Tag Archives: General

Returning Credibility to SCOTUS: A humble recommendation

With the increasingly political nature of court appointees it is necessary to protect the institution now and going forward from either other branch of government. SCOTUS was intended to be independent of politics and independent of Congress once seated.

I’m proposing a four-part set of changes to accomplish a reset and to prevent any one president or party from imprinting their will on the country.

1) Increase the court size to 11 to rebalance ideology and political taint.

Why?
The majority of the current justices were sat by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote. The most recent president sat fully 1/3 of the court, the last to the dismay of the majority of Americans. This is the most since Roosevelt. A court out of step with the sentiment of the country and whose barristers hold little respect (at least two have been accused credibly of sexual harassment) we need to add two justices from a more moderate viewpoint to ensure litigants get a fair and balanced hearing and ruling.

2) Set term limits based on lifespan.

Why?
The concept of a life term meant something different when the Constitution was written. That isn’t interpretation, it’s fact. Originalists should have a hard time arguing with this change. My thought 20 years max. This ensures a circulation of ideas and approaches such that it will grow with the country but at a steady and moderated pace

3) Go back to  supermajority for confirmation. 

Why?
Seriously, do we have to discuss this? OK, fine. Let’s force compromise so there are fewer risks of extremism on either side. It used to work, it can work again.

4) Set limit on number of appt for any president in any single term.

Why?
No one President should be able to reconstruct the court in their image, no matter which party they’re from. Roosevelt was the last to do this till now. Set a limit of 2 justices per 4 year term. With 11 justices on the court, the loss of even a few would allow for a enough people on the bench to settle cases. A president that managed to get re-elected, at least implying they still represented the people, would have a chance to add more to the court in their second term.

With these changes, the court would be balanced, stable and, with a bit of luck, relatively inviolable to political whim, whimsey, or, as we’ve seen recently, corruption. The court serves the people and the law…and the law is a living, breathing thing that must, in turn, serve the people. The Constitution was never meant to be static…if it was we’d not have gotten rid of slavery, made it clear that every citizen had a vote, or even allowed those old enough to serve in the military to vote… and so much more, and more to come.

Read a Story, Save a Koala

OK, that was certainly trying to leverage cheap sentiment, but it’s not untrue.
My latest story, “By the Grace of God,” a comedy for a change, is part of Oz is Burning. This latest antho is a collection of primarily Australian authors who contributed tales to raise funds for WIRES, NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc.
What am I doing in there? Fair question. I worked in Melbourne on and off for three years in one of my previous positions. I fell in love with the city and still have many friends there. This was a way to be involved to help.
This collection is, again, Kindle Unlimited. Just read a story or two and the royalties/donations will be made. So, y’know, at least read mine if you have access! But there are several great writers in there worth your time. Don’t have Kindle Unlimited? You can purchase the book instead, I’ll not judge.
You can also choose to donate (or donate more) directly to WIRES at: https://www.wires.org.au/donate/emergency-fund.

Oz is Burning cover

Also still available:
“Skin in the Game” in Alternate Truths: Endgame (supporting the ACLU)
“Short-Handed” in April 2020 HybridFiction.net available from Issuu or Amazon

New Story Available: Short-Handed

Short-Handed, a tale of space exploration with a bit of a twist, is one of several stories in HybridFiction’s third issue.

HybridFiction.net is a new endeavor, focusing on “content that falls into the realm of speculative cross-fiction” including “both original stories, art, and comic content as well as serialized novels and comic books that fall into the realm of dark fantasy, space westerns, urban fantasy, weird west, science fantasy, and more.”

In addition to the full issues, they publish some free fiction and articles at their site…not mine, I’m afraid, but it’s just a couple bucks to get the whole mag (available on Issuu). There are several inventive stories keeping mine company for you to enjoy.

Thanks in advance to all who support the magazine by visiting their site and/or picking up the issue or a subscription.

Homebound entertainment across the streams

Far from exhaustive, here is a collection of a few I’ve been chomping on during the quarantine.

Netflix

Altered Carbon 2
Living up to the first season of this adaptation was never going to be easy. Anthony Mackie (The Hate U Give) does a solid job of picking up Kovacs and carrying the torch forward. And Simone Missick (Iron Fist) adds a nice subplot to it all as does the duet between Poe and his brethren driven by Chris Conner and Dina Shihabi (Jack Ryan). The major plot lines aren’t as well disguised in this series and it departs a great deal from the order of the books, but it is overall consistent and expands the world nicely. And, yes, sets up a third season which I’m there for with bells on. It continues to be solid science fiction with enough intelligence and action supporting it to keep me coming back for more.

