Sunday, January 31, 2010

Steve's Peeves: The Grammys suck

I have nothing against Taylor Swift, but how does she take home four Grammys? I've heard these songs. Not my cup of tea, to say the least. And the Grammys almost never honor, or even nominate, bands that I like. Nirvana never sniffed anything and they were only the most important band on the 1990s. Pearl Jam won one Grammy ... for Spin the Black Circle, which might be their 321st best song. Led Zeppelin? Zilch.

I understand the Grammy Academy has the same listening capabilities as Helen Keller and we never see eye-to-eye. I've long accepted this fact. But Taylor Swift's songs seem like the soundtracks for those terrible ABC Family shows starring 16-year-olds who own horses or those terrible Disney shows with the obnoxious laugh tracks and the precocious, annoying little kids. And she wins four Grammys, including the big one, Album of the Year.

Am I as out of touch as Andy Rooney? I might be.

She now has as many Album of the Year awards as the Beatles (which says more about the Grammys than Swift).

By the way, Kings of Leon won a Grammy for an album released in 2008. How does that work?

I have never understood this award show, except for the "If you perform during the ceremony, you win at least one award" rule. They do love their singer/song-writers and the old favorites. If Tony Bennett or Stevie Wonder released an album with them humming "Happy Birthday" 12 times, it would get nominated.

Bitching about award shows is standard fare. The Oscars certainly missed the boat a few times. Al Pacino never won for the role of Michael Corleone. Citizen Cane was snubbed. Saving Private Ryan, too. Brokeback Mountain losing to Crash. At least, if you look back in time and see the nominees, you have a clue as to what the best movies of that year were. Same with the Emmys. You get at least a clue.

Not with the Grammys.

Think of all the bands and albums they've missed out on just in Rock. Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and The Who never won Grammys (discounting achievement awards). Going back to Nirvana ... they release a song that revolutionizes music - not just rock music - in Smells Like Teen Spirit. Nevermind ushers in a new era. How many albums and songs can make that claim?

So Nevermind was released in 1991. Maybe it wasn't eligible for the 1992 Grammy for Album of the Year, which went to ... Natalie Cole. Sure it would get its just due in 1993. Instead, Eric Clapton won for an unplugged album! This would be like giving Tim Wakefield the Cy Young last year over Zack Greinke. Clapton's accoustic version of Layla, a song which was decades old by then, won Song of the Year. An acoustic cover of a decades-old song beat out one of the most influential and popular songs in the history of rock music.

Or, more succinctly, just another year for the Grammys.

Check out this link I found, which details some of the most insane Grammy decisions of all time. It's funny how pathetic some of these snubs are.

Anyway, good for Taylor Swift. She genuinely seems like a nice person and I'm starting to sound like Kanye West. Don't worry, I will be sure to congratulate her when she wins Best Director at at the Oscars in several weeks. It's not her fault. Apparently, everyone loves her. She has four Grammys. And Kurt Cobain never had one.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Three films you normally would not group together

Still on my movie kick, here are three more, two of which are pretty old. Sometimes, it takes me a year or 10 to watch some of these ...

Basic Instinct: The epitome of trashy cinema that's so bad, it's good. Famous for the interrogation scene where Sharon Stone, sans underwear, crosses her legs and seduces the hell out of the cops, Basic Instinct makes no bones about it. This movie is about ragged, manly men and sexy, vapid woman who screw each other, yell at each other and kill each other. There's one weird scene where Michael Douglas' character has a violent, somewhat consensual sex scene with his counselor. It's one of those awkward movie scenes you see a lot from the old days where the man aggressively stakes his claim, the female resists at first but ultimately relents. They are scenes that would not fly today, and rightfully so.

This movie is a very well done soft-core porno. Not that I would know how well soft-core pornos are made. Basic Instinct kept me on my toes a little with its zig-zag story, but I saw the ending coming a light year away.

