Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Blogging About Blogging.

What’s strange about this particular lapse in blog updates is that I’ve been blogging my ass off.

I mean, the first and most obvious location I’ve been blogging is my Disney Blog, where I recently talked about all the latest news surrounding the closure of Epcot’s Test Track for refurbishment.
Most of my blogging has been behind the scenes, though, where I’ve been working on three huge movie blogs. It’s just that none of them are ready for print yet, so I thought I’d put a little interim blog together… about the 3 blogs I’ve been working on.

Blog 1 is the second half of my “BEST Best Picture” of the past 20 years. As of now, I’m down to eight finalists, and I’m still not totally sure how to pair them up. I think it’s gonna end up being a random tournament where I draw up a bracket and have essentially 3 more rounds of competition ending with a final round pitting to top two “Best Picture” winners. The idea is that.. there’s not really a good or bad draw for any movie, since the quality of the movies don’t change based on the matchups. If Movie A is better than Movie B, it will always win. That also would mean Movie B would not EVER win this tournament.

In fact… Let’s announce the bracket now… (The matchups were randomly determined by a co-worker who didn’t know what he was picking.

Schindler’s List vs. No Country for Old Men
Unforgiven vs. Forrest Gump
The English Patient vs. The Return of the King
American Beauty vs. The Hurt Locker

So… stay tuned for the final half of that tournament.

Blog 2 is my explanation of why I hate the movie “Titanic” so much. This one is taking a while for two reasons. Partly because I feel like I’ve made this argument so many times over the past 15 years that I almost feel like my points are too plentiful at this stage, so I’m working on narrowing it down to just a couple of key reasons. I’ve been accused of hating it for reasons that I don’t hate it also, so it’s important that I focus on my actual reasons, and not worry about refuting.

Partly, and more importantly, I keep debating whether I want to go see it in 3D in this recent re-release in order to a) give it one more chance and b) to better pinpoint the exact things I hated. I’ve only seen it one time, after all. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? The movie I tout as being the worst of all time, and I’ve only seen it once.

What I find most interesting, though, is that people seem to be less enthralled with it in this re-release. I’m kind of curious as to that too.

Blog 3 is a new one that my friend Alan (The Brawny Hombre) got me started with last night. It’s probably the longest winded one of all, and I have absolutely NO idea how this is going to work in practice, but he’s so intrigued by the Best Picture blog that he’s encouraged me to write a whole separate blog about the Best Movie Overall of that same time period.

That’s an insanely daunting task. So far we’ve started by listing our top three movies for each year, beginning in 1990 (Goodfellas, Edward Scissorhands, Total Recall) and going all the way through to 2011. We spent the whole night (He also has a third shift job, so we regularly bounce e-mails back and forth when our shifts line up), and we only made it through 2003 (Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Seabiscuit). Not only do we have 3 movies listed for each year, but we have a huge list of “Also considered” movies, which is currently almost 70 movies all on its own. The idea is… once we’ve determined the best 3 for each year, and we have the giant pool of also considered, we’ll go through and see if there are any things that have to be swapped out. Then we have a good old 64 movie extravaganza.

It’s all very scientific, I assure you.

So far, some quotes from the discussion include:
Me regarding the possible inclusion of “Contact” in the best movies of 1997:
“Absolutely, unequivocally, no. Contact is not ever in the top three movies of that year. I’m almost positive that Jodie Foster would agree.”

Alan regarding the fact that the discussion lasted through till morning:
“We should probably table this for now.  It's hitting the busy morning period when the buffoons begin waking up and inflicting their ineptitude on the world around them (i.e., me). “

I’m already finding a glaring hole in the matrix (Not ‘The Matrix’), which is that Royal Tennenbaums neither made the final cut for 2001, nor was it mentioned at all. Mistakes all over the fucking place. Embarassing.