Locke & Key
I wanted to like this more than I did in the end. It is solid for the first several episodes and then, around ep 7, some of the writing and choices get too forced. That said, it is a lot like a less dark and less competently written Umbrella Academy. There is a lot of mystery, some complex plotting, and healthy disregard for cliches (except when there isn’t). Despite any weaknesses, I’d be back for the second season to see if they pull it off and to see where it might go. For now, it was an enjoyable enough ride. 

Prime
Tales from the Loop
Imagine a weaker Black Mirror, something like Eureka meets Twilight Zone or perhaps a more grown up Amazing Stories. Tales from the Loop focuses nicely on emotions but is afraid to delve too deeply into the dark recesses of humanity nor the flat out uncaring of the universe. It is lighter fare, despite its trappings, aimed at young adults and those not looking to think too much. Well acted and produced, it will distract, but it isn’t going to feed the minds of those looking for something more complex. 

Hulu Live

High Fidelity
There is one reason and one reason alone to see this series: Zoë Kravitz (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald). She is just a wonder to behold. Not because of her obvious beauty, though that doesn’t hurt, but because she is utterly natural on screen. Her relaxed and open demeanor shatter the fourth wall and make you her intimate. The cast supporting her are all fine, and even better than fine at moments, but Kravitz makes this work in a way few others might have been able to do.

Devs
You have to love, or at least I do, a show that tackles complicated questions from physics and philosophy…especially when it is done with some actual understanding (however twisted that understanding becomes). That isn’t to say it isn’t stretched, nor that the show itself doesn’t have some painfully poorly written moments (particularly in the 7th episode). But, overall, there is some entertaining meat to to chomp into and Nick Offerman’s (Bad Times at the El Royale) obsessed tech guy makes up for any flat aspect that Sonoya Mizuno (Maniac) brings to her efforts.

Endlings
A perfectly fine children’s show, but not much to chomp on for adults. It is far too cute in its approach and brash with its message. For grade schoolers it is probably a great deal of fun.

Utopia Falls
This Hunger Games wannabe doesn’t even try to pretend they aren’t ripping off the obvious. And that would be fine if it also didn’t dip into the absurd. Seriously, a dance off for identifying the “chosen” of a society … and that between 16 year olds (who are more like 25 year olds)? At least The FP (one of the worst films I’ve ever seen) didn’t pretend it wasn’t absurd. This is a complete miss on ever so many levels.

A Classic Resurgence

We are at an inflection point in story-telling, both in sensibility and technology. No one is sure where and how it will wash out and what will be left in its wake…but, think about the last 10 years and what has changed about what you watch (forgetting about where  you watch it, which is another long discussion). Frankly, the trend toward bigger and more complex stories is something I’m celebrating, even as other issues like “good enough” culture of quality and fractured landscapes are causing other challenges. The return of classics in more complete forms is definitely one of positives in this trend.

Classics (of all cultures) have long been a source of material for writers and entertainers. They’re “classics” for a good reason after all: they found a truth that resonates with their public that transcends time periods; this is what allows them to live on. Of course, language and society change over time, so while the truth may still apply, the provided journey tends to become ever more challenging to contemporary audiences as years, decades, and millennia go by.

This is why writers constantly reinvent (or steal) them, to keep them fresh for current audiences. Shakespeare, in particular, is reinterpreted constantly to this end (think LearThe Donmar Warehouse, Richard III, 10 Things I Hate About You, and so many more). And “updating” the stories, either in place or language, allows relevant themes, storylines, or even aspects of character to be more accessible to an audience to whom it applies but is otherwise unable to receive the message from the original.

The BBC has been known to not only not be afraid of classical literature as source material, but often to embrace it. This has produced some amazing series and movies… but also a sort of genre of its own that tends to be rather staid period pieces. Hollywood has, likewise, plumbed this vein, but often produced short-cutted stories that lose so much of the original that they are mere sketches of the breadth and depth of those tales.

The streaming world has changed this. The current approach now is to create multiple episode productions that drag the material onto screen in both a more complete way, and by updating them to contemporary sensibilities to keep them accessible and fresh.

While this has been going on for a while (see Sherlock), there were three in quick succession recently that suggest to me it’s accelerating. The first to drop was War of the Worlds late last year. But Dracula and A Christmas Carol both came available about the same time and raise interesting specters. I’m going to leave Little Women out of this because it is such a wholly different genre than these three and was a single movie, but the discussion still applies, just not quite as directly.

