Wednesday, February 27, 2013

LET THEM ENTERTAIN YOU...miraculously - they did (mostly)


Well, another year, another Oscars wrapped for posterity. This year I was laid up on my posterior, hence my very late entry into the assessment pool of how it all went.  And it’s saying a good deal that in all that time for convalescence I didn’t find much to poo-poo about the 85th annual Academy Awards. It was frothy, flighty and fun-filled; something all Oscar telecasts should be. Note to the producers: you have a whole year to prepare. You ought to be able to come up with something to amuse us for a few hours! This year, mercifully, they did.  
The Oscars are only 20% about who’s going to win. Most of us can predict the outcome with better than average odds. Yes, the Hollywood sycophants are that obvious. Moreover, they tend to cram the pre-Oscar race with their own predictions that, if you’re paying close attention, actually sound a lot like insider trading info, in that jejune, not so terribly clever, hint-hint way for the tabloids to stir into a chaotic frenzy by the end of February. Depending on one’s point of view the Oscars either lived up or down to one’s overall expectations. My vote is for the former.
What I saw was about what I expected. A few upsets. Argo winning Best Picture over Lincoln – yuck! I also could have done without Seth MacFarlane’s quip about John Wilkes Booth being the only man to ever get inside Lincoln’s head. Ditto for the whole TedHollywood is run by Jews’ commentary and MacFarlane’s opening number where he singled out actresses who have flashed us their cookies over the years. Tactless. Dumb. Catering to the lowest common denominator.
Overall, though, I must say MacFarlane wasn’t quite the screw up I expected. That was unexpected in a good way. He obviously has talent and occasionally showed it, particularly with his singing. If only the material had been better. Seconds after MacFarlane departed the stage the internet was abuzz with that all too familiar sort of epic and very malignant host bashing that ripped apart MacFarlane for everything from his aforementioned Lincoln joke to the way he combed his hair. Very petty comments indeed.
I am generally not a fan of Seth MacFarlane and very much not a fan of his debut movie Ted that had about as much appeal for me as a nude sculpture of Steve Buscemi. But MacFarlane unequivocally proved he can host an Oscar telecast with the slickest, polish, a sly wink and nudge, and yes, a few off color remarks that may not be everyone's cup of tea, but ran the gamut from the casually tasteless to downright amusing.
He was in fine voice too. Those who don't particularly care for MacFarlane's ‘Family Guy’ brand of humor shouldn’t be surprised that he lived up (or down, again, depending on one's point of view) to that standard. Yet he was congenial, highly professional in his delivery (if not always in his viewpoint) and kept what is often a painfully leaden show, moving at a very brisk and mostly diversionary pace. Bravo and kudos for pulling it off as well as he did.
Yes, MacFarlane carries with him a Rock of Gibraltar sized ego. But he’s put his money where his mouth is. He is a super talent. He can write, direct, act, sing the standards better than Michael Buble and do a pretty damn fine tap and/or soft shoe shuffle. Hollywood loves a triple threat, or rather, loves to hate them. On Oscar night, MacFarlane had his fingers in a lot of pies. That takes more than guts. It takes genuine talent and MacFarlane, despite his ego, has it in spades.
For the rest: In her ‘In Memoriam’ tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch, Barbra Streisand looked like a latex puppet and croaked like a toad. Clearly, her singing days are over. As she wheezed through the Oscar-winning ‘The Way We Were’ she was breathing so heavily into the mike I thought she was going to have a coronary.  I guess fans of la Streisand will have to be contented with her appearing as Seth Rogen’s belligerent control freak mom in ‘The Guilt Trip’.
The tribute to Bond, James Bond was absolutely spectacular. 76 years young Shirley Bassey, who originated the Goldfinger  title song in 1964 sang it with a presence and power that I suspect rattled cobwebs down from the rafters of the Kodak Theater. 50 years later? You go girl! Bassey absolutely did the Bond franchise and herself proud. She looked fabulous too. What a class act!
Argo isn’t Best Picture material though, and Ben Affleck wandering off on his frenetic, breathless tangent during what amounted to a part criticism of the establishment/part acceptance speech didn’t make me love the film or him any better. Angry man on stage? Go home and be glad you’re making millions instead of asking someone if they want fries with their order!
Overall, the acceptance speeches were passable. None really stood out, but none were God awful crash n’ burns either. If anything they held true to the adage Billy Crystal shared a few years ago, telling the audience that there’s nothing better than watching a bunch of white rich people pat themselves on the back.  
Quentin Tarantino’s acceptance diatribe for his ‘kill all the white people’ revisionist western ‘Django Unchained’ was fairly hapless and thoroughly mind numbing. I suspect we’re all quite fortunate that Tarantino’s made it in the movies. His career choices were either the arts or becoming a serial killer. Truly, the more I see of him and his movies the more I believe he’s seriously mentally ill. Today’s Hollywood loves its psychotics.
I was also contented that Quvenzhané Wallis did not win for ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. Nine years old and already a prima donna.  After flexing her…um…muscles during the reading of the nominations I took particular notice there weren’t any cutaways to her reaction when it was announced Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for ‘Silver Lining Playbook’ – a plot-less, thoughtless film about two screwed up junkies in desperate need of a good head shake.
Daniel Day-Lewis was a given as Best Actor for his oft’ quirky portrait of Lincoln. I mean, did anyone seriously think Bradley Cooper would take home the little gold bald guy instead?!? Day-Lewis’s win now elevates him to a rarity among Oscar winners – the only male in history to win 3 Best Actor statuettes. Only Kate Hepburn outranks him now – 4 Best Actress Oscars. 
No surprise that Anne Hathaway took home Best Supporting Actress honors either. She did Les Miserables proud.  Overall, Les Miserables didn’t do it for me though – a bloated pop-opera that was more curiously grandiose than emotionally satisfying. So I didn’t expect it to take home Best Picture. I did think that honor would go to Lincoln. But alas Hollywood continues its genuine aversion toward Spielberg, perhaps because his cinematic genius knows no bounds and can easily eclipse that of most any other director currently working in films.
Lest we forget that Spielberg is the visionary who defined a whole new generation of blockbusters with Jaws; the man who gave us the thought-provoking Close Encounters of the Third Kind, whimsically sentimental E.T., emotionally epic The Color Purple; to say nothing of Amistad, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Empire of the Sun, War Horse and of course, Schindler’s List – the only film for which he has been justly honored with a Best Director statuette. For the rest, he’s been rarely nominated and wholly overlooked.
But hey, anyone who knows even the most superficial details about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences also knows that Oscar is not about accurately assessing artistic quality. It’s about how many palms are greased along the way to get the nom’ and then, how successfully one can ride those coattails to a win. Spielberg has been remarkably graceful and circumspect at NOT playing this insider’s game. That shows restraint, fortitude and incredible tact; commodities few in Hollywood then or now know anything about!
The production design for this year’s telecast also looked fabulous – less chintz and kitsch, more glam and good taste. No wardrobe misfires either. I do think there was a major flub in the way the Best Song nominees were presented this year. We had two fully fleshed out performances and then three song snippets mashed together for the other nominees before Adele walked away with the little gold bald guy – as expected – for Skyfall.
I must confess this year’s Oscars were an all-around glittery and fitting tribute to the industry: splashy, occasionally classy, and practically painless to watch – everything an Oscar telecast should be. MacFarlane has said he’ll not do another. I think that’s a mistake and a shame. Despite some minor hiccups he proved he could think incredibly quick on his feet and he remained unruffled and professional throughout the entire evening, although as he casually commented, he planned to get stinking drunk to take the edge off at the Vanity Fair party after the show. Pretty funny stuff.
The most ridiculously shameless part of the night’s entertainment was Michele Obama presenting the Best Picture Oscar to Argo with Jack Nicholson’s woefully bad assist.  Argo, as everyone knows, is the tale of a bunch of American operatives rescuing their hostages in Iran by masquerading as a Canadian documentary film company.  Curious that Michele Obama would present these honors to a film depicting the successful evacuation of Americans from the Middle East when her own husband was utterly powerless to save Ambassador Chris Stevens and the likes from a similar fate in Benghazi this past year. Or maybe I should say – curious and very, VERY deliberate!
As for Jack Nicholson; he came across as either very drunk, slightly crazy or just damn near close to succumbing to Alzheimer’s; what with his nutty professor haircut, goofy grin, rambling thoughts, and, appearing about as rumpled, dimpled and pimpled as Aretha Franklin’s ass.
But Mrs. Obama cast as ‘the first’ First Lady of the Oscars. Why not give her, her own talk show, or a reoccurring anchorage on NBC’s nightly news, or commission her for some infomercials for Spanks? Personal opinion of course, but I am sick and tired of the broad-brushed media agenda to push the Obamas in our faces wherever and whenever the spirit moves the Hollywood libs in strange and not all too wonderful ways. Like it or not, the Obamas are America’s first couple. But they’re not pop tarts to be exploited and inserted into any old awards show like a Las Vegas lounge act desperately craving the spotlight. No, Michelle’s appearance didn’t ruin the Oscars for me. But it didn’t exactly cap off the night’s programming on a high note either!
Still, this year’s Oscar telecast was easily the best of the last 10 years. We won’t go into just how bad the last few years have been, although my sincerest hope is that James Franco will NEVER hosts anything ever again! Ditto for Anne Hathaway. That ought to be a feather in Seth MacFarlane’s cap. Next year’s festivities arguably have nowhere to go but down. My prediction is that’s likely the direction they will take. We’ll see.

