Tag Archives: General

MCU: From the Beginning and Before the Ending

In prep for Avengers: Infinity War, I decided to rewatch the entire sequence from its 2008 beginnings. Why? Well, first: Why not? This audacious sequence of films has pulled off something no one has even come close to producing, except Lord of the Rings. During the course of 18 films over 10 years Marvel has woven a story together with the goal of paying it off in film 19. They found great actors to tell great stories about flawed heroes; heroes we recognized ourselves in.

And with the exception of one of those films, they were all solid and well done. And the one that wasn’t so great, well, it still has my respect because unlike Sony’s flailing at the Spidey universe, it woke them up to the fact that they had to produce quality if they wanted to succeed. They never stumbled again, though certainly the movies had differing impacts and approaches. And the clues and nods are just incredible to see when you know everything that is to come. As we get ready to leave the Joss Whedon era, who really set the template for this cycle, you have to wonder if anyone would have the guts and talent to try this again.

If you want to rewatch it all yourself, do it over at least three weeks. I squeezed this into less than two weeks at two or three films a day. Fun, but exhausting.

So here we go, in brief, through the dots that brought us here.

Phase One (though we didn’t know that for sure until Thor)

Iron Man is still a surprisingly effective movie. My original write-up is lost, but I still am amazed at how it subverted the comic genre on screen by being a real movie. We got to know and care about Tony Stark, despite his ego, or perhaps because of it. He was flawed but engaging. The world was believable and intriguing. It had humor and action and, above all, a really good script and acting. This wasn’t done with a nod and a wink, it was done to do it well and it showed, launching the huge franchise we are celebrating this year. Sure, the ending was a bit overblown and the villain a bit too teeth-gnashy, but the series would learn as it went along.

The Incredible Hulk is already a second bite at the apple at this character (third if you include Bixby’s series), but it does an interesting job of not disavowing Ang Lee and Eric Bana’s take by bridging from it to the this new version during the credits. It is substantially more comic book style than Iron Man and still struggles with its villains and finale. However, it is an important piece in the Avengers puzzle. It introduces the Super Soldier program, something lost on me till now, and it provides an important pivot for David Banner. This more morose and pouty Hulk has to leave his past behind and accept who he is to become the Ruffalo version.  Sure that comment is a bit revisionist, but you get to do that when you see it after knowing where it will go. It isn’t a great film, but it continued the character-driven approach Marvel wanted and gave us hope they had some real sense of what they had…the tag with Tony and the General sealed the deal on it.

We all would like to forget that Iron Man 2 existed. It was rushed to screen and just doesn’t have the same polish as what had come before. But it is easy to forget that it also introduced Black Widow, got Pepper and Tony together, shifted Tony’s attitude, queued up Captain America with a couple nods, and continued Phil Coulson’s involvement. Having watched this the day after Rampage, however, I can confidently point out that while it may be just an action flick, it is still better than most of the similar tripe being produced even if it isn’t up to the MCU standards by any stretch. However, it also put the fear of god into Disney/Marvel/Kevin Feige. They never tried for a pure money grab again, knowing that they had to meet the expectations of their audience or risk losing it all. Here we are almost 19 films later because they learned their lesson.

Thor is where the MCU really started to hit its stride, understanding what they had and where they intended to go. It is the first 3D. It is the first to push the comedy throughout. It introduced the first Infinity Stone. And it tagged the end with a mention of The Avengers. Thor was always the one hero that worried me because it was off-realm gods and magic. How do you make that mainstream and believable next to human heroes (even if they’ve been mutated huge and green)? But they did it, and managed to launch Brannagh’s career as a director of huge films to boot. They also took an existing god and gave him an origin story by making him mortal-ish for a good part of the film. Its one misstep, though it worked for the story, was Portman’s Jane, who they had to disappear to keep things going in subsequent films.

Captain America: The First Avenger. Hail Hydra! Where Thor had nailed the stride of the humor, Cap nailed the format of the MCU journey. The movie had its own style, reflective of its time period,ss and set up everything that was to come through Civil War (and a couple of TV spin offs as well). Despite the CG of Rogers never looking quite right at the beginning, it was still an effective and smart choice. And the ending manages to give us both action and pathos in a way that made it a great story as well as a solid action flick.

Marvel’s The Avengers redefined the term “big” when it came to films. Its non-stop action and coalescing storyline still amaze. It is full of character and some of the best moments yet to grace the series (then and now: Puny God!). It is the first taste of what Joss and Feige had planned for a much bigger feast and it certainly whet the appetite and proved they could pull off something no one else had even tried. And damn if they didn’t get you to feel the passing(ish) of a minor character with a great scene. Oh, and of course our first glimpse of Thanos.

Phase Two

Pivoting into Phase Two, Iron Man 3 kicked off a sequence that could best be termed: Consequences. Unexpectedly, if sometimes ham-handedly, it took on some serious matters like PTSD. It did so with humor and action, though it went a little off the rails in its blithe quippiness, Christmas theme, and kids. We know this world now, and with IR3 and Phase 2 , we’re getting a new sense of the characters, watching necessary doubt creep in this middle stretch of the sequence. It wasn’t what a lot of folks wanted, but it was fascinating and, again, necessary to build the platform that eventually becomes Ultron and Civil War. And, despite any of its weaknesses, it still is incredibly entertaining and rewatchable.

