewing of 2009, and it was delightful.

Incidentally, I had a discussion with a friend this morning about the Land of Misfit Toys. All of them have obvious flaws: A Charlie in the box, a toy plane that doesn't fly, a bird that swims, a spotted elephant and a toy train with square wheels on its caboose. However, the red-headed dolly seems to have no flaw at all. We Googled this immediately, and you'll be appalled at what we learned:
"A Dolly for Sue (as she calls herself)" is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair and a red gingham (checkered) dress. Her misfit problem is never explained on the special, but was revealed on NPR's Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me! news quiz show (broadcast December 8, 2007). The show revealed that Rudolph's producer, Arthur Rankin Jr., says Dolly's problem was psychological, caused from being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved. -- Wikipedia

Ummm ... psychological? We go from a toy train with square wheels to a doll with deep emotional problems? How strange, indeed.

Anyhow, I thought I would rundown the not-be-missed Christmas programs this year. Here are the times, dates and channels, for your convenience.

The Polar Express, ABCFAM, Dec. 3, 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Frosty's Winter Wonderland, ABCFAM, Dec. 4, 6 p.m.
Twas The Night Before Christmas, ABCFAM, Dec. 7, 6 p.m.
Carrie Underwood: An All-Star Holiday Special, FOX, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town, ABC, Dec. 7, 7 p.m.
Mickey's Christmas Carol, ABCFAM, Dec. 8, 6 p.m.
Winnie The Pooh And Christmas Too, ABCFAM, Dec. 8, 6:30 p.m.
A Muppets Christmas: Letters To Santa, NBC, Dec. 11, 7 p.m.
It's a Wonderful Life, NBC, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, CBS, Dec. 12, 7 p.m.
Jennifer Hudson: I’ll Be Home For Christmas, ABC, Dec. 14, 7 p.m.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer And The Island Of Misfit Toys, ABCFAM, Dec. 15, 6 p.m.
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, ABCFAM, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Mickey's Christmas Carol, ABCFAM, Dec. 16, 6 p.m.
Winnie The Pooh & Christmas Too, ABCFAM, Dec. 16, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday Night Live Christmas 2009, NBC, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
Christmas in Connecticut, TCM, Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
Jingle All The Way, ABCFAM, Dec. 17, 9 p.m.
Frosty The Snowman, CBS, Dec. 18, 7 p.m.
Frosty Returns, CBS, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.
A Very Brady Christmas, ABCFAM, Dec. 22, noon
Miracle On 34th Street, ABCFAM, Dec. 23, 6:30 p.m.
The Polar Express, ABCFAM, Dec. 23, 9 p.m.
The 11th Annual A Home For The Holidays, CBS Dec. 23, 7:30 p.m.
It's a Wonderful Life, NBC, Dec. 24, 7 p.m.
A Christmas Story Marathon, TBS, Dec. 24, 7 p.m.
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, ABCFAM, Dec. 25, noon
Miracle on 34th Street, ABCFAM, Dec. 25, 2:30 p.m.