Friday, August 17, 2012

THE U.K.’S OLYMPICS STILL AN UGLY SPECTACLE


Well, first I want to address some of the mail I’ve been getting in my private email regarding my outright criticism of Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremonies fiasco. 

It seems that some of you have had very strong feelings about anyone who would take the opportunity to point out that what occurred at both the opening and closing ceremonies was not a celebration of British culture per say, but nothing short of a debasement of British heritage in general, reconstituted as apologetic and apocalyptic tripe and a dismantling of British nationalism in particular. I stand by these opinions. The show was terrible!

The Olympics are not an excuse to cramp as much major – or even minor – homegrown talent into one gargantuan street concert that basically takes the postmodern ironic (or rather moronic) approach to poking fun at everything. They are an opportunity to celebrate the very best that a society has to offer in support of the Olympic spirit in general and the current games in particular. 

Mr. Boyle’s Olympic ceremonies were loud, obnoxious and frankly, disappointing. Occasionally, they veered dangerous close into Tim Burton-land – especially during the extended London Children’s Hospital ménage that would have given any tiny tot nightmares. There, I said it. Go ahead and criticize me for it. Frankly, I don’t give a damn.

Nor will I address any of the overtly rude sentiments in particular that were lobbed at me for simply offering a critique of the way I thought the events unfolded. You’re all more than welcome to freak out on this blog about what you believed to be my ‘jealousy’ over a ‘rum good show’; although I suspect only with a quart of good rum might I have remotely enjoyed the ceremonies as they occurred myself!