OK, top line is that all three are great stories that were considered very dark in their day. But, as tales of horror, they pale in today’s light and genre offerings. One of the first aspects of these reboots is just how violent they can be, and just how horrid to their main characters they are. When they were originally published, they were received relatively the same as the new versions are now….that is, disturbing and scary. To pierce the modern skin, inference and subtlety had to be replaced with direct example to achieve the same effect.

The second aspect that is common is that they are all given the room they need to address the book-length ideas in an amount of time that can contain them. We aren’t forced into a 90 minute or 2 hour stripped-down rendering of the large psychological and sociological ideas the original authors intended. The stories are expansive and contemplative on these points. Paired with good writing and broken into a serial, they sustain these aspects and open the old stories back up for a new audience.

For all of the concerns about the streaming invasion, one of the main positives is the room they are making for bigger and more niche ideas. Remakes of classics is just a small piece of that, it reaches well beyond classics in terms of material. But, since classics return and return and return, there is a history to compare it to, whereas adaptations like Watchmen or American Gods, also provided room to breathe (and arguably modern classics), have no previous incarnations to celebrate.

Today’s Strand is Netflix, Prime, and HBO. And, in many ways, and despite the current streaming wars, it is bringing about a Renaissance in story telling that is even affecting theatrical releases (think It: Chapter 1, It: Chapter 2). And then there is the Marvel Phases, which are less direct, but still taking advantage of the desire for expansive stories.

So, while we may also be encountering mountains of mediocre and empty material (as we always have), the new Hollywood (wherever that is in a distributed, global sense) is also creating some top notch entertainment from the bones of its ancestors. And that is something to celebrate and support. We’re even seeing it start to expand in cultures as these companies reach for new markets, bringing Western stories to them, but also their stories to us…something that is already accelerating as well on global streamers like Netflix in particular.

Oscars 2020 (results)

So another host-less Oscars (making a long, often boring ceremony even less intriguing and without personality) is behind us. OK, there were moments (like the Steve Martin and Chris Rock riffs).

Here are my results.

Majors: 4 out of 10 (40%)
Minors: 3 out of 9 (30%)
Technical: 2 out of 5 (40%)
Overall: 9 out of 24 (37%)

These are the worst I’ve done in years (I’m usually near 90%)…I’m not sure how I feel about that! In some cases the Academy overcame long standing prejudices (look at Best Pic), but in others they showed extremely narrow thinking (e.g., Netflix hate). In most cases I was pretty sure of the potential upset, but in others I was as surprised as anyone. This year could have been a turning point in many ways, but I don’t think that’s happened quite yet in either diversity or in accepted platforms. At least there a number of really great films to see or catch up with down the road.

So it is what it is…. and here is the recap…

MAJORS

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

My prediction: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)
Winner: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is pretty much a slam-dunk based on the previous ceremonies this year. And it is an amazing performance.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

My prediction: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

My prediction: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

My prediction: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

My prediction: Little Women
Winner: Jojo Rabbit

Not a huge surprise given WGA, and a solid choice.

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Winner: Parasite

Oh so happy to be wrong on this one. I really thought the self-referential drivel would win, not because it deserved to but because it was self-referential.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

My prediction: Sam Mendes (1917)
Winner: Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

Not a mistake and not a disappointment, though a bit of a surprise.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

My prediction: Klaus
Winner: Toy Story 4

Netflix hate and name recognition wins again. For the record, it isn’t that I didn’t like Toy Story 4, but it is not better than Klaus or I Lost My Body. Originally I did think it would take the statuette, but it really shouldn’t have. Do yourself a favor, watch Klaus and see what you’re missing.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction: 1917
Winner: Parasite

Holy guacamole!I’m not disappointed here, but I am shocked, despite the stated possibilities. That preferential ballot is a bugger to predict. Welcome to history (first international film to win best pic).

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

My prediction: Parasite
Winner: Parasite

MINORS

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

My choice: The Cave
Likely winner: American Factory

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

My prediction: St Louis Superman
Winner:
Learning To Skateboard

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

My prediction: A Sister
Winner: The Neighbors’ Window

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

My prediction: Kitbull
Winner: Hair Love

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

My prediction:  “Stand Up” – Harriet
Winner: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman

Probably should have updated this before the freeze, but this isn’t a surprise.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

My prediction: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Winner: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My prediction:1917
Winner: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Sure, why not.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: Little Women
Winner: Little Women

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

My prediction: Bombshell
Winner: Bombshell

TECHNICAL

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: 1917
Winner: 1917

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

My prediction: Jojo Rabbit
Winner: Ford V Ferrari

Was always a possibility (especially after the BAFTAs). They wanted to show the film some love…this was their chance.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My prediction: The Irishman
Winner:  1917

It isn’t that I didn’t say 1917 was the biggest threat to Irishman in this category…but I am a little disappointed in the voters.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My prediction: 1917
Winner: 1917

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My prediction: 1917
Winner: Ford V Ferrari

OK, I admit to be a bit of a surprise here, considering the field.