Thor: The Dark World has an odd flavor of political intrigue, but intrigue that has been in motion for quite a while. It also introduces the next Infinity Stone, but you could blink and miss that aspect if you didn’t know what you were looking for. In retrospect it is clear and sets up the Collector as well, who has his own role to play. It is full of humor and action, and it does advance some of the characters, but it feels a bit outside the Phase in some ways.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier takes a huge and brave leap for such a big sequence. It irrevocably changes the face and structure of the world, setting up Phase Three as well as impacting the spin-off series. Certainly there is a lot of character work here shimmed in between the action, and new characters who will continue forward. And, if you needed any other sense of how far ahead the crew plan, we also get our first mention of Doctor Strange in a throwaway interrogation…a hint that wouldn’t pay off for another five movies.

And now for something completely different; Guardians of the Galaxy. This romp, while still very much in the MCU, was a welcome break from what we knew and a huge expansion of characters to play with. Yes, it is a bit silly at times, especially how quickly the Guardians all bond, but the humor is fun and the action is great. There really is something for everyone in this branch of the universe, as well as laying out the mysteries to grow on and our first real interaction with an Infinity Stone.

All damaged characters, enter here: Avengers: Age of Ultron. This marked the end of the Joss Whedon era, and perhaps not on quite as high a note as he would have wanted. This story rewatches better than it played initially, though. It is a very psychologically complex tale with a lot of layered construction and cultural nods. It also has the trademark Whedon dialogue throughout, and the brilliant choice of Spader as Ultron. Also, this is the first direct mention of Wakanda and the tee-up for Black Panther. When you realize that this is the culmination of 10 previous films and the setup for the next eight (or 11 if you go through the full Phase Three sequence), the threads Whedon wove, and the guidance to get there, is going to be tough to match. Also, it’s worth noting that they were again willing to take the risk of pivoting to new characters and big changes, with more yet to come to keep it both fresh and, let’s face it, affordable.

Ant-Man gets a little absurd, admittedly, but maintains the connections and thread of the universe. And it’s a universe that can sustain a lot of different styles. That alone is something of note. Each movie, or perhaps better considered, each character has a particular sensibility that shapes the movies they are in. Be it the earnestness of Capt. America or the nuttiness of the Guardians or the comic book silliness of Ant-Man, each style supports the sense of the stories they are in. Ant-Man is fun and amusing, and uses its tech relatively well…at least within the confines of a PG rated film. That said, Ant-Man is the movie that feels the most out of place in the collection so far, even more than Guardians. I think that is because it is such a familiar world, but the action and dialogue are very broad in comparison.

Phase Three

Where Ultron showed the cracks in the friendships and group, in Captain America: Civil War it all goes to hell, launching the third phase through a moment of crisis and uncertainty. This installment is really more like Avengers 3 than a Captain America, but the schism formed here will surely come back to roost in a few films. For now, however, it serves more to break up the gang, redeem Bucky, and launch Black Panther. It is also the first of the films to show real fallout from the carnage that the heroes inflict upon the world trying to save it. The world’s reaction is eerily apropos current politics as well.

Forgetting that the medical scenes in Doctor Strange were just, well, absurd, the rest of it was really pretty fun visually, in action and dialogue. Where else could a cape become a character? And while it feels rather on its own in the universe for most of the tale, other than some throw-away side comments, by the end it is solidly ensconced in the larger tale leaving only a single Infinity Stone unaccounted for.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 tries a bit too hard to be bigger and better than its first iteration. The fact that is has the highest number of tags at the end of the film is symptomatic of that as well. However, some questions get answered, some necessary information was layered in, and the action is huge. Fortunately, the humor continues unabated as well. As romps go, it was a hoot, if not as unexpected now that we’ve seen these characters and have a sense of them. It does cement the Guardians as a self-selected family and has given them a purpose that will aim them squarely at Infinity War, even if some of the moments were a little forced. Also, the two Guardian movies make the best use of 3D in the MCU (at least so far). Or at least make the most conscious use of it. They do have an advantage being in space and all, but really it is more about the director thinking about the presentation from the outset and throughout the story.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was a wonderful surprise entering into the MCU. And with Marvel guiding the Sony franchise, it has been reinvigorated and morphed into something both new and closer to the original material. Whether Sony will respect that input and collaboration and stick with it remains to be seen (and rumors on the street are that they won’t). Still we’ll get at least a couple more appearances of Spidey over the next few years and we’ll get to watch him grow-up in reality and in his role as a superhero.

Meanwhile, back in Asgard… Thor: Ragnarok brings about a few necessary aspects of plot and relationship, but it is generally just a good romp. While it is mostly just a pause before the finale that is coming, it does also take make some radical changes, declared right in the title. How that will play out, other than with some additional fighters to tackle Thanos, we’ll find out soon. But as a film it is a weird, anachronistic, pastiche of Waititi’s humor and the MCU ethos. Great fun, to be sure, but definitely one of the oddest of the films in the sequence in terms of how the bits clash at times.

Black Panther surprised me by not being as good for rewatching as I’d expected. It still is fun, and a great new world to explore, but it is not the action film it feels like the first time through and had even weaker character motivations than I had recalled. And, on seeing it again, it is the political message that rings through it like a gong. Not that it was subtle the first time, but after you know the story, it is that aspect that clearly drives and shapes it all. By the end, though, all the pieces are in place for Thanos and one heck of a showdown. What will be very interesting is seeing where they take Wakanda and the very real issues raised in Panther’s launch.

And now, on to Infinity War… and then probably the longest coda and shift ever conceived (2 years and 3 movies) with Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and what was originally Infinity War part 2 (as conceived by Whedon). Where MCU goes at that point is a matter of much conjecture and very little information, but these last films should give us a good sense of the direction.