Be that as it may, I intend to address one young lady who wrote me from Brisbane and said “Who do you think you are? I can tell you who you are – nobody! And a nobody should keep his mouth shut when talking about a world class talent like Mr. Danny Boyle. Do you honestly think you could have done better?”

Apparently this woman was not only angry with me but also a censorship Nazi.  My opinion differs from hers so I have no business sharing it with anyone else as far as she is concerned. Well, to answer your question, madam – yes, I do think I could have done better.

But to put my money where my mouth is I see I shall have to prove it by basically re-orchestrating the whole opening ceremony from the ground up. So what follows is the British Olympic opening ceremony according to yours truly. This is exactly how I would have staged a fitting tribute to the British Isles and to the traditions of the Olympic Games; remaining faithfully respectful to British history and culture and the history of the games themselves. 

You may have other thoughts on the matter. But telling me to go to hell or drop dead does not count. Belligerence is inexcusable. I don’t intend to start tolerating it now!

So, my opening Olympic ceremony would have begun with a ‘Parade of Monarchs’ accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic, St. Paul’s choir and the London Philharmonic Choir appearing center stage on a slowly rotating platform, so that at one point or another they would all be facing virtually everyone in the crowd, thus giving the audience ample opportunity for optimal photo ops throughout their performance. 

The musical program would have kicked off with some 16th and 17th century ballads such as Martin Parker’s ‘When the King Enjoys His Own Again, Men of Harloch, R.L. Harrison’s ‘King Arthur’, ‘The Brisk Young Lively Lad’ and ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellinor’.  

Virtually every one of England’s once reigning kings or queens would have entered Olympic stadium in their coronation gown or robe, appropriately accompanied by a vista of their courtiers, knights and royal guards to the pomp and circumstance of Rule Britannia until they had formed a massive circle around the outer parameter of the stadium floor.

This circle would continue to march proudly around the stadium while the rotating platform containing the orchestra and choirs slowly moved to one corner of the stadium as they continued to play. A gigantic crown would rise from the center of the stadium floor, its full height towering over the crowd and gleaning in a lightshow of rubies, emeralds and diamonds. 

Eventually, the rim of the crown would part to reveal Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in a horse drawn carriage, flanked by the Buckingham Palace Royal Guard on either side as the orchestra and choirs broke into a patriotic rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ – at which point the other pretend 'monarchs' would all halt their procession and stand vigilant to honor the present sovereign liege.

As Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip made their way to their box in the stadium an army of jousters on horseback would charge center court. We would be treated to a ‘Camelot’ styled spectacle of dueling, conquering, brawling and championing, signifying the struggle and victory of battle and sportsmanship in the era of knights and their ladies fair.

Suddenly we would hear and air raid siren and the explosion of bombs in the distance signifying the darker moments of world war. But from this deluge we would also hear the strains of ‘Amazing Grace’ and then ‘Jerusalem’. 

The British Armed Forces would enter in a display of military might, sporting an ensemble of various uniforms worn over the decades by their personnel from the beginning of the Armed Forces creation to its present regulation uniforms worn by those who currently serve. Each group would carry a portion of a massive banner into Olympic stadium that gradually formed the words “for Queen and country”.

This show of military might would yield to members from the various London Theater Guilds all dressed in various costumes from Shakespeare’s most celebrated stage works. Renown thespians like Derek Jacobi, Kenneth Branagh, Rufus Sewell, Nicholas Farrell and so on would recite various famous and inspirational sonnets and speeches, the center stage made up of a sort of pointillist overhead shot of the bard’s famous bust, creating a stipple effect in rising spires.

From here, other actors impersonating their favorite authors would transfer their recitations to increasingly more contemporary British authorship that has impacted the world. Quotes from the likes of Charles Dickens, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Lewis Carroll, J.M Barrie, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Noel Coward, Agatha Christie, A.A. Milne, P.L. Travers and their like would be accompanied by incarnations of their literary creations. 

For example, we would see characters from Great Expectations, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities and so on, surround the person receipting Dickens.  A.A. Milne would have been accompanied by Winnie the Pooh and other adorable members from the Hundred Acre Woods. P.L. Travers would have been surrounded by fresh faced Mary Poppins and sullied chimney sweeps; Robert Lewis Stevenson by the cast of Treasure Island; Lewis Carroll by a cortege from Alice in Wonderland – you get the picture. Enough said. I would have extolled the victors rather than the villains of British lit; the literary creations that warmed our hearts and inspired our souls.

This mélange would yield to a tribute to Britain’s immeasurable contributions to the silver screen. A cavalcade of makeshift movie screens would be driven into the stadium for form a giant circle in the forecourt onto which projected likenesses of gone but not forgotten actors would appear.

We would see Rex Harrison, Elizabeth Taylor, Cary Grant, David Niven, John Mills, Noel Coward, Jack Hawkins, Michael Redgrave, Claude Rains, Roddy McDowell, Richard Burton, Lawrence Olivier, John Gielgud, Richard Harris, Peter Ustinov, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Vivien Leigh, James Mason, Charlie Chaplin, Alan Bates and so on at their finest hours.

From an invisible porthole in the middle of Olympic park, with a projecting image of a rotating movie reel cast onto the floor, there would rise a veritable who’s who of current living British talent on parade, including Julie Andrews, Maggie Smith, Peter O’Toole, Angela Lansbury, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Sean Bean, John Cleese, Hugh Laurie, Michael Caine, Colin Firth, Ian Holm, Ben Kingsley, Jim Broadbent, Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet, Bob Hoskins, Alan Rickman, John Hurt, Christopher Lee, Joan Plowright, Julie Christie, Anthony Hopkins, Albert Finney, Daniel Day-Lewis and so on. You would have felt the full weight and presence of all that glorious talent Britain has given the world of film throughout the 20th century.