Oscars 2020 (final call)

Another awards season is nearly complete. And with all of the other ceremonies out of the way from SAG to BAFTA, DGA, WGA, Annies, Eddies, PGA, done, there is data and trends and confusions to add just a bit of drama and uncertainty to the mother of them all: Oscars.

So, with the nominations, conversations, and voting  period over, here are my final predictions of the night of glitz and glitter…

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

My choice: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)
Likely winner: Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is pretty much a slam-dunk based on the previous ceremonies this year. And it is an amazing performance.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

My choice: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Likely winner: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)

To my great joy, this is also a slam-dunk. The movie floored me, Phoenix in particular. But I never expected it to grab the attention of the industry this way since it is, at its heart, genre. It’s nice to be surprised sometimes.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

My choice: Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Likely winner: Laura Dern (Marriage Story)

I’ve never doubted Dern would take this statuette, but I’m not sure she’s the best choice. I think Pugh did more in her role. But Dern is a powerhouse in Marriage Story and she’s had everyone’s attention since the awards began rolling out.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

My choice: Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Likely winner: Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

Again, this was a category dominated from the top by a single person: Pitt. And it is a good performance in an otherwise awful movie (to my mind). But in terms of impact, Pesci and Hanks were the standouts for me. And while Pesci really is amazing (and has a slim chance of taking this) I feel like Hanks has been overlooked this year, as was his movie. Perhaps it was just too close to Rogers in reality to feel like a performance for most? Both he and Pesci hold their movies together, so really, either would be fine with me…but neither is going to beat Pitt.

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

My choice: Jojo Rabbit
Likely winner: Little Women

My thinking on this has changed a lot in terms of who will win. The industry is definitely looking at this category differently than I expected… but also the previous awards hadn’t really grouped all of these together, so its a bit of a guess as to what happens. With Gerwig otherwise shut out, I think she’s got a chance for a consolation prize here. But Jojo has been showing momentum coming into the stretch (including winning the WGA) and it is the most inventive and unique of the tales overall (and Irishman is getting ignored).

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I still don’t understand the critical love of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It is a mess of a story and script that falls apart at the end. But it has overwhelming love from the Academy due to its subject matter and it has few other chances to win. But Parasite is likewise surging, so there could be a surprise of conscience and/or quality that tips the balance.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

My choice: Todd Phillips (Joker)
Likely winner: Sam Mendes (1917)

I’ve been back and forth on this category all season. Parasite is a brilliant and unexpected film, but it is also forced in some ways. The Irishman is a brilliant example of classic film-making, and manages to create a tiny, focused story out of an epic that flies along, even at 3.5 hours. It is a master-class in directing. But Joker pulls off the seeming impossible and, out of genre cloth, peels back the human condition in a way I’ve never seen before, and guided a performance that is devastating and utterly believable.

However, all that said, Mendes is going to take this for the audacity and technical execution of a story that, like Gravity before it, redefines what a movie can be. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t the best story, it is the scope and control he, as a director, had to manage in order to deliver his illusion. And it is bloody impressive.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

My choice: Klaus
Likely winner: Klaus

OK, this is actually more of an open race this year than I originally thought. No one outside the guild expected Missing Link and Klaus to dominate the Annies this year. Frankly, though Missing Link pushed the tech, it wasn’t that great a movie. And I skipped Klaus till recently because, well, Klaus…just isn’t my thing. And while I loved I Lost My Body (and it picked up the top independent animation honor at the Annies), Klaus won me over as the best film overall.

That said, there is still a strong possibility that name recognition and Pixar are likely to dominate the Academy votes here (despite BAFTA agreeing with the Annies). But I’d be wonderfully happy and surprised to be wrong about that.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: 1917

Because of the preferential ballot, this is really still wide open. Anyone’s second or third choices could rise to the top if everyone’s second or third choice aligned.

In the end, I think Parasite gets International rather than making history as the first foreign language film to take Best Pic. I think Irishman gets snubbed because of Netflix, and I’m praying Once Upon a Time… just doesn’t get the votes as it doesn’t deserve it. But, more importantly, 1917 has been gaining momentum as the season wound down and it’s an impressive epic of a film that pushes the technology and the boundaries of expectation in a way that will likely get it over the top.

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: Parasite

I don’t think there is any doubt at this point here, despite the excellent field of options.