So… You’ve all got those blogs to look forward to, in some order. Almost certainly the Best Movie Tourney will be last, and potentially in a series of posts as opposed to one 50,000 word monolith. Maybe I should just compile the discussion and make a book out of it.

I have every intention of writing about something other than movies at some point, but until The Crucible is done (next week), I’m pretty wiped out creatively.

I was considering writing a blog about the HBO show ‘Girls’, which I find bad, almost to the point of being repugnant.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Battle Royale

I recently blogged very briefly about The Oscars, and during that I mentioned the idea of having a “Best Picture Tournament” where I very scientifically determine the BEST Best Picture winner of the past 20 years.

By “scientifically” I mean “based on my own very special criteria that varies by the day, and generally boils down to my personal taste.”, but I realize that my just saying so doesn’t make for a good read, so here’s my thought process..

The Movie Enema (aka The First Eliminations)

The criteria for this level of elimination comes down to this: How does the winner compare to the other movies nominated that year? If the movie shouldn’t have won its own year, it is immediately disqualified. Seems fair right? Glad we all can agree…

Titanic, 1997.
Look…I could write a whole blog about why this is the worst movie ever made. I probably have. This is an unpopular opinion, but it doesn’t make me wrong. Let’s talk about Titanic for just a second… Bad script? Yes. If someone tried to make the argument that they were going for period camp… I could possibly get behind it if everything else wasn’t taken so seriously, or if for that matter, it wasn’t about a horrible tragedy, which isn’t exactly fertile ground for campiness. Manipulative? Yes. Any time you show old people embracing in bed as the ship goes down… there is literally no purpose behind that other than to make people cry. Bad acting? Yes. Sorry Leo fans… he’s just not good in this one. Flawed premise? I just can’t get past the part where the old lady drags all of those people out there to search for the big diamond, and she had it with her the whole freaking time. I can’t get past it. That lady would have gone overboard.

It’s all too much to take. And it’s the worst movie ever made because the actual quality, when compared to the overblown opinion people have of it, creates the largest gap between reality and perception. That’s what makes it bad. If people accepted it for just being a fun (as fun as trivializing the deaths of hundreds of innocent people can be) spectacle, I’d have far less issue with it. In this case, it was a Best Picture winner, beating more deserving movies like L.A. Confidential and Good Will Hunting, both of which had better stories, better acting, and better writing. L.A. Confidential, had it won, might have made a run in this tournament.

Shakespeare in Love, 1998
I could go on about this one too, but I won’t. I’ll simply say… In 50 years people will be talking about one of the nominated films from this year as being among the greatest films ever made. That movie isn’t Shakespeare in Love.

Saving Private Ryan was so definitively a better movie in nearly every way.

The only edge I’d give Shakespeare is with Tom Stoppard’s very clever script.

Saving Private Ryan revolutionized war movies (a longtime anchor genre in film history). I know this doesn’t really mean a lot to many people, but Steven Spielberg made war movie that makes every war movie made prior to it seem watered down in comparison, I think the most amazing thing about it is that you’re never once thinking “wow… that was gratuitous” (as opposed to a movie like… The Passion of the Christ where I spent most of it thinking “Wow… that was gratuitous”).

I’ll also say that when you have a movie about a war, where the actual veterans of the war view it as a historical document rather than an entertainment, you’ve got something important on your hands. Sometimes (Not always) historical significance needs to be considered. Especially when compared to something as silly (albeit entertaining) as Shakespeare in Love.

A Beautiful Mind & Chicago, 2001 and 2002 respectively.
These two movies are grouped together, because they’re out for the same reason. They beat the first two Lord of the Rings movies for no reason aside from the fact that the Academy was “holding back” to reward LOTR after the 3rd installment. That’s a terrible reason.

There’s nothing particularly wrong about A Beautiful Mind or Chicago. They feature great production values, and excellent performances. In fact, I believe Russell Crowe should have won Best Actor for A Beautiful Mind, and NOT won for Gladiator (another day, Muchacho… Another day…). Chicago was being touted as the return of the big movie musical (except that nothing since then has been as good, and then they stopped again.) They’re both really good… I’m not denying.