Next the orchestra would strike up John Barry’s immortal James Bond theme. An army of men and women, dressed entirely from head to foot in blue, red or white would rush in from all corners of the stadium to form a living emblem of the Union Jack. A cavalcade of cars made famous from the James Bond franchise (Goldfinger’s Aston Martin, The Spy Who Loved Me’s submersible Lotus Esprit and so on) would drive around the stadium and another small army of women evoking the various Bond girls would come in.

The Union Jack performers would part down the middle as six of the most easily identifiable cars in the Bond film franchise drove into center court and all of the actors who had ever played Britain’s most amiable super spy – Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig – emerged, one from each vehicle, to stand side by side in their dapper tuxedoes and utter the famous line, “My name is Bond. James Bond.”

The evening would conclude with Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire; the stadium plunged into blackness as the Philharmonic begins to play. 2100 men and women dressed in black from the waist up to conceal them, and only from the waist down dressed in glow in the dark white tights would race around Olympic stadium in ever constricting circles until they had formed the Olympic rings with their racing feet. 

This Busby-Berkeley-esque pattern would break with the men and women forming one gigantic circle within many circles, still running, in intermitted clockwise and counterclockwise patterns as the floor beneath them slowly rose in staggered increments to build a massive circular pyramid of racing feet rising upward to the sky.

At one point theses circles of runners would begin to run in place, the side of the pyramid yielding to a massive stairway. The final runner in the Olympic torch bearer journey would race into Olympic stadium in full spotlight, up the staircase to the top of the pyramid and thrust his or her flame into its apex, thus revealing the Olympic torch that would burst into flames shooting high into the night sky, with a fanfare of fireworks exploding high overhead as the orchestra concluded its performance.
   
And that’s how I would have paid homage to Britain at the 2012 Olympic Games. It may not be your cup of tea, but frankly it would have been mine and enjoyed with a warm cup firmly in hand, pinkies up, biscuit nearby, and with a smile, a tear and a sentiment for all things great and small – the subtleties as well as the spectacles of life kept in checks and balances without an overflow of gush, slush and goo that Mr. Boyle’s contributions had in spades! 

You might have different plans and/or ideas about all of this and that’s just fine and dandy. But urinating on mine isn’t very productive. So, who’s jealous now?

@Nick Zegarac 2012 (all rights reserved).

Saturday, July 28, 2012


OLYMPIC CATASTROPHE
Danny Boyle’s razzamatazz really didn’t do it for me

by Nick Zegarac

Last night Danny Boyle officially christened the 30th Olympiad in London with a rather frenetic display of dumb show that quite simply failed to excite. It isn’t that the creative choices made along the way were uninspired. But Boyle’s craft as a film maker seems to have been working against him. The extended ‘flight over England’ opening montage unraveled at a dragonfly’s frenzied pace, feeling more like a Disney-Epcot attraction as it dipped and soared in and out of famous London landmarks, enough to frequently unsettle the equilibrium.

From this great height the ceremonies had nowhere else to go but down – and they did. The interminable agrarian segment opened with Kenneth Branagh receipting a brief passage from Shakespeare’s The Tempest as milkmaids and farmers pleasantly cavorted amidst live sheep, geese, cows and poultry. There really wasn’t much of a point to any of it, except to water down the national perception of jolly ol’ England as a quaint pastoral hamlet where everyone pranced through life untouched by wars or plague.

From here Boyle chose a most typical and pedestrian postmodern approach to his material, making short shrift of virtually all of England’s world contributions by poking fun at some while extolling mostly the darkness of others.  The industrial age, as example, that revolutionized England and brought about its enduring prosperity, was reconceived by Boyle as a monstrous destruction of that idyllic green isle, complete with apocalyptic billowing smoke stacks rising up from the stadium floor. A sort of J.R.R. Tolken inspired forging of the Olympic rings followed: a sweltering foundry, accompanied by a rough and tumble motley crew of sweat-soaked, dower-faced factory workers.

The great villains of British literature were exorcised in a nightmarish parade to the tune of a slightly revamped Tubular Bells from The Exorcist. This capped off the overly long and just plain creepy infomercial for London’s Children Hospital and Health Services with its even more chilling and gargantuan Casper-eque glowing baby taking center stage as it shimmered like an ill-omened ghostly precursor of things yet to come.

Obviously well tots were wheeled out on ominously glowing hospital beds and gurneys by a solemn gaggle of nurses and physicians dressed in period attire, to be terrorized by their worst nightmares. We were given leering likenesses of Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil and that thing from Harry Potter. There were also brief glimpses of The Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland.
But where, oh where, were the heroes of British literature? Overlooking Peter Pan, Alice, Winnie the Pooh, Robin Hood and even Harry Potter himself, Boyle’s production leapt ahead into a woeful mishmash of predigested vignettes. The worst of these was easily the ode to family and technology that frequently cut away from the stadium to filmic inserts of an interracial couple having to cope with their more techno-savvy offspring who just wanted to party and text all night long.