Rating: ** 1/2

Up: I'm not much for children's movies, but I heard enough good things about this one so I gave it a chance. It has all the Pixar qualities: Great animation, a journey fraught with adventure, inanimate objects/animals acting like people and most importantly, a heart. Not too many kids' movies center around an old man grieving the loss of his wife. A very sweet movie, with a few funny parts (I liked Kevin) and the requisite amazing animation. All that is well and good, but a great kids' movie appeals to both children and adults. While kids can marvel at the animation and the talking dogs, an adult can empathize with an old man trying to fulfil his wife's dreams after she has died.

(That old man sure was strong, pulling an entire house with a hose.)

Loved the final image of the movie, too. Absolutely perfect.

Rating: ****

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Yeah, I'm a little late on this one. Almost 50 years. But you can only blame me for about 10-15 of those years. I do, from time to time, like to catch up on classic films. This certainly qualifies. The image of Audrey Hepburn in that black dress with the long cigarette lighter is one of the most iconic film images of the 20th century. Besides, I'd never seen an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Let me get this out of the way, though. This movie has perhaps the most offensive character I've ever seen. I'm not kidding. Many movies have characters that are racist, but that's part of the plot. Some just have plain stupid, mildly offensive characters, like those Jive-talking Transformers in the Rise of the Fallen. This movie ... my God. I was cringing. It was painful. Mickey Rooney plays a Japanese landlord, with the buck teeth and everything. It's so blatantly racist, even for 1961, that it heavily detracts from the film.

It's a tough subject. Gone with the Wind, one of the best movies of all time, had slave characters who seemed just happy with their situation. It's bad, but you kind of expect it. Times have changed and while the portrayal of African-Americans in old films is many times eye-rollingly stupid, it's not a major detractor. But this movie did not need a bumbling Japanese landlord. They were going for slapstick comedy and it's just a gigantic failure. Again, it's really bad. You have to see the movie to fully understand what I'm talking about.

Anyway, about the movie. If this had been done in the 1990s, Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman borrowed heavily from this movie) would have played Holly Golightly, but she wouldn't have pulled it off. Those old men who wax poetic about Audrey Hepburn weren't kidding. She was obviously ridiculously, unfairly beautiful, but she also captured every second of every scene she was in. She's an illuminating presence and gives the movie every inch of life it needs. She's a carefree gold-digger, afraid to tie herself down while haphazardly looking for a rich man to marry. A writer moves in upstairs and falls for her live-and-let-live philosophy. The fact that she looks like a Disney movie princess certainly doesn't hurt.

I'm going to spoil a 50-year-old movie here ... The movie follows the usual romantic film formula. Man meets woman. Opposites attract. They fence around with their sexual chemistry until finally acting on it in the middle of the movie. But, in this case, the woman rejects her actual feelings for the writer and plans to move to Brazil to marry a powerful politician. The man angrily calls her a gold-digging whore (in so many words). By the way, in the book, Holly is a prostitute. The movie never really says she is, but hints at it in subtle ways. Remember, it came out in Mad Men time.

Then a big event happens, the man comes through and professes his true love. But she rejects it. In disgust, the writer throws her the crackerjack ring they had engraved while enjoying a (wait for it) breakfast at Tiffany's jewelry store. She puts the ring on and realizes that she should finally stop running and they kiss in the rain. The end.

Now, if you know me well, you know I have an affinity for ambiguous or bad endings. See 24 or American Beauty or Chinatown for examples. It's not that I like when character dies at the end or see their dreams crushed. It depends on the movie. A comedy should end well. A light, brainless movie should end well. But complicated or classic movies should stay true to the material and characters. Like life, happy endings are hard to come by and that should be reflected in film. The problem with the ending to Breakfast at Tiffany's is Holly's decision to stay with the writer. Her character's choice to end a lifetime of non-commitment came too lightly (Ha!) and too fast. If it were real life, Holly would have hopped on that plane, realized her mistake in a few months and then perhaps return to the writer. The writer would resist at first, still bitter and hurt, but then he'd realize "She looks like Audrey Hepburn. I don't care if there's a 75% chance she will stomp my heart out in five years. Let's do this!" The happy ending did not ring true.