Oscars 2018 (results)

It’s now time to admit to my successes and failures in prediction.

This was a tough year to predict, which made the ceremony all that more exciting even if it wasn’t the best for comedy. And lest you think I’m not being honest, here are the links to my nominations and final call to help keep me honest.

I did about 87% on the nominations for this year.

For the results:
I did 100% on the majors (8 out of 8).
I did 30% on the minors (3 out of 9; however, I didn’t see most of those. If I leave out the shorts it was a slightly better 60% (3 out of 5))
I did 75% on the technical (6 out of 8)

Overall that was 68% (17 out of 25)
Or without the shorts: %80 (17 out of 21)

THE MAJORS
(or what we all care about)

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

My Prediction: Frances McDormand
Winner: Frances McDormand

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

My Prediction: Gary Oldman 
Winner:  Gary Oldman 

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J Blige (Mudbound)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

My Prediction: Allison Janney
Winner: Allison Janney

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My Prediction: Sam Rockwell
Winner: Sam Rockwell

Directing
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water)

My Prediction: Guillermo del Toro
Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Prediction: The Shape of Water
Winner: The Shape of Water

Animated Feature Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

My Prediction: Coco
Winner: Coco

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body And Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

My Prediction:  A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
Winner:  A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

THE MINORS
(or what the rest of us care about)

Documentary Feature
Abacus
Faces, Places
Icarus
Last Man In Aleppo
Strong Island

My Prediction: Icarus
Winner: Icarus  

Documentary Short Subject
Edith and Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

My Prediction: Heroin(e)  
Winner: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 

Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

My Prediction: Negative Space
Winner: Dear Basketball

Live Action Short Film
Dekalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Silent Child
Watu Wote (All Of Us)

My Prediction: Dekalb Elementary  
Winner: Silent Child

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name” James Ivory
The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

My Prediction: Call Me By Your Name
Winner: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay
The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out,” Jordan Peele
Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

My Prediction: Shape of Water
Winner: Get Out
I’ll note that I did call this upset a good possibility.

Original Song
“Mighty River” (Mudbound), Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” (Call Me By Your Name), Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” (Coco), Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” (Marshall), Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman), Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

My Prediction: This is Me
Winner:  Remember Me
This was probably my only real disappointment for the evening. I just don’t think this song was worthy of the win.

Original Score
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Prediction: Shape of Water
Winner:  Shape of Water

THE CRAFT & TECHNICAL
(or what we should all care about)

Cinematography
Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour)
Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Rachel Morrison (Mudbound)
Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water)

My Prediction: Blade Runner 2049
Winner: Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
The Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

My Prediction: Phantom Thread 
Winner: Phantom Thread 

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

My Prediction: The Darkest Hour
Winner: The Darkest Hour

Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
The Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

My Prediction: Shape of Water
Winner: Shape of Water

Film Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Prediction: Dunkirk
Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Prediction: Dunkirk
Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Prediction: Baby Driver
Winner: Dunkirk
Another I thought likely, but had hoped would go a different way, though in this case it was a tough field.

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

My Prediction: War of the Planet of the Apes
Winner: Blade Runner 2049
This was a happy surprise to me as Blade Runner was so overlooked this year. A strong option, but still think Apes did more practical work, which should have give it the win. But I’m not complaining.

Oscars 2018 (final call)

The gap between nominations and now has afforded me some time to think and to catch up on a few films I hadn’t been able to get to. My opinions of who should win hasn’t changed much, but a few shifts in the predictions of who I think will win has in a few notable places.

I’ll say again, no matter the winners this year, I can’t say I’d be too upset with any one of the nominations. It was a strong year for entertainment.

So this is my final update, which I will follow with a report on my accuracy. I did about 87% on the nominations for this year. Politics and one (happy) surprise dropped me below the 90s, but, again, no one unworthy is in any list.

THE MAJORS
(or what we all care about)

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

My Choice:  Sally Hawkins remains my first choice, but she’s been losing to Frances McDormand consistently for the big awards leading up to Oscar. McDormand’s is an amazing performance as well, but I don’t think it is as challenging as Hawkins’ was. However, the grit and more understandable emotion appeals to many. I think if Saoirse Ronan had more momentum, she would have split the vote more, but she appears out of the running entirely at this rate. I’m an not going to weep if McDormand wins, I just thought Hawkins skills were put more to the test. 
Likely Winner: Frances McDormand

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

My Choice: Gary Oldman has swept every award and his performance is an astounding melting of actor into a role. 
Likely Winner:  Gary Oldman

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J Blige (Mudbound)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

My Choice: Laurie Metcalf is still my choice in this very, very tough field of talent, but I think she lost momentum and Janney has yet to be so honored, despite years of amazing work and nominations. Her work here is stellar, even if I don’t think it tackled the same level of challenge from a craft point of view. I can see the vote going her way. 
Likely Winner: Allison Janney

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My Choice: Richard Jenkins remains my favorite performance in this batch. His role was quiet and subtle, but utterly solid and heartbreaking. But Rockwell has the momentum and his part was, for lack of a better word, louder.  
Likely Winner: Sam Rockwell

Directing
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water)

My Choice: Guillermo del ToroThis is one of those times where you wish they’d divide out the category so more people could be honored. Gerwig and Peele had amazing first films. But, overall, del Toro had the biggest challenge and delivered the most nuanced movie of the three. 
Likely Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: There are so many ways to argue this one. Part of the challenge is that this award is preferential ballot (looking at the top few choices for all ballots) which can allow surprises when a film is the consistent second or third choice for a huge majority.