But Boyle succumbed into pure undiluted camp with yet another filmed segment as Daniel Craig’s Bond arrived at Buckingham Palace to collect the Queen in a helicopter. More dizzying aerial shots of London, and then a tasteless glimpse of an actress dressed as Elizabeth plummeting from the copter with a parachute strapped to her back. The real monarch emerged from behind a wall and took her place in the box with an incredulous look about her that endured throughout the garish spectacle, but with a vibrant Prince Philip at her side. Apparently, Craig did not survive the jump! Perhaps a more fitting tribute to the iconography of Bond might have been all of the actors who played Britain’s most amiable super spy over the years (all of whom are still very much alive) arriving en masse in Aston Martins or submersible Lotus Esprit.
Unfortunately, when it came to extolling Britain’s overwhelming contributions to the world of entertainment, Boyle’s kitsch and coo was more focused on knocking rather than celebrating the fond memories of its bygone days. The Beatles, arguably the most enduring of all British 60s pop groups, were briefly reincarnated in a parade of men dressed in Sergeant Pepper garb, leaving an over the hill Sir Paul McCartney to truly fracture the band’s Hey Jude later in the ceremony. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean fluffed off Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire, first by attempting to pick his nose and then wipe his finger clean while pretending to play one note on a synthesizer, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra; then by daydreaming himself into the original movie’s famed running sequence, only to trip up the competition and win the race.  

There were no references – or even filmic inserts – of the many iconic British talents who have enriched our appreciation over the years for great acting; Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole, Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier, Peter Finch, Rex Harrison, James Mason, Cary Grant, Ronald Colman, David Niven, Peter Sellers et al. These, and others like them, apparently had no place in Boyle’s chaotic thrashing. And neither did the likes of Tom Jones, Lulu or Petula Clark when it came to celebrating the country’s contributions to music. Instead, Boyle’s production was top heavily focused on the noisier bands that marked England’s pop culture. As if to further snub the stately grandeur of the monarchy, Boyle included a fleeting insert of the Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen – a notorious revision of the more traditional anthem once banned in England.

Save the always welcome parade of nations – a staggering display of 10,500 athletes entering the stadium en masse, the overall tone and mood of the opening ceremonies was more dark than colorful. P.L. Traver’s Mary Poppins looked more like one of the chimney sweeps; an umbrella toting gargoyle dressed entirely in black as she descended from out of the clouds.  For the grand finale, soccer legend David Beckham drove a raging speedboat beneath Tower Bridge with one of the torch bearers firmly clutching a bizarre trumpet-shaped funnel of flames.
But the igniting of the central torch in Olympic Stadium was somewhat diffused by having seven teenage athletes share in the moment. Meant to show solidarity among all athletes, this united front instead became something of a postmodernist apology and/or footnote to the way competition in all aspects of life – not just sports – is viewed today. There are no winners or losers – just one great community of achievers.

Prior to unleashing his noisy three hour plus stomp and grind, with its stovepipe hatted gentlemen and infantilized milkmaids performing some truly out of sync choreography that, at least at times looked like a painfully bad homage to either Vanilla Ice or M.C. Hammer, Danny Boyle went public with a forewarning of what we were to expect.

“You can’t get bigger than Beijing,” said Boyle, “We’ll try and do something different.” Last night’s opening ceremony was just that – different! But there was no pomp and pageantry to any of it: just a lot of overzealous vulgarity and clamor, a woefully strained attempt to mask the rather miniscule $40 million dollar budget, dwarfed by Beijing’s $100 million dollar super spectacular.  

Money isn’t everything. And arguably, another director could have done much more or even better on a budget half as much. But was England’s opener truly worthy of the time-honored Olympic spirit? While the Queen, Prince William and Kate understandably looked as though they would rather be elsewhere for most of the festivities, a gregarious showman dedicated to the glorification of such ostentation like Florenz Ziegfeld would not have been surprised.    

Friday, December 30, 2011

DON'T CRY ME A RIVER!

Dear Crabby:


My mother won't forgive me. Honestly I don't know how long that woman intends to hold her grudge. I'm 39. When I was 15 I went with a pretty wicked crowd. We drank and did a lot of drugs and I ran away from home and was involved in some pretty crazy stuff. I broke into houses to feed my habits. I even beat up a few people for money. I wrecked a few cars, tore up the house and was in and out of jail. The last time I was in for nearly 6 years.



Two years ago I found God and the help I needed and got my (act) together. I've been sober and upstanding ever since. But my mom, the one person who's supposed to love me unconditionally doesn't even want me to come over and visit her. That's cold. I don't know what to do about it. Telephoning and email hasn't worked and neither has my confronting her at the grocery store. She didn't even call me for Christmas. Any help would be appreciated.



Sydney in Missouri




Dear Recovery in Progress:



You've presented me with a double-edge sword of a question so permit me to give you a double-edged sword of an answer. I see addiction differently than most of my contemporaries. I'm wholly unsympathetic to the addict - not because I lack compassion but because I've come to realize that compassion is often seen as weakness by the addict. It's something they think they can manipulate to their advantage.



And if you thought you're mom toted a hard line then I'm afraid you'll find my thoughts on the subject as immovable as five miles of hardened cement. Since it's neither my place or intention to condemn someone who seems to have straightened out their own life, permit me to congratulate you on finally seeing the light.



It only took you 24 years. I suppose 'better late than never' is the adage I'll stick to here. But it does tend to wear thin on my patience. Witnessing the steady decline of this cesspool we laughingly refer to as our pop culture in North America over the last 40 years will do that to you!



Today we often praise and reward those among us who crash and burn but manage to pull themselves from the ashes and then write a tell-all memoir that nets them millions in book sales and a brief stint around the talk show circuit. Frankly, I think that's a bitter and very sad statement on what we're willing to tolerate in our 'culture'. The coddling of addiction - treating it as a social disease - has sent the opposite message to addicts. It says, 'hey, it's okay to be one as long as you get straightened out in the end.' Where the end is, is entirely up to the addict. Gee, how forgiving of us all.