Nonetheless, I'm glad I saw it, just for Audrey Hepburn alone.

If only they could go back and erase all of Mickey Rooney's scenes.

Rating: *** 1/2

Friday, January 22, 2010

I give this blog post three stars

I've been on a bit of a movie binge lately. And I'm bringing back the Sears rating system. (And no, I won't give every movie three stars.)

The Hurt Locker: There's nothing wrong with this film. Nothing. It knows what it's about and pulls it off flawlessly. The acting, the direction and the plot all mesh to form the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan. It lacks SPR's gallantry and epic-ness (is that a word?), but it's supposed to. It chronicles one guy's addiction to adrenaline, which he feeds by defusing IED's in Iraq and Afghanistan. The troops in this movie are sweaty, frustrated and paranoid, where every on-looker is a potential enemy. There's one shoot-out in the movie where the camera focuses on their dry, chapped faces, covered in sand and dirt, pecked at by flies. You can feel the heat, the sullen intensity. I don't know what it's like to serve in Iraq, but this movie comes closer than anything else at giving you a sense. This should take home the Best Director Oscar.


This guy leaves Evangeline Lilly to go to the Middle East and wear a bomb suit?!?! Only in movies. Only in movies.

Rating: **** (out of five)

(Five-star ratings only go to movies that transfix me, enlighten me or move me like I've never been moved before. Movies that I could watch 50 times. Examples: A Few Good Men, American Beauty, Chinatown, JFK. The only zero star movie I've ever seen? Joe Dirt.)

District 9: In Blu-Ray, this movie looked pretty damn amazing, especially the aerial shots. A good action flick, but I had some problems with it. First, how did the people decipher the alien language? The Apartheid parallels were laid on pretty thick. Too obvious for me. And I just saw Avatar a few weeks ago, so I was prepared for the human-joins-other-side angle. Nonetheless, I liked the movie. Great action scenes. Can't beat watching humans explode.

Rating: ***1/2

Year One: I know. Why did I even bother?. I put this on my Netflix queue a while ago and forgot to take it off. I figured I might get a few laughs in. I guess I did. Like two or three. It's annoyingly predictable and conventional with stupid bathroom humor. Michael Cera and Jack Black go through the motions. At least George Mason from 24 made an appearance. And Oliva Wilde is certainly HD-friendly. Oliver Platt's chest ... not so much.

Rating: *

Up in the Air: A movie for our times. A lock for the Best Screenplay Oscar. Maybe Best Picture. It captures the current mood of this country effortlessly - economic depression, restlessness, transiency, isolation. Darkly funny, inspiring, insightful and a little sad, it should be the time capsule movie of this era. And it features a guest appearance from Sears-favorite J.K. Simmons. Just a well-written, well-acted, original film. They don't grow on trees anymore, so I cherish the ones I do find.

Rating: **** 1/2

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Voice of reason

Looks like half my Facebook friends are ready to run away from crazy right-wing Massachusetts to a more sane, forward-looking state, like Florida.

"Democracy is dead!"


"Ted Kennedy's work is down the drain!"

Calm down, people. I'm upset and disgusted as you are. I just worked out my frustrations on Wii Sports, so my head is clear and I'm here to serve my usual role: the Voice of "Chill the F*&^ Out."

The 2010 Midterms are 10 months away. An absolute eternity in politics. There are bad signs for the Democrats all over the place, and Scott Brown's victory in communist haven Massachusetts is one of them. Add a bad economy and complete ineffectiveness in Washington and you have quite an angry electorate ready to punish incumbents and/or the incumbent party.

However, this is Massachusetts. They voted for McGovern in 1972. They would have voted for McGovern in 2004, as well, over George Bush. A Democrat starts off with a huge advantage. In baseball terms, the Dem is the closer who comes in with the score 8-2 in the ninth. Most closers finish the job if they have any common sense or a scintilla of ability. Some closers - think Eric Gagne - will find a way to screw it up.