I think it is a death match between Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards. Lady Bird could slip up between all of them if it is everyone’s second choice, but these other three have the lead going in.

Shape of Water, however, has one major advantage, beyond its 13 nominations, DGA, and other wins. Shape is about all the things that the other films are about, all rolled into one, rather than as a single, primary theme. So I’m going with The Shape of Water, but I won’t be surprised by something else taking this home, especially after Three Billboards BAFTA win.
Likely Winner: The Shape of Water

Animated Feature Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

My Choice:  Vincent has an incredible art story to tell, both in the script and in the making of it. And Breadwinner has some nice politics to buoy it’s possibilities. However Coco has more of a populist heart and some gorgeous work in it, and was able to reach a larger audience. Just looking at them as films, it was also the best.
Likely Winner: Coco 

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body And Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

My Choice: No real clue, to be honest. I have somehow missed all of these so far, though I will pick them up as I am able later. The Square has the most name recognition, but there are many topical options. On a whim, I’m going with the most fringe of the films for the win…
Likely Winner: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)

THE MINORS
(or what the rest of us care about)

Documentary Feature
Abacus
Faces, Places
Icarus
Last Man In Aleppo
Strong Island

My Choice: Again, lack of access to the films makes this more about reading other’s opinions and news for me. 
Likely Winner: Icarus  

Documentary Short Subject
Edith and Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heroin(e)
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

My Choice: Total guess. 
Likely Winner: Heroin(e)  

Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

My Choice: Another dice roll (and some research). 
Likely Winner: Negative Space

Live Action Short Film
Dekalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Silent Child
Watu Wote (All Of Us)

My Choice: The only showing for all these shorts (animated and live action) was for Fri and Sat just before Oscar Sunday. You’d think Amazon or Netflix would seal up a short license to show them off at this point, but no. So again, basing my choice on the eyes of others.  
Likely Winner: Dekalb Elementary  

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name” James Ivory
The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

My Choice: Molly’s Game may still pull this out based on love for Sorkin and little else to gift him this year. And it was a solid directorial debut for him too. However, the Scripter Award (from USC) went to Call Me By Your Name and they’ve correlated to Oscar 7 out of 7 times over the last 7 years. That’s probably a few too many 7’s to ignore. And it picked up the WGA as well.
Likely Winner: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay
The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out,” Jordan Peele
Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

My Choice: Shape of Water even though it has run into some controversial headwinds. I think it will survive those. Should it falter, Get Out may just slip up through the split votes that would ensue. Get Out’s WGA win certainly will help it. And Three Billboards’ BAFTA confused the field. However, much as my reasons for Best Picture, I think Shape covers a lot of the same ground as Get Out, Three Billboards, and then some, which may help it with a broader base. However, there has been late momentum and love for Get Out, so it could be an interesting upset.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

Original Song
“Mighty River” (Mudbound), Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” (Call Me By Your Name), Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” (Coco), Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” (Marshall), Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman), Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

My Choice:  This is Me though I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Remember Me slipped in here given Coco’s huge audience base and its multiple renditions during the film. Problem is, it is just a boring song to my ear. And, in today’s political climate, This is Me is right on the money for the times.
Likely Winner: This is Me

Original Score
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: Dunkirk, but I’ve still no faith others will see/hear the brilliance of it against the ground swell for Shape of Water, whose score was magical in its own way and whose BAFTA win certainly could be indicative.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

THE CRAFT & TECHNICAL
(or what we should all care about)

Cinematography
Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour)
Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Rachel Morrison (Mudbound)
Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water)

My Choice: Dunkirk has a great shot here; Nolan is nothing if not a brilliant framer and Hoytema’s work and challenges were huge given the various environments he had to navigate. However, for beauty and support of the story, Shape of Water and Blade Runner beat him out. Deakins, in particular, had to both create his own language as well as match the original enough to evoke the connection, which has me picking Blade Runner 2049 as my choice. Originally, I thought Dunkirk would pull this one out, but after Blades’s BAFTA and American Society of Cinematographers top honors this year, and Deakins’ previous 13 (and no win) nominations, I’m going to switch my expectation for the Academy, even if ASC winners correlate to Oscar less than 50% of the time.
Likely Winner: Blade Runner 2049

Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
The Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

My Choice: Typically, this would go to a period piece (like old period). That thinking would put Victoria & Abdul in the front. But this year’s cadre are all over the place on era’s. Phantom Thread boasts some incredible 40s/50s creations by Mark Bridges. Beauty, fantastical imagination. Shape of Water, a range of clothing, much like Darkest Hour. For me, the invisibility of the costumes in Shape of Water is the most impressive of the lot. Basically, this is a crap shoot with a lot of worthy winners (with Durran up for two: Beast and Darkest Hour).
Likely Winner: Phantom Thread

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

My Choice: Though Wonder has some impressive make-up, Oldman’s transformation is jaw-dropping and seamless. Going with The Darkest Hour.
Likely Winner: The Darkest Hour

Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
The Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

My Choice: Wow, you could just hit your head against a wall for ages trying to pick one here. Each film created solid, believable worlds. For complexity, Shape of Water and Darkest Hour had the most difficult challenges. While Darkest Hour brought the 40s back to life, Shape of Water did similar for the 50s but also added a hint of magic to it. And Blade Runner 2049 had to recreate a world and, as mentioned before, and still do something unique on its own. My pick on this is Shape of Water for riding both the real and fantastical lines down to the tiniest detail.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