Some celebrities like Lindsay Lohan have made a second career out of their revolving rehab. And every time such celebrities fall from grace they fall back on 'Don't judge! I'm only human.' But not all humans do drugs. Not all humans beat up people and steal their money to feed their habits.



Instead of saying 'good for you' to someone who's reformed after having made such severe mistakes that have nearly cost them their lives, why don't we have the same appreciation for people who never fall into these pits of drunken, drugged out despair in the first place?



Our culture rarely sings the praises of people who do the right thing first. Yet, with increased frequency it's been all too quick to charter a band wagon and throws a ticker-take parade for those who crawl out of the muck and mire they willingly put themselves into in the first place.



I mean, correct me if I'm out of bounds here, but you did shoot or snort whatever your drug of choice was for all those years of your own free will, right? There were no crack junkies holding you down the first time. You weren't locked in a closet, tied to a bed and force fed a daily diet of Jack Daniels and heroin to coerce a confession from you, right? No one stuck the needle into your flesh. No one held a gun to your head and said "Drink this 40 ouncer or I'll kill you."



You did these things. And having 'experimented' once with all these vices you chose to explore them further and escalate, rather than turn away from, your addictions for all these years. I don't care what your reason was. Whether you were angry at mom or just the world in general for not giving you all the things you thought you deserved really doesn't impress me. I don't pity you. I pity the people around you who were not free from your will to abstain from riding this nightmarish roller coaster with you. The ones who had to put up with your crap for 24 years get my sympathy!



Instead of seeking rehab earlier and counseling from professionals and acceptance from your mother by saying "Hey, I'm lost and I need help. Please help me," you left her home and safety at a tender age to become your idea of a badass on your own terms. Congratulations! Mission accomplished.



That you did not die of all your self-abuse is a testament to good genetics, a strong constitution and ultimately the will of God who kept you grounded on earth until such time as you decided to get right with Him. You finally did.



That's commendable. But realize this. That in those 24 years you wasted going down the rabbit hole with a bunch of other burnouts you might just as easily have been committed to more lofty and worthwhile pursuits that would have improved your life and the lives of those around you.



Let's be clear about one thing, Syd. You don't owe your mom a good, honest, clean life. You owe that to yourself. If you've truly found yourself and risen from the stupor I am glad, please and happy for you. You've expelled your demons. The battle's won - though probably not over. That took guts, determination and courage. But you overcame your suffrage by yourself - for yourself.



Sounds to me like mom's still hurt, and angry and maybe just a tad worried that your transformation is just a passing fad - that the minute she embraces you with loving arms you'll turn back into the pumpkin that left her patch so long ago. It doesn't help that you seem to be stalking her on the phone, on the computer and out in public.



Stop that! Give her time. She lived with a drug abusing and very belligerent toad of a human being for 24 years. You want forgiveness for 24 years of the hell you put her through in 24 minutes. That's an unacceptable time line.



You are not entitled to her forgiveness. It's earned. Prove yourself. Not for her sake but for your own. Continue to live clean and move forward from this point in your life. If you're word is your bond then mom will eventually want to reconnect with you - when she's ready. Right now she's not. Give her, her space and accept that it's going to take more than just your word to convince her things have really changed for the better.



You have my best wishes for that reconciliation. But realize that it may or may not happen. Whatever the outcome - you'll have to live with it.



yours truly,


the crabby critic

Monday, February 28, 2011

OSCARS 2011 - A TRAIN WRECK FROM START TO FINISH

Well, another Oscar ceremony is history and in this year's case, definitely not a moment too soon. If you didn't watch last night's ceremonies then congratulations - your I.Q. remains intact. To those of us who tuned in and were mesmerized by the utter atrocity as it painfully unfolded, this was undoubtedly one of the worst Oscar telecasts, not simply in recent years, but of all time.

I thought nothing could top the gutter depravity of watching an overweight Merv Griffin sing 'I've got a Love-a-ly Bunch of Cocoanuts' to a barrage of singing and dancing table tops, or witnessing Rob Lowe and Snow White belting out Proud Mary during the 1989 debacle that was Oscar night. I was sorely mistaken.

Anne Hathaway and James Franco proved to be not only the most lugubrious and brain dead of co-hosts; they also had one of the worst opening acts in Oscar history. Taking their cue from the Best Picture nominated film, Inception - a movie about popping in and out of someone else's dreams - Franco and Hathaway attempted to one up Billy Crystal's past successes in aping their way through a drawn out and utterly boring claptrap of montage covering virtually every Best Picture nominee of this year - save Franco's own 127 Days; presumably because stupid humour and a man sawing off his own arm with a pocket knife make too strange bedfellows.

Franco, who either thought himself too cool or too inept for the co-hosting honours, or had simply been slipped a powerful libation, laxative and/or tranquilizer (*I'm still trying to figure out which) before the curtain went up, instead decided to play his share of the opener as a rather mute Bud Abbott to Hathaway's gabby Lou Costello, giving dry one-word replies to any and all inquiries made during their opening dialogue. Throughout the evening, Franco seemed increasingly disengaged, squinting and closing his eyes repeatedly as if to blot out the inner horror he was feeling from laying an undeniable Oscar turkey.

The audience, understandably perplexed, applauded very little and understood even less. But when Hathaway called out her mother and Franco his grandmother from the audience to ask how they were doing so far, the Oscar prelude really went into the crapper. This sort of self promotion hasn't been seen on Hollywood's biggest night since Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson brought pictures of their baby to the ceremony in 1986.

