March 7th, 2010

(no subject)

I start these entries with similarly dated ones from previous years. This one began with a 2004 post. 6 years ago, my gosh. Yet the concerns were largely the same. For instance, trivia nights. We won one recently, but the losses were harder, particularly one in which 67 teams participated -- a very high number indeed. We lost by 2. There was one annoying category -- match the event to the year it occurred, all in the 80s. One event per year, so if you miss one you miss at least one more. We fumbled around, knew three for sure (Challenger disaster, Mac introduction, Miracle on Ice), were within one year probably on most of the rest. Put together a list. At the last minute, switched three around (after a couple finished arguing about where they were living when the last episode of MASH aired.) Our first list had 7 right. Switching them reduced our total to 4 -- the difference between winning outright and losing by 2. Oh well.

I also covered college basketball. Back then I only cared about my alma mater, Illinois -- which had a good year then, and is having a bad year in 2010. NIT maybe. Also Missouri -- which had a terrible year then and is having a nice year in 2010. They seem certain to get an NCAA bid, and are exceeding expectations. And St. Louis University. Had an unexpectedly nice year in 2004 and made the NIT. In 2010 -- another unexpectedly nice year, and it looks like another NIT bid, with an outside chance of making the NCAA tournament. The good news is, they really seem on an upward trend, thanks to the controversial but effective coach Rick Majerus. Since then I've gained another rooting interest -- Clemson, my daughter's school. They're having a nice year in 2010, and seem certain to get another NCAA bid.

And I mentioned movies. In that 2004 post, I had recently seen a plethora of mostly awful movies: I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMAN, AGENT CODY BANKS 2: DESTINATION LONDON, JOHNNY ENGLISH, with one OK movie, BARBERSHOP. This year we did better, but that's because they've moved the Oscars up, and we're trying to catch up on the Oscar contenders. So we just saw two of the top Best Picture nominees, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and THE HURT LOCKER.

Hmmm. Well, first, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. My wife liked it a lot, my son (a big Tarantino fan) loved it. But I was obscurely disappointed. It didn't fully work for me. More after the cut.

And THE HURT LOCKER. That's a very fine film. But is it a great one? I'm not sure. I think I missed an overarching plot. Yes, I know the movie didn't want to have one. It is, after all, ultimately a character story, about how three members of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal team in Iraq deal with the pressures of the job. (In short, both "not very well" and "about as well as one could reasonably expect any human being to". At the same time.) It's extremely well done, very realistic, very well acted. But the structure and the pacing seemed a bit off, too episodic. I'm not sure a better movie could have been made on this particular subject. But that being said, the movie that was made, good as it is, falls short of greatness.

I've seen five Oscar nominees: THE BLIND SIDE, UP IN THE AIR, AVATAR, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, and THE HURT LOCKER. (I will almost certainly see UP soon, and likely also PRECIOUS and A SERIOUS MAN.) Of these, I have to confess my preference might still be for UP IN THE AIR. I admit that's partly a downright silly "because it was shot in St. Louis and I recognized lots of the locations" thing. But I do think it's just a damn good movie. It won't win though. And I can get behind THE HURT LOCKER as the winner -- for all my reservations, it is a damn good movie. It would be a worthy winner.

As for the others. As I've said, I was just not sold on INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. (Won't argue with Cristoph Waltz's apparent certain Supporting Actor win, though.) THE BLIND SIDE is nice enough but slight, by no stretch of the imagination a worthy Best Picture. And AVATAR, as I mentioned, and as many critics have said, is just a stunningly beautiful movie, with a silly plot and negligible acting. A Best Picture should be more than "beautiful" and "really really successful at the box office". Writing matters. Acting matters. And the movie fails at those aspects.

OK, more about INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS after the cut. Alas, I don't know how to add Live Journal cuts, so I'm just putting in spoiler space.

[Spoilers to follow]

Part of it is the whole revenge thing. Yeah, Nazis are about as evil as you can get, and at some level it's nice to see them get theirs. But -- the over the top violence, it seems to me, diminishes the heroes, makes them nearly as bad. Also, I found the plot implausible. I don't believe the Basterds could have done what they did. I don't believe in the contrived setup to get all the top German villains in a theater in Paris run by a Jewish woman at the same time. And too I was disappointed by the admittedly realistic conclusion, in which the real bad guy (not the worst Nazi, but the one we see being evillest in the movie) gets away -- not scot free by any means, but doesn't get fully revenged. And finally -- again perhaps there is a realistic bit to it, but it detracted from things for me -- the Basterds, in the end, don't help get the bad guys. In fact, they mess things up. They nearly allow Hitler et. al. to get away, because of their interference. Their actions were UNNECESSARY. Shosanna's plot was sufficient in and of itself. The Basterds involvement was a dangerous distraction. (Mind you, this wasn't their fault, they had no idea what Shosanna was up to.)