Enter Martha Coakley. She did 19 events after she won the primary. Scott Brown did more than 60. She called Curt Schilling a Yankee fan. She laughed at the thought of shaking hands outside Fenway Park in the cold. She ran no ads until the final few weeks. She went on vacation during the campaign.

She thought, with an 8-2 lead, she wouldn't even have to pitch. And when she realized she had to throw something, she threw junk. And no we're here.

This was an epically bad campaign. It will go in the history books. Brown deserves some credit. He out-worked her by a mile. But he was a no-name state senator with no real record and he even posed nude in a magazine once. Any Dem worth a damn should have beaten him, even in a tough climate. This is Massachusetts after all. But elections aren't handed to anyone (unless you're W. in 2000). Coakley never understood that. I bet she does now.

Nationwide, the Democratic response has been predictable. Finger-pointing, excuse-making, whimpering, pathetic, petty defeatism. Now they only have 59 seats in the Senate! My God! Fifty-nine out of a hundred? That's not a majority!

Not to worry, the Dems know how to fix this. Act more like Republicans. It worked after the 1994 election. The Donkeys retreated to the right and went on to take back Congress in 1996. Oh wait, they didn't. But in 1998, they stampeded to victory. Actually, that never happened. But surely tacking to the right will help you beat Republicans. They'll stop saying mean things about you and then you can beat them. That's how it works. Don't bother standing for actual principals or anything. That never works.

They're playing right into the Republicans hands now, proclaiming the death of health care. Will House progressives pass the imperfect, but still worth passing, health bill the Senate passed, meaning Brown won't be able to scuttle it? Nah. Better to pass nothing, they say. Start over. Or just give up. Read this from Josh Marshall. He sums up what I think perfectly. They have to pass something. They've worked on this for a year. They can't stop now, unless they want to turn a beating in November to a Guadalcanal-level blood bath. Suck it up and pass the bill in its current form. It is the only option.

Too bad Democrats are afraid of their own shadow, the little brother to the Republicans. They're the bank teller that puts up his hands after handing over the money when a conservative points his finger under his shirt to mimic a gun.

"Put 'em up!"

"Of course, sir! Take it all."

They still have 59 seats in the Senate. Bush could never have dreamed of such a margin. Imagine if he had such a majority. Reading would be outlawed, clearing brush would be our national past-time and we'd have invaded Belgium and Peru. With 60 votes (and soon to be 59), Obama and the Blue Team could not pass a "Sun is Hot" bill. Once the first syllable of "filibuster" sputters out of some Ken-doll, car-salesman conservative's mouth, they'd collectively piss their pants and allow that perhaps the sun is not as hot as we once thought. Let's study it and get back to you in 30 years.

Where does this all leave us? There's a Republican (who drives a truck like a true American) in Ted Kennedy's Senate seat. Martha Coakley should go out to Idaho with Bill Buckner and never show her face east of the Mississippi again. The Blue Team will cry that they can't do anything because instead of the super-majority, which they used to pass .... nothing, they only have a majority. It would be like the Yankees saying, "We can't win the World Series this year. We lost Jerry Hairston Jr." Fox News will declare the Democrats dead for the next 3,000 years. And they'll demand Obama resign and install G. Gordon Liddy as president. Health care may be passed and some voters might punish the Dems for that. Or health care could die, and the voters WILL annihilate them for it. My Facebook buddies will soon forget this ever happened. Scott Brown will be out of the Senate in three years when he thinks he can vote like James Inhofe and then he'll appear on Fox News as the "moderate" in a balanced panel that includes Genghis Khan, Michelle Malkin and Torquemada.

And we'll still be left with an utterly broken political system, owned by special interests, ruined by the one place where progress goes to die - the United States Senate. We'll still have, as I read somewhere, a bus where every passenger can put on the brakes, making sure the bus goes nowhere. And there's not much we can do.

Despite all this, the Democrats are still better than the Republicans. At least they're trying to reform health care. The Republicans, despite all their years in power, never even bothered. So the Dems are better, just not by enough.