Hathaway, who made several gaudy to God awful costume changes throughout the night didn't fare much better on her own; first by calling Hugh Jackman a 'jackass' then by counting herself amongst the holier than thou privileged simply to be "be able to breathe the same air" as Oprah Winfrey, the latter presenting the award for Best Original Documentary to Inside Job - the liberalized 'Wall Street is evil' anti-capitalist tripe.

The telecast proved a hodgepodge at best, beginning with its incongruously featured montages from Gone With The Wind and Titanic before presenter Tom Hanks read the role for Best Cinematography and Set and Costume Design. We were then almost treated to a semi-luminous and semi-lucid moment featuring veteran actor Kirk Douglas who, at times deliberately, and then at other moments, quite by accident simply seemed to lose himself in his Oscar monologue.

Josh Brolin and Javier Bardem appeared in matching off white tuxedos as the ugliest of Tweedle-Dees and Dumb, mucking around to no one's benefit as they announced Best Original and Adapted Screenplays for The Social Network and The King's Speech respectively.

Luke Matheny, who won Best Original Short for God of Love began his acceptance speech by declaring that he ought to have had his 'Side Show Bob' inspired hair cut cropped before the ceremony; good 'bad hair' advice also for Scarlett Johansson who appeared as though she had been cut and styled by Edward Scissorhands. Her co-presenter Matthew McConaughey merely appeared as though his head had only just emerged from a large tub of cold lard.

Jude Law had the smarmy insult of the evening when he told co-presenter Robert Downey Jr. to shut up lest he reveal Downey's 2001 bust for prostitution with a woman who Law suggested had been found dressed up as Cat Woman to which Downey sheepishly corrected "She was dressed as Wonder Woman!"

Oscar fashion was a mixed bag. Apart from Anne Hathaway's ever-evolving wardrobe that contained several faux pas, other presenters were not so quite so fortunate with their one choice of the evening, particularly Cate Blanchette whose violet ensemble looked as though some of the children from PS22 had snuck backstage earlier to cut out the center flap before she went on stage. Likewise, Oscar winning Colleen Atwood - who read her speech in true Obama fashion using a set of literal cue cards - wore a black ensemble that belied her Best Costume Designer's Academy Award. Her black outfit looked as though she had cut and pasted it together using scraps from the cutting room floor.

And then there was Sandra Bullock's fiery red strapless frock, designed for an actress at least ten years her junior and that showed far too much lack of cleavage and a wrinkly neck in major need of some Botox. Cleavage also seemed the order of the day for presenter Jennifer Hudson, her ebony flesh barely contained between two double-sided taped panels of tangerine fabric masquerading as the top half of a dress.

Whether from a sudden outbreak of bed bugs or just a collective case of 'the nerves' and/or 'the runs' it seemed that no one accepting their statuettes throughout the evening could stay still for every long, but rather shook to varying degrees in their extremities and heads like a bunch of shock therapy rejects as they aimlessly twittered largely incoherent 'thank you' speeches that any sixth grader could have written but would have been embarrassed to recite in public! After a brief moment of polite coherence, Natalie Portman's Best Actress acceptance speech developed verbal diarrhea - the actress thanking virtually every cast and crew member who worked on The Black Swan, then practically all of her friends and family no less than three times!

The Social Network took home the lion's share of lesser awards throughout the night but it was The King's Speech that dominated the major categories, including Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth) and the most coveted award of the evening; Best Picture, bringing its tally to 4 out of a possible 12 statuettes. Geoffrey Rush lost his justly deserved Best Supporting Oscar for The King's Speech to Christian Bale's imploding 'has been' in The Fighter. Fourteen year old wunderkind Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit fame left empty handed has well.

Highlights for this year's Oscar ceremony were few and far between; the most memorable being Celine Dion's poignant rendition of the standard 'Smile' played as background for a montage that recognized the passing of stellar talent into that immortal sweet light. Too many greats were lost this year, among them Tony Curtis, Lynn Redgrave, Blake Edwards, Susannah York, Kevin McCarthy, Jill Clayburgh and Lena Horne, who was singled out in a special tribute pre-empted by some largely forgettable drivel spewed by Halle Berry.

Billy Crystal's appearance took a standing ovation that in retrospect was a shay premature since he barely spoke in his usual way after that glowing send up, but instead introduced snippets from 1953's Oscar telecast hosted by Bob Hope - the first of 18 times Hope would MC the Oscars and the very first ceremony to be broadcast live on television.

Randy Newman's meandering acceptance for Best Original Song in Toy Story 3 started off on a weak note but became quite comedic, building to a rather memorable 'to hell with it!' declaration that left the audience laughing. The ceremony was closed out by a choral of children from New York's PS22 fracturing a very loose rendition of 'Over the Rainbow' - the last strained strains shouted over by Franco and Hathaway declaring "Goodnight everybody!" as though they were at a college football rally.

All in all, this year's 83rd Academy Awards isn't one for the history books, except of course if you count The Onion's publications that poke fun at the ludicrousness of any pop culture nuisance they can get their hands on. This year's Oscar ceremonies certainly qualify under that moniker. And it will be interesting to see if next year's ceremonies improve. Frankly, in this reviewer's opinion there's simply nowhere to go but up! Hopefully, next year's producers will opt to jettison the more recent phenomenon of having two celebrities share the evening's beleaguered honours instead of one.