Film Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: I, Tonya  and Dunkirk shared the honors at the ACE awards this year. I still think I, Tonya is the better choice, if I were handing out the statue, but suspect Nolan has more wind at his back in the Academy.
Likely Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Choice: Editing and mixing are often the most troublesome picks to make. Each movie here had its challenges, but Baby Driver delivered one of the most interesting results in both categories. So Baby Driver for me on this one. For the win, however, I have low confidence….suspect Dunkirk takes it after its Motion Picture Sound Editors win.
Likely Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Choice: Baby Driver again here for me, Even more so than editing, the movie had to navigate a lot of layers and not lose us at the transitions. More confident the Academy will see that in this case than the previous despite Dunkirk’s Cinema Audio Society win in this category.
Likely Winner: Baby Driver

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

My Choice: Lots of choices here, but War of the Planet of the Apes, for all its accolades, has few opportunities and this is likely going to be the one folks would give it. It also picked up the VES Award. The seamless world Apes created out of our own probably beats out the broader worlds that are more obviously CGI. However, BAFTA and others have started a roll for Blade Runner 2049 that is hard to ignore (and also deserved).
Likely Winner: War of the Planet of the Apes

Oscars 2018 (the first round)

This year has been an embarrassment of riches film-wise, especially during the final quarter of the year. From a movie-goer point of view, it is fantastic.

With The Shape of Water leading the noms this year, with 13, you’d think there are some locks, but there aren’t. There are no clear Oscar front-runners and a lot of potential upsets in the making. Who wins is going to be a strange alchemy of talent combined with the political winds of race, equality, and #metoo that may shift or split votes. It’s just reality and it already has had some affects, deserved or not.

From a predictor’s point of view, it is all a glorious kind of hell, but I’m going to continue my rather public shaming (or celebration) as I have in years past and make my predictions. Keep in mind, they are somewhat wild hare at this point, but you gotta start somewhere when analyzing what’s on offer. Expect at least one final update prior to the 4 March awards ceremony.

THE MAJORS
(or what we all care about)

Actress in a Leading Role
Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)
Meryl Streep (The Post)

My Choice:  There just isn’t a bad choice here. Sally Hawkins, however leads the pack for range and challenge in her role. 
Likely Winner: Sally Hawkins

Actor in a Leading Role
Timothee Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name)
Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)
Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

My Choice: Gary Oldman just disappeared into Churchill. That is the ultimate accomplishment for any actor. He is the closest thing to a lock this year. And, despite it being Lewis’s last role, he already has several statues to play with. Kaluuya did a great job, but it was a job done within the boundaries of genre, which just doesn’t carry the same weight or allow for the same range. And Franco was frozen out, despite his amazing turn in The Disaster Artist
Likely Winner:  Gary Oldman

Actress in a Supporting Role
Mary J Blige (Mudbound)
Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread)
Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)
Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)

My Choice: Up until I saw Phantom Thread, my money would have been on Metalf out of this collection of great performances. Manville, however, really does an astounding job supporting Lewis and the story. Still, in terms of range and subtlety, and if pushed to the wall (cause Janney was amazing too), I’m sticking with Laurie Metcalf.
Likely Winner: Laurie Metcalf

Actor in a Supporting Role
Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)
Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water)
Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World)
Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

My Choice: I know Rockwell has been snagging a number of the awards, but I was glad to see Harrelson sneak into this group. He’d been getting overlooked so far this season. Richard Jenkins, however, was my favorite performance in this batch. Again, it comes down to range, layers, and quiet control, which is harder to do well than losing it on screen. 
Likely Winner: Sam Rockwell

Directing
Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
Jordan Peele (Get Out)
Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)
Guillermo del Toro (Shape of Water)

My Choice: I don’t even know where to break what I see as a three-way tie. Gerwig, Peele, and del Toro each have solid cred to walk with this award. And two are here with their, essentially, first film (Gerwig has one other co-director credit). Guillermo del Toro is my favorite, however, and he had a long history behind his talent, which helps me break the tie in his favor. Given all the other nominations for his movie, I’m expecting that will also go with him. 
Likely Winner: Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture
Call Me By Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: There are so many ways to argue this one. Honestly, though, I think it is a death match between Shape of Water, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards. Shape of Water has one major advantage, beyond its 13 nominations. Shape is about all the things that the other films are about, all rolled into one, rather than as a single, primary theme. So I’m going with The Shape of Water, but I won’t be surprised by something else taking this home. By the time the DGAs are announced we may have a better sense of where the momentum is.
Likely Winner: The Shape of Water

Animated Feature Film
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

My Choice: I’m still catching up here, but Coco is likely the winner, despite some good word of mouth around Vincent and the political cachét of Breadwinner.
Likely Winner: Coco 

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
Loveless (Russia)
On Body And Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)

My Choice: Not a clue yet. I have somehow missed all of these so far, though Square has the most recognition so far.
Likely Winner: Not a clue yet.

THE MINORS
(or what the rest of us care about)

Documentary Feature
Abacus
Faces, Places
Icarus
Last Man In Aleppo
Strong Island

My Choice: Not a clue yet. 
Likely Winner: Not a clue yet.  

Documentary Short Subject
Edith and Eddie
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
Heron
Knife Skills
Traffic Stop

My Choice: Not a clue yet. 
Likely Winner: Not a clue yet.  

Animated Short Film
Dear Basketball
Garden Party
Lou
Negative Space
Revolting Rhymes

My Choice: Not a clue yet. 
Likely Winner: Not a clue yet.  