(Maybe I'm not the voice of reason after all.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Something to add

Oops. I meant to include some photos of the old office so you could compare and contrast. Since I don't feel like going back into my previous post, I'll just add them here.

See the improvement?

Movin' on up

Last week, CBS Interactive moved to its brand new, state-of-the-art office. Knowing that you are dying for pictorial evidence and since I'm such a helpful person, I decided to take a few snapshots.

Right away, this is a huge improvement. Our old office had "Pizza Fusion" emblazoned above its front entrance, something that bristled everyone at CBS. Now we have a sign. It's a start.

The Octotron. The heart of the new office, this behemoth boasts of eight flat-screen televisions poised over a conference table we in the newsroom use for our weekday budget meetings. It's very possible this thing is a Decepticon and will kill us all. I just gave Michael Bay the idea for Transformers 3.

I took these on a Saturday night, so the office is mostly empty, except for us copy desk folk. These are a few of my workmates who are pretending to be very busy for the camera.

My desk. Some random things on my desk: Family Guy birthday cards, a Patriots pennant, a penguin, a Jack Bauer card, a mini rugby ball and an autograph from Patriots legend Roosevelt Colvin.

Most of the other desks look like this. Many others come equipped with their own HD television sets. Good for them.

The cafeteria, a huge improvement over the old one because it's a cafeteria. A place to eat. We only had a small room with two tables and some vending machines in the former office. Look at the pretty colors!

The Game Room. This is sweet. A pool table. A Nintendo Wii. Foozeball. And a ping-pong table. Is it the Mono Lisa of ping-pong tables? No, that honor rests with the Schaible-Hosseini masterpiece (or the Hosseini-Schaible project, pending litigation). It'll be tough to find time to come here all that often during working hours, but this is still the best part of the new building.

So there you go. The new place is a big improvement. The carpet is fresh. The office has that new office smell. There's light. There's openness. There are TVs bigger than thumbnails. Some small issues include not being able to get into the building without calling someone to let you in. Small hiccup. Our cards don't work on the outside door. The new phones are not working perfectly yet, either. Neither are some computers.

For the most part, the move went smoothly and some people worked around the clock (like Harrison Ford) to meet the target date. All in all, we're happy with our new digs. Aren't you jealous?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yeah baby!

I have finally found my true love.

And her name is Samsung.

See that beauty? She's a sensual, tender being. And I've been spending a lot of time with her. Too much time, actually. You could say I'm whipped.

I've wanted one of these for years, and with a little Christmas help, I finally went out and bought one. She's a 42-inch plasma. And to keep her company, I purchased a Blu-Ray DVD player. My first Blu-Ray movie? L.A. Confidential. It looked amazing.

For the past few nights, I've played 24 on my new toy. I'm used to watching my favorite show on a small TV screen, so to see it in large HD format is a delight.

It's been a busy week for me, and I'm not used to busy weeks. First, I bought this TV and the TV stand upon which she rests. Then I put it all together. Then I waited in line for almost an hour to retrieve the HD cable box. Meanwhile, is moving out of its old office this week. We move Wednesday. We took semi-mandatory classes on how to use the new phones. I've done my self and peer evaluations. The temperature in Florida has hit the 30s and the state is in panic mode.

I even watched the first half of that abomination in Foxborough. My first HD football event. The images looked great. The Patriots ... that's another story.

It's safe to say I won't be leaving the apartment for the next few months other than to eat, work and yell at kids for playing on my lawn. What reason do I have to venture out into the dangerous sun light?

I've found The One.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome, 2010

To say hello to 2010, I must say goodbye to 2009. How did I do it? I went to Rhode Island of course.

I'm back in Florida after my yearly winter trip back to he State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations and the crowded home of my parents. My sisters and their significant others packed into our modest house for Christmas while Jelly ran around biting me. I didn't get many presents. I just wanted to money so I could fulfill my lifelong dream of buying a nice, new HD television. My mom said I should wait for Super Bowl sales, but I don't want to. Ever since I was a little boy running in the cornfields, I've wanted one. I don't think I can wait. What's your take?

