December 2005 Archives

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

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I've been enjoying Carpetbagger's take on Awards season. Obviously, a New York Times film critic doesn't need me to direct traffic to his site, but people might well miss a gem that was tucked away in the comments to one of his entries--a brief but funny behind-the-scenes look at the Academy Awards ceremony from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Julian Barry.

Flickr: The Music Video

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I've been a big fan of singer/songwriter Jonathan Coulton ever since I heard Bacteria, his techno-remix of a Kentucky Fried Chicken food safety video. His songs download page is a place of riches-- I especially recommend Ikea, Furry Old Lobster, and his soulful cover of Baby Got Back. And if you are geeky enough to think you might possibly like a song called Mandelbrot Set, well, then, you definitely will.

He's now released his first video, and it's charming and funny. It's called Flickr, and appropriately enough, it's assembled entirely out of images he found on flickr.com.

A Very Special Club

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My US address seems to have gotten on some sort of odd mailing list. I received the following letter in the mail:

Dear Jacob, This is a personal letter just to you. Notice: this is not a mass mailing; this letter came to you by first-class mail, not by third-class bulk mail. This is not a solicitation for money. In fact, you will get something of immense value from us absolutely free with no strings attached... Jacob, please keep what I tell you a secret, because this information is confidential. These words are meant for you only

This is Jacob again. I hope you're paying attention. The letter was sent by first class mail. That means that everything it says is true. And if that's not convincing enough, the letter actually addresses me by name at multiple points. If this weren't a personal letter, how could they possibly do that?

There has existed for many years an exclusive association, a secret society, of the world's most famous and powerful people. These include renowned actors and musicians, leading scientists and intellectuals, self-made entrepreneurs and artists, millionaires, professional gamblers, Casanovas, statesmen. Many of these people you would instantly recognize. Before I go on, let me state that everything you read here is absolutely and verifiably true.

This association has uncovered some shockingly powerful secrets. And they share these secrets only amongst themselves. In fact, these secrets are the reason these well-known individuals have achieved great prosperity.

Jacob, I have some incredibly exciting news to share with you. Members of this association ahve analyzed your profile (you'd be unbelievably flatterred if you knew who tehse individuals were). Please forgive them, but they've discovered something special about you.

It seems you, Jacob, possess several rare traits they are searching for. Because of these traits, which we'll talk about later, the have chosen you to become part of their exclusive club and to share their secrets, too, absolutely free! By the way, as you read this, you may be saynig to yourself that this is all a bunch of hooey. But I swear on a stack of Bible [sic] this is all true!

At this point, I was convinced. Anybody could put together a stack of Bibles. But somebody who could make a stack consisting of a single Bible must have uncanny powers indeed! And if that's not convincing enough, it includes a testimonial from "a TV celebrity and copywriter" who won't reveal his name, so we can't know which of the millions of famous, erm, copywriters he is. But he has lost weight, become irresistible to beautiful women, and made millions of dollars using the secrets of the "Nouveau Tech Society," which could be mine absolutely free.

So, obviously, this letter is entirely true and accurate. But why does everybody else on the web seem to think Nouveau Tech is a total scam? Stop being so cynical, people. When has a world famous copywriter ever lied to you?

Paging Miss Marple

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The second best thing about this news article is the opening paragraph:

A 63-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to blackmail the owners of a Staffordshire guinea pig breeding farm.

The first best thing is that the article never mentions what, exactly, the guinea pig breeders were being blackmailed over, as if it were so blatantly obvious what kind of dirty secret Staffordshire guinea pig breeders are harboring that there is no need to embarrass the breeders, the guinea pigs, or ourselves by spelling it out.

The only hint the article gives is the following cryptic paragraph:

The owners of the breeding centre - Darley Oaks Farm - are related to Gladys Hammond whose body was taken from a churchyard in Yoxall, Staffs, last year.