Sorry, though… Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers are both JUST as amazingly crafted as their Oscar-Winning brother, The Return of the King. Some would argue that they’re more tightly edited, since everyone seems to point out the silly multiple endings of ROTK. If you stated that Two Towers was the actual best of the 3 movies, I’d have a tough time disagreeing.

Million Dollar Baby, 2004
This is a tough one for me, because I like Clint Eastwood (more on that later), and Hilary Swank was definitely great, as was Morgan Freeman. Million Dollar Baby is a really excellent movie. This just happened to be a year where there were a ton of excellent movies out there, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think it was the best one.

In fact, I’d say that it was the 3rd or 4th best of the nominees, overall.

The Aviator should have won. This is the DiCaprio Epic that stands out for me. His performance is great. Scorsese’s direction is great. The Cinematography (by the same guy who just won for Hugo) was beautiful. It’s an interesting story, about an interesting guy, featuring several high profile performances of a high quality. It’s a period piece. It hits all the buttons. It’s a great movie.

Oh, and if the Aviator doesn’t win, Sideways should have. Or Finding Neverland. I see the arguments against Finding Neverland as being the most valid. They took pretty significant liberties with the actual person of James Barrie, and glossed over a good bit of the strangeness of him. I guess if you’re making a Biopic of someone, you should probably be truthful. Either way, I readily admit it never fails to make me cry. Also, and this may be blasphemy coming from a Disney fan, but this is Johnny Depp’s greatest performance of the past 10 years. Jack Sparrow is a close second.

If you realllllly pushed me, I’d concede that if you put Million Dollar Baby, Finding Neverland, and Sideways in a hat and pulled out one winner, I’d be fine with any of the three, but The Aviator is clearly the best of the bunch.

Crash, 2005

I won’t even dignify this with discussion. Brokeback Mountain should have won. Perhaps it’s become a bit of a punchline for homophobes everywhere since then, but this was Heath Ledger’s true break-out film. He was phenomenal in it. It’s a great movie. Sorry.

Slumdog Millionaire, 2008
I really don’t get why everyone loves Slumdog Millionaire so much, and in fact… it sure seems like there really isn’t all that much love for it. Nobody really talks about it anymore, except for Aziz Ansari, and he only mentions it as part of a joke about how awesome it must be to be white.

I really believe that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a better choice, ultimately, even if it was a little long, and the weird framework surrounding Hurricane Katrina was…well.. weird. Brad Pitt gave my favorite of his performances. Cate Blanchett was equally excellent. The story was appropriately sweeping, the effects were always effective and never too showy. There were parts of great emotion, and humor, and pathos. Interestingly, I think I like it more on 2nd and 3rd viewing than I did on the first. It really grows on me the more I’ve seen it.

The Kings Speech, 2010
I’m just going to chalk this one up to the apparent yearlong blow job to the United Kingdom. We may as well have just re-upped as a colony, since the Brits made the Oscars their bitch this year.

I’ve seen most of the TEN films nominated this year, and of them, here are the ones I thought were better than The Kings Speech:
The Social Network, Toy Story 3, and True Grit.

The Academy seems to have a thing against Aaron Sorkin, so The Social Network had an uphill climb. If you couple that with the idea that The Social Network was very much a film of NOW (in that it’s not timeless), it seemed unlikely to win. I think sometimes, when convenient, the Academy takes it upon them to give a nod to posterity, and I’ll grant that The Social Network wouldn’t age well, necessarily. Except that it’s amazingly written, and expertly acted. Toy Story 3 was a sequel (strike one) and animated (strike two). True Grit was a remake of a beloved John Wayne movie, and if there’s anything Hollywood loves as much as the British? It’s old Hollywood. As evidenced by The Artist. Oh… that brings me to…

The Artist, 2011
If there’s ever been a movie designed to win an Oscar in today’s environment, it’s The Artist. It’s… French, which is sort of the “in” thing (See: Midnight in Paris, Hugo, and War Horse which all at least in part take place in France). It romanticizes old Hollywood, which is like sweet, sweet kitten blood for the aging Academy voters. It features a cute dog. It features a handsome French star that eliminates the language barrier by never speaking.