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

My choice:  “Stand Up” – Harriet
Likely winner: “Stand Up” – Harriet

Y’know, I really just don’t care out of this grouping. Nothing stood out for me or in the popular culture. Given the lack of diversity in the Oscars this year (and with no dispersions on her abilities or song), I think Erivo takes it.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

My choice: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Likely winner: Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

My choice: The Cave
Likely winner: The Cave

I have good reason for my pick other than the controversy surrounding the director’s fight with 45 getting her visa to attend the Oscars. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. But it is also getting a lot of positive attention as a film. But it could well lose to Honeyland, which has had some great recognition as well.

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: St Louis Superman

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: A Sister

No good reason for this choice as compared to The Neighbors’ Window, both of which have some nice buzz. Given the subjects of both, I’m just flipping the coin to A Sister.

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

My choice: ?????
Likely winner: Kitbull

Why Kitbull? Pixar.

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: Jojo Rabbit

After the Eddies this became a battle between Parasite and Jojo. Ultimately, I think Jojo had more complex challenges achieved more at an editing level. Then again Ford v Ferrari took the BAFTA, so they might pick this up as their only win for the evening.

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

My choice: Parasite
Likely winner: 1917

Honestly, I’m not sure what way this is going to break. Parasite has the most inventive design of the field (Jojo is fun, but not quite as sharply done), but 1917 recreates WWI down to such a level of detail it’s almost distracting.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: Little Women
Likely winner: Little Women

This is one of the few places Little Women can take an award and the costumes are wonderful period pieces across a huge range of the era. That is usually what takes the prize.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My choice: The Irishman
Likely winner: The Irishman

To recap my original argument, the invisibleness of The Irishmen’s f/x is what makes it stand out in this field. It’s biggest threat is 1917, which deserves it as well. It’s a small enough award that Netflix hate may not overwhelm sense.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

My choice: Bombshell
Likely winner: Bombshell

Bombshell managed transformations the others didn’t, though Judy was certainly a magnificent effort.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

My choice: 1917
Likely winner: 1917

NOMINATIONS BY FILM

Provided just for reference, but certainly interesting to consider when considering who has the attention of the voters.

Joker (Warner Bros.) – 11
The Irishman (Netflix) – 10
1917 (Universal/Amblin Partners) – 10
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 10
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) – 6
Little Women (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 6
Marriage Story (Netflix) – 6
Parasite (Neon) – 6
Ford v Ferrari (Disney) – 4
Bombshell (Lionsgate) – 3
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) – 3
The Two Popes (Netflix) – 3
Harriet (Focus Features) – 2
Honeyland (Neon) 2
Judy (LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions) – 2
Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – 2
Toy Story 4 (Disney) – 2

Oscars 2020 (nominees)

Well, here we are again. I didn’t try to write up my guesses for the nominees this year, though they’re pretty much aligned with what came in, because they were too early.

This year, even more than last, is going to be one heck of a battle (lack of diversity aside because that’s an entirely different discussion). Not just because of all the great productions and performances, but because this is likely going to be the inflection point for streamers vs. establishment in Hollywood. Either the final votes will snub the streamers and risk becoming irrelevant and pissing off a number of creatives, or they’ll accept the new normal and change the landscape forever. Given that Netflix leads the pack of studios with 24 nominations total, it isn’t out of the question that platform, as a decision maker, may actually have faded since the Roma controversy of last year.

The other two surprises for me were the complete snubbing of The Farewell and Joker garnering the most noms of the season. Farewell not getting a shot at anything is near criminal. It was one of the best films of the past year. But so was Joker, and I honestly thought the Academy voters would eschew it in large part. So, I was wildly wrong on both counts… which just intrigues me more.

So with a few awards already out there, I’m going to risk my early predictions before making a final call the night before the awards early next month. I imagine my insight(?) will shift as more awards are announced and sentiment clarifies over the next few weeks, but it’s never stopped me before…

Actress in a Leading Role

Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)
Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story)
Siorse Ronan (Little Women)
Charlize Theron (Bombshell)
Renee Zellwegger (Judy)

This is a great list, and every one of these women deserve recognition. But Zellwegger really stands out in her transformation and subtlety of performance. And, let’s face it, Judy Garland is beloved by the industry, which gives her a leg up.