It seems pretty clear to me what has taken place. One lightning-lit night in Staffordshire, some mad fool created an unholy fusion of deceased human and living guinea pig, thereby unleashing forces they couldn't possibly understand. And rather than summoning Dr. Van Mitschlag--the one man who might put an end to this menace--the villainous 63-year-old woman and her cohorts blackmailed the mad breeders, ultimately sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

But, please, forgive me for belaboring the obvious.

Syriana

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I went to a screening of the excellent and thoughtful Syriana last night, followed by a Q&A with writer/director Stephen Gaghan, and I'm pleased to report that Mr. Gaghan--who also wrote Traffic--speaks the way he writes screenplays. That is, when asked a simple question, he launches into a lengthy and intelligent narrative that cuts back and forth between several seemingly unrelated anecdotes before finally bringing them together in an ending that makes you feel better informed, even if it raises as many questions as it actually answers. At most of the Q&A's I've attended, the subject ends up answering five or six questions from the moderator, and roughly as many from the audience. Last night, given the same amount of time, Gaghan only got through two questions from the moderator and three from the audience, and he still managed to run over.

Oh, and by the way, to the British lady who turned to her husband on the way out of the screening and said, "Of course, the Americans won't understand that movie," I would just like to say: You're absolutely right. The country that gave you The Sopranos, West Wing, The Simpsons, and, oh yes, THE FREAKING MOVIE YOU JUST WATCHED can't possibly provide the same sort of sophisticated mass audience that makes The Sun your country's most-read newspaper, but we do our best to muddle through somehow.

Golden Globe nominations

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The Golden Globe nominations have been announced. I don't have too much to add to Alligators in a Helicopter's thoughtful and thorough post on the subject, but I did want to highlight two disagreements with him.

He writes:

Given the mediocre reviews that "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is getting, and looking at the list of the 9 female Best Actress nominees other than Judi Dench, it seems like Reese Witherspoon might be getting an Oscar in about three months.

It's always dangerous to say too much about movies you haven't seen. Trust me, Scott--if you've seen Mrs. Henderson Presents, you would have no doubt that Judi Dench is the leading contender for Best Actress. She gives an absolutely fantastic performance. Plus, she's playing a plucky older woman who believes in the value of free expression.

He also writes:

I understand that they break down the categories into Dramas and Comedies/Musicals, but that still doesn't make "I Walk The Line" a musical. Just because they perform a few songs here and there - because that's their character's job - it's not a musical.
OK, now it's my turn to talk about a movie I haven't seen. I can't speak directly to Walk the Line But movies where the characters only sing because it's part of their job make up a good chunk of the musical genre. In fact, up until about 1943 (when Oklahoma! hit Broadway and made its influence felt all the way to Hollywood), most movie musicals were about people who were putting on a show of one sort or another.

The Bay of Pigs

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I'm reading The Wisdom of Crowds, and I came across the following passage:

After a detailed study of American foreign-policy fiascos, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and the failure to anticipate Pearl Harbor, [psychologist Irving] Janis argued that when the decision makers are too much alike -- in worldview and mind-set-- they easily fall prey to groupthink. Homogeneous groups become cohesive more easily than diverse groups, and as they become more cohesive they also become more dependent on the group, more insulated from outside opinions, and therefore more convinced that the group's judgment on important issues must be right. These kinds of groups, Janis suggested, share an illusion of invulnerability, a willingness to rationalize away possible counterargument to the group's position, and a conviction that dissent is not useful.

In the case of the Bay of Pigs invasion, for instance, the Kennedy administration planned and carried out its strategy without ever really talking to anyone who was skeptical of the prospects of success. The people who planned the operation were the same ones who were asked to judge whether it would be successful or not. The few people who voiced caution were quickly silenced. And, most remarkably, neither the intelligence branch of the CIA nor the Cuban desk of the State Department was consulted about the plan. The result was a bizarre neglect of some of the most elemental facts about Cuba in 1961, including the popularity of Fidel Castro, the strength of the Cuban army, and even the size of the island itself. (The invasion was predicated on the idea that 1,200 men could take over all of Cuba)

It's a good thing we've learned from our mistakes, and no presidential administration would ever silence internal dissent while making a vital foreign policy decision, leading to a major military debacle.