I’m not saying The Artist is bad. In fact… I’d not say any of the movies I’ve mentioned are actually bad, except for Titanic. I just think it’s a silly, trivial movie that happened to find the exact perfect atmosphere to flourish. Probably the most telling thing is that it may have spoken to voters in some way, but generally it didn’t speak to audiences equally. It’s one of the lowest grossing Best Picture winners ever. (even adjusted for inflation). So… what deserved it more? The Descendants and Moneyball definitely. Probably Hugo, too, though I didn’t see it.


So there we go. I’ve already eliminated 9 of 20 eligible movies and we’ve barely broken a sweat.

Elimination Number Two. (Too Easy)

My next “weed-out” involves Best Picture winners who rightfully beat the movies it was up against, but weren’t as good as another un-nominated movie that came out that year.. I’ll grant this opens up the discussion, potentially to a huge number of movies, so I’m limiting the “other movies” to ones that were nominated in at least one other category.

So… let’s see… We can now eliminate:

Braveheart, 1995
Sorry Mel Gibson, but even though I prefer your film to the other Best Picture nominees, I found at least 2 other movies that each are better than Braveheart. I have to believe the Academy was totally on crack this year, because here are some of the movies that were nominated for at least one Oscar, but not for Best Picture…

Toy Story (!!!!) I know… It’s an animated movie, so it stood about as much a chance as I did, but if you consider it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay (that’s a huge one), and if you also consider it was the first major Pixar release, which maybe makes it more of shame in retrospect since Pixar who has completely owned the animated feature category unlike any other group in any other category. How the Academy couldn’t recognize a revolution in animation and storytelling is beyond me… I don’t know… Being a Walt Disney fan, I think a lot about animation and its evolution… Maybe it should have won something like those Seven Dwarfs statuettes they gave Walt when Snow White came out.

The Usual Suspects. This movie has one of the greatest endings in the history of movies. It also boasts an acting Oscar for the previously lesser-known Kevin Spacey. Oh, and it has about 20 great scenes. Also… One super awesome slo-mo coffee cup.

Many people would also argue Casino was better, and I won’t stop them, even if it’s not my favorite.

Honestly, this came out in a period of 2 years where I paid very little attention to The Oscars. Maybe it’s because I was a teenager, and it wasn’t cool or whatever, but I just wasn’t all that aware of what was happening… I don’t know what it was about Braveheart that captured everyone’s attention. Just seems like 1995 was a good year for movies, just not nominated ones.

Gladiator, 2000
I’ll admit that if taking in just the field of Best Picture nominees, Gladiator takes it hands down. However, to this day, I can’t understand how Almost Famous didn’t get nominated. It won for Best Original Screenplay, and had 2 acting nominations in the same category. Almost Famous is one of my favorite movies of the past 10 years, as I discussed in more detail on my January 2010 post where I talked about my favorite movies from that decade.

One could potentially champion O Brother Where Art Thou? As another more deserving film, but I won’t. I love it, and it makes me laugh, but it’s got a lot of problems.

The Departed, 2006.
Wha????? That’s right.
I love The Departed, but there are two movies from 2006 that I believe were clearly better.

Pan’s Labyrinth. Somehow the Academy decided that a win in the Best Foreign Language category somehow makes up for the insane slight of not putting it up for the big award. It’s an absolutely engaging, amazing story with beautiful imagery, haunting cinematography, spectacular acting and art direction, and one of the most indelibly creepy performances of all time (Sergei Lopez as The Captain).