Actor in a Leading Role

Antonio Banderas (Pain and Glory)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Adam Driver (Marriage Story)
Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
Jonathan Pryce (The Two Popes)

There are a number of great performances here as well, but I think Joaquin Phoenix really out-classed all these other men. His performance is the most complex and, ultimately, the most affecting.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Kathy Bates (Richard Jewell)
Laura Dern (Marriage Story)
Scarlett Johannson (Jojo Rabbit)
Florence Pugh (Little Women)
Margot Robbie (Bombshell)

This is a really tough field to choose from. Each performance in the list is strong for a different reason. Given Dern’s previous wins for the role, she probably has the edge. Johannson is going to have her votes split and Pugh and Robbie each have great moments, but aren’t quite as impactful as Dern in their roles.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Tom Hanks (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood)
Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes)
Al Pacino (The Irishman)
Joe Pesci (The Irishman)
Brad Pitt (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)

A similarly difficult field to choose from. I think Hanks, as good as he was, is simply going to get overlooked, and the dueling Irishmen will cancel eachother out, allowing Pitt to float to the top. In this field, were I to choose, however, I’d give it to Pesci for his quiet and subtle performance that overshadows the entire movie.

Adapted Screenplay

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
The Two Popes

The selection of a winner here will depend heavily on what the voters are looking for in a script. The most creative is, hands-down, Jojo Rabbit. But Joker is an unexpectedly powerful tale of mental illness and a society gone wrong. Irishman is a quiet epic that is really just a small tale of family in the most beautiful of ways. And Little Women and Two Popes took source material and broadened it into a more encompassing philosophy and message.

But since only one can win, I’m thinking Irishman or Joker, with odds on Irishman.

Original Screenplay

Knives Out
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

Man, I just want to scream “stop making me pick!” The only one that doesn’t belong here is Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, which was a lousy script. I’m sorry, I know I’m in the minority, but I hated the script. In any event, it doesn really hold a candle to the rest of these.

Honestly, on merits, I think it’s between Marriage Story and Parasite. And since Marriage Story is unlikely to get more than Best Supporting, I’m thinking it will pick up the statuette here…also because it manages to do the seemingly impossible: making divorce feel positive.

Directing

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman)
Todd Phillips (Joker)
Sam Mendes (1917)
Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood)
Bong Joon-ho (Parasite)

Unsurprisingly, these are all part of the Best Picture pool as well, and with many of the same challenges. For sheer, unexpected craft, my choice would be Joker or Parasite. For audacity of vision and production, 1917. For journeymanship and career best: The Irishman.

But as to who will win? I’m going to go out on a limb and take a lesson from Gravity’s win a few years back and call it for 1917, simply for the incredible delivery of an audacious vision.

Best Picture

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Marriage Story
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

With the exception of front-runner Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood and the snubbing of The Farewell, this is a legit list for the year. Given these selections, I’m hard-pressed to pick just one (and expect that much vote-splitting is going to really randomize the winner).

For now, I expect Once Upon a Time to win. It is such insider-baseball and has a groundswell, where many of the others are more divisive and likely to siphon votes from one another.

If it were solely up to me, I’d probably go with The Irishman. It is such a subtle epic and beautifully crafted all around. But honestly, so was Joker. I just don’t see Joker taking this top prize with this voting block. The real question is whether the Academy can get past Netflix-hate to award this top prize to a streamer?

International Feature

Corpus Christi
Honeyland
Les Miserables
Pain And Glory
Parasite

Gotta be Parasite, despite all the other excellent entries.

Original Song

“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” – Toy Story 4
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – Rocketman
“I’m Standing With You” – Breakthrough
“Into the Uknown” – Frozen 2
“Stand Up” – Harriet

I’ve always found this category somewhat pointless. It is rarely about more than popularity. And while that may be something worth rewarding, many songs are simply in the credits or as incidental music…there isn’t much consistency in how they interact with the film. This year, none of the songs really broke out in any particular way (again, let me express joy at not being subjected to Let it Go v2). Being forced to select, I’m going to go with Harriet, if for no other reasons than the lack of diversity elsewhere and Eviro’s cred.

Original Score

Joker (Hildur Guonadottir)
Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
1917 (Thomas Newman)
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)

Going with Joker for this one. My experience was best enhanced by the score for that movie. It wouldn’t surprise me if Star Wars takes it since it set a record 52nd nomination for John Williams. He’s only won 5 of those and only Walt Disney (the man) has ever had more at 59. Though, also props for the dual Newman brothers noms… going to make the next holiday meal entertaining, I’m sure…

Documentary Feature

American Factory
The Cave
The Edge of Democracy
For Sama
Honeyland

While Honeyland is a good contender, American Factory with the Obamas behind it may ride a political wave to the front of the race. But I haven’t seen any of these yet to make an educated guess.

Documentary Short Subject

In The Absence
Learning To Skateboard
Life Overtakes Me
St Louis Superman
Walk, Run, Cha-Cha

Still waiting to see these.

Live Action Short Film

Brotherhood
Nefta Football Club
The Neighbors’ Window
Saria
A Sister

Still waiting to see these.