[SCENE: A take-away Greek restaurant counter next to the Tottenham Court Road Tube. The guy behind the counter is waiting on a customer.]

GUY BEHIND THE COUNTER (in a heavy Greek accent): So, where are you from?
CUSTOMER (in a crisp British accent): London.
[The Guy Behind The Counter looks skeptically at the Customer, who appears to be of some non-British ethnic group.]
GUY BEHIND THE COUNTER: No, but where are you originally from?
CUSTOMER: My mother's womb.
[The Guy Behind The Counter hasn't heard of this country, but doesn't wish to offend.]
GUY BEHIND THE COUNTER: Oh, very nice.

Changes in BAFTA voting

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I've received my BAFTA voting pack, and I note two interesting changes this year.

First is the increased power of voters in specific "chapters" of BAFTA. In the first round of voting, BAFTA members winnow down the hundreds of possible nominees in every category down to a more manageable 12. At this stage, everybody can vote in all categories--set decorators can vote for Best Editing, editors can vote for Best Screenplay, screenwriters can vote for Best Sound, and so on. However, the Academy is now giving a little extra weight to votes cast by members within their area of expertise. For example, as a member of the Direction Chapter, I received a letter informing me that:

...when the votes are counted in the Direction category, we will cross-reference the votes of the Direction Chapter with the rest of the Film Voting membership. If the voting differs, we will ensure that the top five from the Direction Chapter are included We hope that this will broaden the range of films considered for nomination. The distinction between films voted for by the Direction Chapter and by the membership at large will not be highlighted when the list is sent out.

The second change is that this year a little more guidance has been given to people voting outside their area of expertise. Along with my list of eligible films was a short flyer giving me guidance on what to look for when voting for various technical categories. A few excerpts:

Achievement in Special Visual Effects
In evaluating visual effects be aware not only of the noticeable effects but also subtle additions or deletions from scenes... Questions that should be asked by the voter include:
• Do the visual effects display artistry and creativity?
• Are the visual effects well integrated into the film, or do they draw attention to themselves?
• Are the visual effects natural and believable in their execution?
...
Production Design
The Production Designer is responsible for creating the most appropriate physical setting for the characters, action, and mood of the film, whether it be a location, a built environment, or a combination of the two. He or she is also responsible for the integration of the set decoration (for example, props, furniture, hand-props, graphics) and must be mindful of the integration of other visual crafts (costume design, make-up and hair and special visual effects) into the look of a film. Voters should avoid being 'dazzled' by the use of exotic and extravagant locations and settings if they are not appropriate for the film.

I think both these changes are very smart moves. As I've mentioned before, allowing awards voters to cast ballots outside their area of expertise creates a real risk that only the most unsubtle performances will take home a trophy. BAFTA (unlike the US Academy) already restricts final voting in most categories to experts in the field, which is one reason why the BAFTA awards are much less likely to result in a total sweep. With these new tweaks, BAFTA makes their voting process even more sensible, and even more likely to result in deserving nominees.

The Paul Simon Variations

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Ways Paul Simon Might Have Advised Leaving Your Lover If He Had Been Born In India
Say "No, danke," Banke.
Make yourself disappear, Samir.
Send her off on some kind of wonky safari, Bankebihari.
Tell her to ride back out on the horse she rode in on, Bollywood star Salman Khan.
It-spay on her in-chay, Chinmay
Send her on a plane flight after you've spiked her carry-on luggage with hashish, Debashish.
Sneak off to Marikech, Harikesh.
Just poison her naan, Ishaan. You don't need a big plaan, maan.

Ways Paul Simon Might Have Advised Leaving Your Lover If He Only Wrote Songs About Members of the Bach Family
Tell her she will find somebody who will provide for her better than you will, Carl Phillip Emmanual.
Just poison her naan, Wilhelm Friedeman.
Write a cantata using ornate contrapuntal harmony to set a text informing her that you wouldn't touch her if you were an alcoholic and she were Earth's last gin, Johann Sebastian.