Live Action Short Film
Dekalb Elementary
The Eleven O’Clock
My Nephew Emmett
Silent Child
Watu Wote (All Of Us)

My Choice: Not a clue yet. 
Likely Winner: Not a clue yet.  

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name” James Ivory
The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

My Choice: This is a challenging category this year.  I recently rewatched Logan and was, again, impressed with its tale and emotional power. Disaster Artist also surprised, but can’t say it was a great script, more just surprising. Mudbound, honestly, just isn’t that good a script, nor is Call Me By Your Name, for all its attention. Sorkin is the best of the writers and the most intense of the scripts in terms of sheer compacted information and energy, not to mention shape. This is also probably Molly’s Game only chance for an award and while Sorkin surely showed his directing chops here too, this is the bailiwick that folks like to reward him in.
Likely Winner: Molly’s Game

Original Screenplay
The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out,” Jordan Peele
Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

My Choice: This is really a battle between Shape of Water and Get Out, to my mind. Each has things recommending it, but, again, Shape actually includes a lot of the same themes in different, and more complex, ways. Given it’s other 12 nods, and how much I enjoyed it, I’m going with Shape of Water.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

Original Song
“Mighty River” (Mudbound), Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” (Call Me By Your Name), Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” (Coco), Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” (Marshall), Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” (The Greatest Showman), Benj Pasek, Justin Paul

My Choice:  In years past, I’d have said Remember Me had a lock on the award. It was seen by so many people, figures heavily in the plot, and is a catchy tune. But this is a different kind of year. While This is Me certainly states out the themes of Greatest Showman, it is only heard the once in the story. Neither is particularly ground breaking or, at least for me, memorable. This is Me probably has more impact for me.
Likely Winner: Given the climate, I’m going with This is Me

Original Score
Dunkrik
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: Hands down, Dunkirk has the most effective score this year, but it may have been too subtle to win.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

THE CRAFT & TECHNICAL
(or what we should all care about)

Cinematography
Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049)
Bruno Delbonnel (Darkest Hour)
Hoyte van Hoytema (Dunkirk)
Rachel Morrison (Mudbound)
Dan Laustsen (The Shape of Water)

My Choice: Dunkirk has a great shot here; Nolan is nothing if not a brilliant framer and Hoytema’s work and challenges were huge given the various environments he had to navigate. However, for beauty and support of the story, Shape of Water and Blade Runner beat him out. Deakins, in particular, had to both create his own language as well as match the original enough to evoke the connection, which has me picking Blade Runner 2049 as my choice, though I don’t know think it will win.
Likely Winner: Dunkirk

Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
The Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria & Abdul

My Choice: Typically, this would go to a period piece (like old period). That thinking would put Victoria & Abdul in the front. But this year’s cadre are all over the place on era’s. Phantom Thread boasts some incredible 40s/50s creations. Beauty fantastical imagination. Shape of Water a range of clothing, much like Darkest Hour. For me, the invisibility of the costumes in Shape of Water is the most impressive of the lot.
Likely Winner: The Darkest Hour

Makeup and Hairstyling
The Darkest Hour
Victoria & Abdul
Wonder

My Choice: Though Wonder has some impressive make-up, Oldman’s transformation is jaw-dropping and seamless. Going with The Darkest Hour.
Likely Winner: The Darkest Hour

Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
The Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

My Choice: Wow, you could just hit your head against a wall for ages trying to pick one here. Each film created solid, believable worlds. For complexity, Shape of Water and Darkest Hour had the most difficult challenges. While Darkest Hour brought the 40s back to life, Shape of Water did similar for the 50s but also added a hint of magic to it. And Blade Runner 2049 had to recreate a world and, as mentioned before, still do something unique on its own. My pick on this is Shape of Water for riding both the real and fantastical lines down to the tiniest detail.
Likely Winner: Shape of Water

Film Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

My Choice: Much like The Big Short, I, Tonya is a movie made by its editing. I’ve gone this route before and lost, but out of this field, it is the movie that stands out for me in this aspect of the craft. It isn’t subtle, but it builds the story out of snippets and pulls you along. Baby Driver has a good amount of effort in there as well, but it doesn’t stand out for me here. Similarly, Dunkirk. Shape of Water has an ethereal sense to its editing that may win voters as it added to the feel of the tale nicely.
Likely Winner: Dunkirk

Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Choice: Editing and mixing are often the most troublesome picks to make. Each movie here had its challenges, but Baby Driver delivered one of the most interesting results in both categories. So Baby Driver for me on this one.
Likely Winner: Baby Driver (low confidence here…suspect Dunkirk takes it)

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

My Choice: Baby Driver again here for me, Even more so than editing, the movie had to navigate a lot of layers and not lose us at the transitions. More confident the Academy will see that in this case than the previous.
Likely Winner: Baby Driver

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong: Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

My Choice: Lots of choices here, but War of the Planet of the Apes, for all its accolades, has few opportunities and this is likely going to be the one folks would give it. The seamless world it created out of our own probably beats out the broader worlds that are more obviously CGI.
Likely Winner: War of the Planet of the Apes

What’s happening in awards season, (crafted) naturally

Awards season this year is highlighting an interesting trend. It wasn’t clear to me until recently when I saw Wind River. We appear to be seeing a new version of cinéma vérité, demarked more by the sense of the story than with the more readily identifiable “shaky cam.”

It isn’t about scriptless tales either, another hallmark of some of the old vérité movement and a lot of recent films (another aspect I’ve discussed in the past). Think of it as ‘crafted naturalism,’ if you will. This new trend is about intimacy and truth in the telling. You may argue that those aspects are essential for any film, and you’d be generally right. But these new films, in general, have a smaller, more intimate feel and feel less constructed–more ‘tales told’ than ‘tales built.’

