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