Children of Men. When I wrote that blog about the best movies of the “Aughts”, I proclaimed this one the best. It wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, which is a total joke. I can’t really even get into the many, many reasons. It’s got an intriguing story. Excellent performances. My favorite soundtrack of any movie ever. One of the most insane tracking shots ever filmed. Then a whole other insane tracking shot that would take the title if not for the first. It’s really got everything. It’s emotional, political, lyrical, fluid. To this day, I don’t understand how it wasn’t nominated. Until I get an answer, The Departed’s win gets a big fat asterisk.

That about wraps up round two.
So… we now have a more manageable field of films to work with…The Semi Finalists are:

  • Unforgiven
  • Schindler’s List
  • Forrest Gump
  • The English Patient
  • American Beauty
  • The Return of the King
  • No Country for Old Men
  • The Hurt Locker

To be continued… maybe next week? I’m not sure, but I do need to come up with a more clear set of criteria to start eliminating these final eight movies, all of whom were the deserved winners in their respective Oscar races.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Harried Muchacho

I’ve been so consumed with the production of The Crucible I’m directing, that I’ve found it difficult to get fired up about anything enough to make a blog out of it, and when I do think of something to write about, I’ve been having a difficult time really pinning it down in a logical way. For this blog alone, I’ve thought about the following:

- Favorite fictional characters from Television
- Favorite shows I watch while working overnight.
- Things I hate about renovating.
- The weird feeling I have when people I know, or have known for years, show up in national commercials, or when they show up in movies. This has been happening quite a lot lately. Enough, in fact, that the TM keeps asking me “Do you know that person?” whenever I perk up at a thing on TV.
- A Reds season preview/another meandering blog about baseball and the importance of it in my life.
- The phenomenon of celebrity.
I mean… some of these have legs, and some of these don’t, but I’m not super inspired by any…so in true Muchacho tradition, I’ve decided to write a quick update about various things in my life. Nothing like culling my day to day for material, right?

Vegetarian Stuff…
In case you wondered, I am still a vegetarian. I’m still allowing myself fish/shellfish/seafood so it’s sort of a loose vegetarianism, but I haven’t had red or white meat for a full 3 months now, and I actually no longer even remember what the last meat I had was…
Do I miss meat? Sort of… I miss it more as an idea than I do in practice. I haven’t been a big meat eater for several years, but I find myself frustrated by not being able to even have most “Soups of the Day” or having to pick off the delicious bacon that comes on the top of cream of potato soup. (Not loaded baked potato soup, where you’d expect bacon). That was sort of heartbreaking…to fastidiously remove the bacon. I’ve been careful to ask beforehand now, because that was fairly torturous, and was certainly the closest I’ve come to saying “fuck it.”
When we’re at home, the TM and I are pretty good about making various vegetarian foods and keeping it pretty interesting. She’s developed a fantasic recipe for bean enchiladas that continues to evolve. I made some pretty decent vegetarian chili. I’ve eaten tofu hot dogs at least a couple of times without wanting to kill myself.


Could I do it forever? I dunno… I think I could definitely do like… 80-90%, but damnit do I miss bacon. It’s not even that I had bacon that often, but the prospect of bacon is appealing in itself. It’s also pretty depressing to go to the local barbeque places and not even be able to enjoy the fucking baked beans because they’re made with ham hock.

Wood Working Stuff…

I succeeded in completing my first project in February… a manly as hell workshop light that wasn’t particularly complicated, but definitely required some muscle. It took me a solid 2 days to make it, and I really do like it. It’s created a very bright workshop for future projects.