The stories that are capturing the judges and the audiences are also about imperfect people, more gray than black & white in their actions and morals. Plots are not simple and obvious or highly crafted; they follow the natural and unexpected paths of life, leading to comedy, tragedy, and triumph, but rarely only one of those and often without perfect symmetries.

In addition, the stories that are floating to the top are also, almost to a one, about love. Often that is a romantic entanglement or desire, but family love is also represented. It isn’t a surprise that smaller films are dominating; they are the darlings of the early festivals and awards. But all indications are that the wave will carry over to the majors as well.

Successful entertainment is always a reflection of society at the time. It is a mirror that is accepted as truth; to cry out, or to escape. Whatever the reason for the popularity of a movie, it is always in context of the time. Enduring films either find a deep vein of truth that carries over and morphs in resonance with various evolutions of culture, or they are part of a deeper truth that is more stable within the culture. If it is accepted over the long term internationally it likely has hit on what we’d call “a human truth.” But, typically, these wide-ranging films tend to be more action and escapist rather than character driven. The exception to that tends to be sprawling, escapist romances (for example, Doctor Zhivago), but even those tend to fade or tarnish with time.

So what does this new trend tell us about our times? Let’s just look at the films that received multiple SAG nominations, as an example.

These are not big films. They are focused on individuals in the extreme. In the case of Get Out, in very interesting ways. But, on top of that aspect, they aren’t about obvious heroes or villains. There is nothing simple about the choices the characters are making, but the choices are very real (even based on reality in a few cases). They ring true rather than created. These aren’t soaring fantasies of life, they are windows onto it.

Some years we get many dramatizations, but they are often ‘big’ stories, even when focused on individuals. Think about Spotlight, The Big Short, or the upcoming The Post. Perhaps the right word is that they’re ‘slick.’ They don’t ring true so much as ring of a truth we want to believe in. This year, they just feel different to me…or perhaps it is just me and where I am in life that is affecting my experience. In any event, there is some kind of shift going on and it is worth noticing.

 

Fall TV 2017: The New Stuff

OK, I can’t (and don’t want to) watch everything. But here are my initial impressions of the new crop of stuff after the first episode (or so). I’ll likely post what survived my schedule later this fall.

In no particular order:

The Orville
I expected to really dislike this show, but it continues to surprise me. For all its weakness (usually around its broad humor moments), it is trying to ride the line of satire and homage and doing it well. In many ways it is more Star Trek than the latest Trek offering, which makes the timing of this drama especially interesting in contrast to Star Trek: Discovery.

Star Trek: Discovery
The franchise had a middling opening on the script and acting front, but no worse than Next Generation’s launch. It’s easy to forget just how bad the first season of TNG was, but it was really pretty bad. It survived due the vacuum of similar shows and went on to become something rather good.

Discovery is burdened by a future we know, so it really will be the characters that sell this, not the plots, per se. So far, the characters aren’t particularly compelling..so much so that even the first two hours didn’t elicit from me a gasp. And the technology and creature anachronisms are frustrating.

You can see the Bryan Fuller (Hannibal, American Gods) influence on the bones of this show, but his exit and subsequent rework by Paramount is leaving it in an uncomfortable place. The energy is odd and the sensibility feels at war with itself. It may find its feet over the season, but I can’t say the pilot filled me with curiosity to come back for more the way The Orville did. And by the end of the third episode I was left wondering if they were trying to remake themselves in the image of Babylon 5 (even more so than DS9 did).

There is a big universe for Discovery to play with, though it feels like a lot more of the same. That can be good and bad. TNG and DS9 both expanded the Star Trek universe in different ways to differing success with the same underlying issue. But is it worth a separate subscription fee to see every week? Right now, I’m thinking not, though if it were on free broadcast I’d probably give it more time. We shall see how it develops.

Good Doctor
Weak start but with some stuff to build on. Unless the writing picks up, however, the story alone isn’t enough to hold it together or keep me coming back. Just too many medical gaffs and overwrought moments. It was good to see Antonia Thomas (Lovesick/Scrotal Recall) in a larger production to get her broader exposure. And, writing issues aside, while Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel) has created an interesting character in the lead, Graham Verchere as his younger self just isn’t up to the task which is weakening the story.

Young Sheldon
Surprisingly engaging for a spin-off tale. Keeping the Sheldon we know as a bridge definitely helps, but the solid relationships and struggles of the family are also well done. While the young Sheldon is good, Raegan Revord as his twin sister and Zoe Perry (No Pay, Nudity), as his mother are the real stars of this sitcom so far.

Me, Myself, & I
Had to see this for the cast and the conceit. As it turns out, it was better than I anticipated, though not brilliant. The 30 minute format is very tight for 3 characters across time every week. Very frenetic to follow. The potential is there. It is up to the writers to make it work. So far, they are not impressing me.

Will & Grace
Seriously it is like there wasn’t a 10 year gap, which is bloody impressive. From the opening moments through to the end, the show still has its original, ephemeral magic. You either love or hate, but you can’t fault it for maintaining the magic.