Animated Feature Film

How To Train Your Dragon
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Missing Link
Toy Story 4

For the sheer hubris of the story, I’d love to see I Lost My Body win, but it’s gonna be Toy Story 4. That series really went out on a high and the craft of it is solid. Missing Link just didn’t really work well for me, as much as I’ve loved the previous Laika offerings, and How To Train Your Dragon was sweet and pretty, but not exactly brilliant. Klaus, well, whatever.

Animated Short Film

Dcera (Daughter)
Hair Love
Kitbull
Memorable
Sister

Cinematography

The Irishman
Joker
The Lighthouse
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Until recently, I would have selected differently, but 1917 is a Cinematographer’s dream/nightmare, and its successful delivery sets a new bar for movies. All the nominees have things going for them, but none were as challenged.

Film Editing

Ford V Ferrari
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Parasite

How 1917 was subbed here, I don’t know. But, given it isn’t in attendance, my best guess is going to be Ford v Ferrari due to the Le Mans scenes.

Production Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

Such a hodgepodge of eras and approaches makes this a grab-bag. Irishman and 1917 are both perfect incarnations of their eras, making the production design invisible. Sorta true for Once Upon a Time as well, but I just don’t think it has the same creativity. Jojo and Parasite each have a sense of whimsy and reality that mixes in unexpected ways. Because of the latter two’s impact on the story itself, rather than just facilitating the tales, I think it goes to one of them, and if I had to guess (which I do), I’m going with Jojo Rabbit.

Costume Design

The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Joker
Little Women
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Almost always this goes to a period piece, despite any of the other relative values of the productions. Since 1917 isn’t in the mix, I’m betting on Little Women.

Visual Effects

Avengers: Endgame
The Irishman
The Lion King
1917
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

This is another tough one. Tougher than usual as several of these films are in it for pushing the envelope in different ways. I’m ignoring Avengers and Star Wars as possibilities as they are big and flashy, but not really new. Lion King found a new way to film that is astounding (however weak the film itself was). Irishman did magic with aging and de-aging. 1917 recreated and presented WWI in a way never achieved before. I think for the invisibleness of it, The Irishman may take this one.

Makeup and Hairstyling

Bombshell
Joker
Judy
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
1917

Thinking Bombshell or Judy for this. I’m leaning Bombshell because of the transformations the makeup provided. Zellweger already looked like Judy, but Theron was subtly metamorphosed into her character with invisible prosthetics and makeup.

Sound Mixing

Ad Astra
Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

I think both this and Sound Editing are up for grabs between Ford v Ferrari and 1917. If the latter gets a groundswell, it may well sweep the two.

Sound Editing

Ford V Ferrari
Joker
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I think both this and Sound Mixing are up for grabs between Ford v Ferrari and 1917. If the latter gets a groundswell, it may well sweep the two.

NOMINATIONS BY FILM

Provided just for reference, but certainly interesting to consider when considering who has the attention of the voters.

Joker (Warner Bros.) – 11
The Irishman (Netflix) – 10
1917 (Universal/Amblin Partners) – 10
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 10
Jojo Rabbit (Fox Searchlight) – 6
Little Women (Sony Pictures Releasing) – 6
Marriage Story (Netflix) – 6
Parasite (Neon) – 6
Ford v Ferrari (Disney) – 4
Bombshell (Lionsgate) – 3
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney) – 3
The Two Popes (Netflix) – 3
Harriet (Focus Features) – 2
Honeyland (Neon) 2
Judy (LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions) – 2
Pain and Glory (Sony Pictures Classics) – 2
Toy Story 4 (Disney) – 2

Fall TV 2019

It’s become a tradition in my house to dive into the new TV season and see what’s there and what we can quickly get rid of. To my surprise, we turned off fewer shows before they’d finished than we have in years. Mostly that was because the writing was consistently better than the last several years. But I’m also looking  to see something new in style or genre. There is plenty available on stream that I don’t need 5 hospital dramas on my list…unless they do something unique with it.

With that criteria, no shows made it to my must see list out of the gate either, which is also a first. There is potential out there, but nothing knocked it out of the park. The biggest concern I have for survivors is whether they can sustain the stories and, in at least a case or two, pull me in with good writing even when the characters just didn’t grab me.

As I moved items to the dumped lists, I did start to notice a trend of what I was bouncing, particularly in comedies. The common issue of interesting survivors was even-ness in the the writing and presentation. With comedies, this is the ability to slip from real to broad and back smoothly. Moments of reality keep even the broadest comedy anchored, but if you are whipsawed between moments without purpose other than to get a laugh, it feels too artificial and silly. If it is all broad or all real, you avoid the whipsaw, but also alienate segments of audience. The main point is to keep the experience smooth. It applies to drama as well. Evil, for instance, mostly worked…until the chaos agent came on screen and the whole tenor of the story shifted into a cliche and silly realm. 