As for those future projects… I feel like it’s a bit of a cop-out to even say this, because I should have spent more time researching the hobby ahead of time, but damnit is this an expensive way to pass the time. Tools are really pricey, and it seems that each project requires like… 5 tools that are specific to that one kind of project only. I had been registered for a dovetail joint workshop, but ended up having to drop out, because even though the workshop was listed as being 110.00, which I paid… once I started reading more about it, I realized that I also had to bring like… 4 pieces of equipment I don’t already have. It would have ended up costing about 300.00 to do this 100.00 workshop. So…I canceled. It, admittedly, has taken the wind out of my sails at least a little, though I am working on something now that I hope to be completed by the end of the month. At this point, I’m a month behind on my projects, and maybe some of my readers were right… 11 pieces was optimistic. Not in terms of workload, but in terms of cost.

House stuff…
The TM and I have spent the last 3 months having stuff done to our house, and I’ll be honest with you…. As nice as many of the things are, and as necessary as the rest was… I’m so fucking tired of having people in the house. No offense at all to the contractors who are super nice and very professional, but I just want to sit around the house on my off days without my pants on, and your presence has hindered that a great deal.

That said, though… We have at least 3 super fantastic upgrades to the house that will increase the value if we ever decide to sell, and will certainly increase the enjoyment we have while we stay.

First, we re-did the deck in the backyard. This was a huge deal, since the old deck was nice, but was also rotting and falling down. The new deck is a good deal bigger, and has some cool features like a cutout for a tree in the middle, with a great bench surrounding it. I LOVE the new deck.

Also in the backyard, we removed all of the pieced –together sections of fencing and installed a 6 foot privacy fence all around the yard. This sounds so isolationist, but we’re getting a dog in the fall, so dog-safety is paramount. Also it does look so nice compared to the old fence.

Lastly (of my favorite upgrades), we knocked out the windows in our dining room, and had French doors installed in their place. These open up onto the deck, which now extends over far enough for that to actually work. Previously, the deck ended a good 10 feet to the left.

I guess what I’m saying is that our back yard is now really fucking awesome. We managed to take a largely forgotten space (also featuring some of the most hellacious weeds on the planet), and turn it into a really nice, extra living space that will be great for us, for our future dog, and for future residents if we decide to leave.
I mentioned the weed issue… well… through no real fault of anyone, and largely because last Summer was so insanely busy, the back corner of the yard (more like the back right QUARTER) became completely overgrown. Like… unpassable. So last Wednesday, I also managed to adhere to one of my resolutions, and did some house improvement work by tearing that shit down. It was hard, and it was hot, and I may have dulled the blades on the lawn mower, but I have to say I’m pretty pleased at the result.

I can also wager a guess that this corner of the yard will continue to be problematic. The yard slopes downward toward that corner, and water seems to flow that direction. Away from the house, which is good, but toward that corner… tending to make it a muddier, swampy area. This is bad for walking and enjoying, but really really good for plants. Those irksome weeds especially. Expect more updates on this once the play is over, and we’re back from our vacation.

Oh… That blogging thing.
My other resolution was that I’d be blogging more this year… I am pleased to say that I’ve pretty successfully stuck to my one-blog-per-week routine, though I’ve been delayed in posting until later in the week a couple of times. I am giving myself a pass on that.

In fact… I have basically committed to blogging EVEN MORE because of my new Disney-themed blog, which launched last week. If you’re interested in just my Disney blogs, check it out. I’ll post a link here every time I blog over there, so don’t worry… but if you want to add it to the blog roll now, the URL is:

This has turned into a lot of babbling, so I’ll cut this off now… Some blogs to look forward to:

Imagineering Disney - A (hopefully) recurring segment on rides or attractions I’ve thought up. To be posted on BeefyDisney.

The Muchacho Tattoo… My resident Muchacho Artist, Tony Doench has completed my tattoo design, so now I just have to find a time to schedule the session. I’m hoping Jake (the tattoo artist) will let me time lapse the process. Either way, I’ll blog about it.

The Reds/Baseball blog. I just have to think of a good angle.

I’m always thinking about posting serialized original fiction as I write it…sort of like a workshop. We’ll see if that comes together.

Happy April!