Note to the producers of next year's show: regarding the old adage that 'two heads are better than one'. This philosophy only holds true if neither co-host is brain dead at the start of programming. It is utterly lethal if each lacks the good sense God gave a daisy. For further proof, please re-watch this year's Franco/Hathaway fiasco, then search for a candidate who is equal to the challenge instead of a pair of unsympathetic duds. Thank you all, and good night - or...uh....day as it now is!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

IS THE END NEAR?

Dear Crabby:

I don't get it. I keep hearing the economy's recovering but I've been unemployed for nearly 18 months and I don't see it. In fact, I think things are getting much worse. What do you think?

Joe in Detroit

Dear Average Guy with Concerns:

Claiming the recession is over is irresponsible! It's not, nor is it likely to be for many months (or even years) to follow. However, this isn't what we hear from our politicians and news outlets.

Politicos who - let's be honest - have more money than they know what to do with - are unconcerned about what's happening to the average person. Sure, they'll tell you that they care.

After all, they want your vote!

But if our elected officials truly had our best interests at heart then they would have never allowed the current U.S. deficit to balloon into the trillions without first reading the bill.

It's even more disheartening when I hear misguided quotes from the likes of Nancy Pelosi who claims that the country's economy is actually better off when more people are unemployed and collecting food stamps.

Is she kidding?

Apparently not. After all, she really said that! We must therefore also assume that she really means it! But enough on the misguided ranting of politicians. After all, what should you expect from a pig but a grunt?

So, what about polls, data, musings and speculations from economists and other 'legitimate' sources, and all those legitimate statistics compiled by governmental institutions? Are they not to be trusted?

Well, national stats have not been particularly useful in critiquing the scope of economic fallout. Consider that the current unemployment stat for the U.S. suggests that unemployment fell from 10 to 9 percent since January of 2011.

Did it really?

Or are the stats being fudged to project an national unemployment rate of 8 percent by the time Obama starts his second run for the White House?

Sure, according to the theoretical data unemployment fell. That's because unemployment claims that were active for more than two years since the recession began have since run out.

Just remember: People who are no longer collecting benefits and those who still have not found work but have given up on trying are NOT COUNTED by as part of the national unemployment census! If they were, unemployment figures would be hovering somewhere around 18 to 20 percent. That's a real stat you can bank on!

Meanwhile, news outlets will point to a rising Dow Jones and say that we're back on track. To hear the media tell it, we've weathered the low point of the recession with minor casualties and are now on the edge of an economic recovery. Well, don't you believe it.

Are investors better off in 2011 than they were in 2008?

Absolutely. No question about it. But the Dow doesn't reflect what real people with real job loss and no investments in the Dow are going through at ground level. Therefore, the Dow shouldn't be the barometer for gauging how well off the overall economic outlook is for the immediate future.

Also, given the volatility of stocks in recent months it's not at all unlikely that they could just as easily plummet as soar.

Finally, and this is the stat that leaves me cold and clammy at night: the U.S. is printing money to pay for its monetary loans throughout the world. The U.S. government has, in effect, confused borrowing money with attaining and maintaining prosperity - a fiscal diplomacy that has painted the American economy into a corner.

It's a trap. At present the U.S. is the only country legally authorized and entitled to print its own money to dig itself out of this financial quagmire.

That's fine and dandy when the crisis is short lived. But this current economic debacle shows no signs of improving. Worse, the country is mortgaged so top heavy to Chinese interests that all China has to do to effectively take over the U.S. from an economic standpoint is to simply pick up the phone and call in their loans at the Obama White House.

End of discussion.

End of America.

So, what's the solution?

Well, that's too simple a question for a very complex problem. I'm no economist, but it surely isn't to keep increasing government spending at its current rate, as the Obama White House seems to be doing with a 'to hell with it' attitude that is crippling the U.S. for decades to come and rotting its own entrepreneurial spirit for investment and economic growth like a tooth cavity, from the inside out.

Printing more money isn't the answer either because too much currency is just as bad as too little. 'Too much' and the U.S. dollar loses its supremacy as a currency of international trade. The countries don't accept it as legitimate money to buy and sell things with around the world. Yhink it won't happen? It's already happening in certain parts of the world.

At ground level - where most of us reside - the U.S. has quickly become a very scary place to work and raise a family.

Gas prices are soaring.

Food and cotton prices are rising.

The number of jobs being created is grossly disproportionate to the amount that have been lost in the private sector - probably for all time.

Salaries are dropping. Cost of living is going up. The housing market is in the toilet.

Personal and business bankruptcies and foreclosures have become a daily occurrence.

No one is secure in the career they're in and hardly anyone is hiring at a rate of pay that would make life not simply sustainable, but livable in the ways that the constitution describes: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Will it get better?

Arguably, yes. After all, there is a natural ebb and flow to the evolution of a country. But the U.S. has not been in such an economic freefall since the Great Depression and I, for one, do not believe it's going to come back either as quickly or even to the level it was back in the 1980s any time soon.

People are going to have to learn to live with less.

That's been an Obama-ism since the early part of his campaign when he suggested that we can't simply eat and drink as much as we want or keep our homes as cool as we would prefer.

Since Obama's arrival in the White House his government spending has managed to eclipse that of virtually all other Presidents that have gone before him! The sad reality is that that his prophecy of 'belt tightening' - while hardly applying to either Obama or the U.S. government - is an edict coming true for millions each day.

Far be it from me to depress you with the facts, but I've always been of the opinion and mindset that if there's an elephant in the room someone should follow it with a bag of peanuts and a really big pooper scooper instead of claiming to the crowd of onlookers that no such beast has even entered the room yet!

To ignore the situation any further one need only be the jackass.

Buck up, Joe, but expect hard times. They are coming.

yours truly,

the Crabby Critic