By the end of week three, only one new contender remained. And even that may not survive the full season. With that preamble, here’s how it all broke down…

One and Done

Bluff City Law
Wasn’t awful, but had nothing to grab me that was new.
Carol’s Second Act
Weak writing and directing…got old even in the first episode.
Almost Family
It had moments, and an interesting cast, but just nothing to grab me and keep me around.

A Couple and Out

Bob (Hearts) Abishola
This latest Chuck Lorre is clever, but the King of Queens vibe just isn’t my flavor. After two episodes, despite some great moments, I just didn’t enjoy the broader humor that surrounded them enough to keep coming back.
Evil
OK, surprised me with how well it was acted. Writing was a little uneven, and the main battle was quickly becoming tiresome. Without the Emerson role, I might has stuck around out of curiosity. But there is no where good that plot branch can go for me.
Perfect Harmony
Burned out quickly, but was an amusing start with a lot of clever moments. I’m sure this will find an audience, but I’m not it.
The Unicorn
Actually, this is well written and acted, but I know I’m not their audience. Gave it another opportunity to hook me, but it didn’t. Again, I expect it to do well without my viewership.
Batwoman
OK, it didn’t suck, but I see this going the way of most CW/DC shows, which is to say getting boring really fast. I can only handle that earnestness for so long…and while Ruby Rose (The Meg) is fine, she isn’t bringing anything new to the mythos and Dougray Scott (Hemlock Grove) spends his time just shouting. The one thing they did right was that they didn’t try and stretch out a couple of the big mysteries, exposing the obvious in the first episode and continued to admit big things as they went on. In the end, though, just not enough to keep me coming back.
Nancy Drew
Definitely part of the CW DNA of shows. Interesting start, but with an uncertain path forward to keep me interested. The Veronica Mars meets Scooby Doo (or Supernatural depending on how you interpret the story) just wasn’t for me. A shame as there is some talent in there.

Dubious on Survival Despite Some Positives
(assume these die within the next week or so)

All Rise
Snappy writing has been keeping it around, but I don’t see it lasting for me. How many legal dramas do you really need in your life?
Prodigal Son
Hannibal meets Sherlock is fun, but we’ll see if they can come up with long-term arcs and value. But even if they do, the miscasts of  Bellamy Young (Scandal) and Halston Sage (Orville) make it weaker than it might have been.
Stumptown
Like Prodigal Son, this is an anti-hero tale and fairly dark. The PI drama can work if the writing stays as strong as their first couple episodes. Next to Emergence, it is the most consistently written show so far and Smulders is really selling the character. Unfortunately, it is also veering into the realm of “everyone lies all the time” and larger conspiracies. I just find that exhausting and uninteresting as a show, regardless of any of its pluses.

Getting a Bit More Time

Frankie Drake
The complete reboot of this show that started last season really surprised. Now I want to see if they can sustain. It is silly and somewhat empty, but it has a light charm that has kept me around. And with no Miss Fisher on my horizon with my services, it is the only thing like it around.
Emergence
Some sharp acting and mostly good writing and mystery are intriguing, but so much depends on the underlying truths and the willingness not to just stretch out the obvious. So far, so good.

“Skin in the Game” hits shelves!

My story, “Skin in the Game” appears in the newly released Alternative Truths III: Endgame, the final volume in the best-selling Alternative Truths series from B Cubed Press. Edited by Bob Brown and Jess Faraday. Skin in the Game explores what might happen if our leaders were held a bit more responsible for their decisions, right or wrong, in very permanent ways.

From the publisher:
Endgame features 30 of today’s best writers and political thinkers taking a look forward at possible outcomes of our political decisions.

This collection has visions of a better world as well. In Paula Hammond’s “Fortunate Son,” we explore what kind of man Donald Trump might have become had he answered his country’s call and served alongside his fellow Americans in the Vietnam War.

Most of all Endgame will make you think, with thought-provoking essays by the likes of David Gerrold and Adam-Troy Castro as they seek to share their understanding of how this happened and what do will we do.

A significant portion of the proceeds of this book are donated to the ACLU of Washington to honor and support their unending quest for the freedom of the American people to express themselves.

The book is available from Amazon.com on Kindle Unlimited as well as in Kindle Edition or Print Book.

A quick word about Kindle Unlimited…the authors get paid as long as you “read” at least 10% of the book (more or less). So read a story or two and help authors earn as well as supporting the ACLU!