Inhumans
An incredibly weak launch to a show that had huge potential and one of the longest set-ups (via the Marvel movies and Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D) I can ever recall. Even the solid talent, like Iwan Rheon (Residue, Game of Thrones) and Ken Leung (Lost, Star Wars: Force Awakens) couldn’t overcome an obvious, plodding, and ill conceived story. The world is incompletely thought through, the rules nebulous at best, and with a depth measured in millimeters. While I will give it another episode or so to see if it finds its feet, after the end of the double-episode launch, I was gnashing my teeth at the ‘surprise’ ending. If it is emblematic of the kind of scripts, and it appears it is, that are to come, it isn’t going to keep me in attendance. And I thought Iron Fist was going to be the nadir with the hope that it would serve as the TV division’s Iron Man 2; I wish I’d been right.

The Gifted
Another incredibly weak start for an action/adventure in a crowded and over-worked field. I’ll give anything with Amy Acker (Much Ado About Nothing) a shot, but this only gets one more before a decision is made. Just too serious and too much of the same, even if it is spawned from one of my more favorite branches of the X-Men universe.

10 Days in the Valley
While intense, this is a slow burn of a train wreck and tragedy. It is good to have Kyra Sedgwick (The Edge of Seventeen) back on screen, but not sure I’m looking for this kind of a character and story at this time. I do have some police procedural frustrations with the show, but I could get over them. Really the issue is timing.

9JKL
Great concept and some talent in the cast, including Linda Lavin, David Walton, and Liza Lapira. But the writing and directing are just awful. This one died on my list in the first episode. I didn’t even see any hope for it.

Kevin (Probably) Saves the World
I have to admit this one pulled it out at the very end for me…at least enough to give it a shot. It has that Joan of Arcadia feel to it, amusingly given Jason Ritter’s (Carrie Pilby) presence. It could quickly get tiresome, but they avoided some initial pitfalls. And I have to admit I enjoyed the heavy Amy Adams/Arrival vibe they gave the first episode. Still, it isn’t like we haven’t seen this story in the past (usually as horror) and their rules are squishy at best…either he is the only one or the other 35 meteorites anointed the rest of the gang and the rest is just for comedy. Will give it another round to see where it goes, but it will need to step up its game to keep me.

Ghosted
So this is The Orville of X-Files. It was just good enough in its launch to get another shot, but it only made it the first 15 minutes of the second. It just isn’t written well enough nor are the main characters all that engaging for me. I imagine it will find an audience out there, but it may not be enough to survive.

Wisdom of the Crowd
Probably the most attuned to the sense of the day and with a great conceit. Admittedly, it is a bit forced and it dances around the law quite a bit. But for all its weaknesses in credibility, it is terrifyingly willing to tackle some real social issues and technology. In addition to Jeremy Piven (Mr Selfridge) we also get Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones) to help drive it forward and both have some good chops to do so.

New micro-story on Story Seed Vault

A new tale of mine, a bit of cyber espionage, is up on Story Seed Vault today.

The challenge for this market is to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. They can explain it a bit more and how you can tackle entry into the Vault yourself.

You can find the current tale at: https://storyseedvault.com/2017/10/06/1451/

I have at least once more appearing in this venue soon, so stay tuned!

My previous tale is still on the site at:
https://storyseedvault.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/40/

The world didn’t end…

This last week I took off for the wilds of Oregon (Unity Lake Recreation Site, to be exact) to view the total eclipse. The days were hot, the nights were cold (around 5C/40F), and the stars magnificent. But it all paled to the 2 minutes of totality.

It wasn’t quite what I expected. It didn’t get dark like night, but more like a deep twilight. I didn’t get to hear all the animals go to sleep as none were hanging around making noise before the moment the sun winked out. But the difference between partial and full eclipse really indescribable, or as I tried to explain to a neighbor on my return, it is like being not pregnant and a little bit pregnant; it is all or nothing.

I took a slew of photos, but the best is probably this diamond ring at the end of totality:

Even at higher res, it isn’t brilliant photography, but I was there to see it, not photo it for magazines. And I took it, so I’m rather proud. Two minutes was not quite enough to satisfy, but I can completely understand why some people chase eclipses around the world. It is unlike anything you can picture if you haven’t seen one. One moment there is sunshine (even if dim and slightly red shifted) and the next there is a black hole in the sky. Staring up at that, you really understand why ancient civilizations were so terrified of them when they occurred.

 

New Tale to Tell in 140 Characters

My latest sold story is up on Story Seed Vault today. They can better explain  their mission and raison d’être.

The challenge for this market was to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. I can’t resist a challenge…

You can find it at: https://storyseedvault.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/40/

I hope to be adding more to the vault over time as well. If I’m going to read science news all the time, I should also find more ways to make it pay!

A few decades ago…

Back in 1981, a whole different century, I began working out as a matter of sanity and as a substitute for sleep. Hey, I was young, stupid, and living on adrenaline.

Five years later, June of ’86 , I had my first (and only) portfolio created for my acting career. The photographer was great and among the shots was one that has lived in infamy as: Leatherman. It got passed around my friends and beyond for a while back then. Thank god the internet was nascent or it probably would have been sent much further. Uploading at 300 baud was not fun.

As it turns out, my twice-a-day, six-days-a-week workout schedule is something I got accustom to and managed to continue even till today (if you’re doing math, I’m starting my 36th year shortly). For the heck of it I decided, if not to recreate the portfolio piece this summer, to see how well I’d held up. I realize this is the worst of ego gone rampant, but WTF, I hardly ever take pics anymore or allow people to take pics, so why not?

So, here I am again just over 31 years later. The hair is shorter (and thinner) and, yeah I was ridiculously underweight back in ’86 (and got worse till the following year, which is another story), but the pic came out not too bad for someone who’s hit their mid-50s.

So, I’ll see you again in another 30 or so years and have a good laugh over it all atrophying…