Anyway, I saw my New England friends. I drank too much (for me). I flipped through my old schoolbook records to find out my mom saved almost every report card I ever received. I found a Rae Carruth rookie card. I went to Applebees but not Dunkin Donuts. I attended a Winter Classic cookout on New Year's Day. I saw Avatar and loved it. I played Doctor Mario on the Wii and sucked at it. I watched 24: Season 7 on DVD. I made up with Jelly.

And now I'm back in Florida. I have to say, it was the first time during a vacation that I wanted to go back about halfway through. It's not that I don't miss the people, but there's just nothing there for me anymore. That fact just hit me like a ton of bricks. I'll hang out with people I won't see for another 12 months, if that. And most of those people are moving on in life, getting engaged, getting married, having kids. I just drop in for a minute, catch up, tell people where I work and how I like Florida, then I'm back on a plane.

More and more, this area is feeling like home. Not that I love Florida or hate it, but it's where I'm most comfortable. It's where I have my bed, my car and my nocturnal job.

Enough with the introspection. Let's get to a few random things from the past week or so.

  • I just finished watching Paranormal Activity and I wasn't impressed. Creepy, no doubt. My heart quickened a few times. But I wasn't scared. The Ring freaked me out much more than this movie. Also, I know this makes me a bad person, but I would have run for the hills after Night 5 or so if I was seeing that girl. Admit it, you would have, too.
  • I take the blame for the Wes Welker injury. I just had to take out the Drew Bledsoe jersey. Damn you, Steve! The Pats are now a longshot. Welker makes that offense go. Randy Moss provides the big plays, but Welker moved the sticks. A team that can't run the ball, can't hold leads, can't make comebacks, can't score in the second half, can't stop the pass and can't rush the passer probably won't make it to the Super Bowl.
  • Quentin Tarrentino falls in love with his diaologue to his detriment sometimes. Inglourious Basterds was a good movie, but some of those scene could have been cut in half. We didn't need five minuted ordering and eating strudels. It's like he thinks, "Damn, I can write great dialouge! So let's keep going ... and going ... and going." Pulp Fiction would have been perfect if he cut all that useless crap with Bruce Willis' girlfriend. Same thing applies to this movie.
  • I dislike Bernard Pollard. Really dislike him.
  • Watch your knee if you're a Boston athlete. Tom Brady. Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Wes Welker. I want Josh Beckett to put his knee in a titanium brace.
  • Avatar is the best special effects movie I've ever seen.
  • I heard Passion Pit for the first time and I'm hooked. "The Reeling" is an awesome song. I heard that band at least five times on the radio in Rhode Island. They wouldn't get within 500 miles of mainstream rock airwaves in South Florida. Wouldn't want to infringe on Nickleback hour.
  • Was Bernard Pollard on the grassy knoll, too?
  • My mom has a book that marks my evolution through school, from first grade to 12th. I don't have as much hair as I used to. I did better than I remember in elementary school and rocked the crap out of Bain, though it wasn't enough to earn Honors recommendations from my teachers. I was reminded I attended a special arts class back near the fifth grade. And I suck at art. My words of wisdom in my sixth grade yearbook: "Act maturely and you'll do fun things." Yeah, I was cool.
  • It served as a "This Is Your Life" moment. From when I wanted to be a carpenter, to when I wanted to be a lawyer or doctor until I finally discovered my prodigious writing talents.
  • I immensely enjoyed watching one NFL Sunday in peace.
  • Art Lake is missed in Rhode Island.
  • I'm the only person in Cranston under 30 without an iPhone.
  • Everyone in Cranston works for GTech
  • Everyone in Cranston hates working for GTech.
  • It snowed again on New Year's Eve. And I shoveled.
  • New Year's Eve is much more fun if you're willing to get wasted. I'm not, so I just watch others get wasted.
  • I saw drunken men grinding on other men. I saw a man moon people at a bar. I heard "Livin' on a Prayer" on karoke. I lived Rhode Island for a week-and-a-half. That was more than enough.