Cinea update

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J Tantalus recently posted a comment about his experiences with the Cinea DVD player to a previous entry. I thought he had some interesting things to say, and since most people won't find his comment, hidden as it is in a year-old entry, I thought I'd highlight it hear:

Every BAFTA member I know has had to have either a replacement Cinea DVD machine or a software update or, usually both!

One BAFTA member sent an email to Cinea saying he had a problem with his machine and he accidentally hit "send to all". I replied to him to tell him that his email might not have gone to Cinea and that he was not alone in his misery. He said he had an inbox full of emails from other BAFTA members also saying that their machines were so much junk.

One common problem has been that the image, although filling the screen was off-centre. This was either on the PAL setting alone or in both PAL and NTSC. This has necessitated a software update delivered on CD. We were first promised this in "a few weeks" a year ago. They have just arrived.

Other miscellaneous faults include dead displays and random crackles when playing CDs. I'm not sure where the "high end" idea comes from. If it wasn't for the watermarks (don't you just love being treated like a crook?) we'd have been better off buying a £30 player from Tesco.

After all this it looks like Disney might be the only reason that we have to give this thing house room. Nobody else can be bothered to watermark their screeners.

Po-faced as ever, Cinea have also made the players single region - even though people in the film industry have perfectly legitimate business reasons for viewing DVDs from other regions. Indeed, Warner Brothers have already sent 2 Region 1 discs this year to BAFTA members which can't be played on the Cinea machines!

On the whole, I regret the passing of the VHS screeners. You could watch them on anything and once watched, they provided a useful source of blank tapes.

Needless to say, this just reenforces my intention to ignore all Cinea-only DVDs that I receive.

They've finally figured me out

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Like anybody else with e-mail, I get all sorts of virus-laden messages, accompanied by a flimsily transparent attempt to get me to double-click on the attached Trojan Horse-- "I think you will find the attached file interesting," or "What do you think of this?" or "I am naked!" I find these all very easy to ignore.

Today, though, I got one that stabbed me with such force, I almost forgot myself and double-clicked on the attachment. The message said, in its entirety:

"You are a bad writer."

Awards Season Tally

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If you move your eyes a degree or two to the right, you'll notice a new feature: a complete tally of all the DVDs I've received, the Q&As I've witnessed, and the screenings I've attended since the For Your Consideration season started in October. I've also listed the films I hope to see before 4 January, when the first round of BAFTA voting ends. I'll try to update the tally regularly as I attended more screenings.

If there's a film that came out in 2005 that you think deserves consideration in any category, and I've left it off my list, let me know, and I'll try to see it.

One thing that helped me put this list together is that I'm pretty careful about keeping track of which movies I've seen; after I've seen a movie, I make a point of entering it into my list, and jotting down a few notes about my impression. Looking over the list as a whole, I notice that I've seen roughly 85 movies thus far in 2005 (including DVDs). This is far above the national average, but doesn't seem like all that much to me. I blame all the traveling I've done this year. Clearly, I am spending too much time seeing the real world, and not enough time in somebody else's fantasy. I will have to do something about that next year.

Saying "No" to Cinea

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As I've mentioned before, I don't plan to register my Cinea DVD player unless I have to. I've gotten some e-mail from them telling me that Disney has signed up to use their technology, and that I'll have to register my Cinea player if I want to watch screening copies of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Shopgirl, and Casanova. I'm very interested in seeing the first two, and I don't think it's fair to the filmmakers to let my distaste for the Cinea player stop me from seeing their work. So, I'm going to make a special point of trying to see actual screenings of those two films, thereby freeing me of the need to see them on DVD.

Meanwhile, non-Cinea DVD screeners are starting to arrive. Last week, I've gotten Crash and Cinderella Man (both of those were sent to me as a WGA member rather than as a BAFTA member, I think. The Cinderella Man DVD also came with a bound copy of the script). Yesterday brought Corpse Bride, Batman Begins, North Country, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

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