Archive for February, 2011

It’s nearly 8:30 PM EST on February 27, and the Academy Awards are about to begin.  Back in the day, I worked in the entertainment industry, and watching the Tony Awards was an annual fete that was not to be missed, as I gathered with other theatre professionals, watching to see who of our friends would win awards, what folks were wearing, and more.  It was wicked fun, and it was wonderful to see folks like Charles Dutton, James Earl Jones, Jane Kaczmarek, and others up there strutting their stuff, given our connections to them in shows.

Though my path in life has taken me in directions away from arts administration over the last two decades, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to humbly (maybe) offer commentary on the awards the film industry’s about to hand out.  So here goes.  Stay tuned as I live-blog this year’s Academy Awards!

8:35 PM:
We’re being treated to the special effects-driven intro to the awards show, as James Franco and Anne Hathaway show up in clips from all the films nominated for Best Picture.  This particular intro was a little more smoothly executed than some in terms of technical achievement, although the bits that Hathaway and Franco were clumsily scripted into (the “Brown Duck” moment meant to highlight “The Black Swan” was particularly clumsy) were pretty lame.

8:39 PM:
Hathaway’s gown is terrific — elegant, beautiful lines, very classy.  The opening bit, in which Hathaway’s mom and Franco’s grandma are introduced, is silly.  “It’s been a great year for lesbians,” Hathaway says.  “Dancing lesbians, Mom lesbians.”  Pleeze…not necessary.  Now the Kodak Theatre is bursting into mock-flames as “Gone With the Wind” is recalled.  Tom Hanks – a class act always – has arrived on stage to remark that very few films have won awards for art direction, cinematography, and best picture.  One of them was “Gone with the Wind” — ah, now we get the weak connection to the intro — and most recently, “Titanic.”

Art Direction:  nominated were Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, Inception, The King’s Speech, and True Grit;  Alice in Wonderland won the award.

Cinematography:  Black Swan, Inception, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, True Grit were nominated; Inception won the award.

8:52 PM
Kirk Douglas is on stage.  He’s suffered strokes, he’s very frail, and the producers are having him present Best Supporting Actress.  He is a legend, but I question whether he was the right choice to present this award (read on).  Nominees are:  Amy Adams (“The Fighter”), Helena Bonham Carter (“the King’s Speech”), Jackie Weaver (“The Animal Kingdom”), Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”), Haley Steinfeld (“True Grit”).  Melissa Leo won the award – a triumph for Beantown movie fans.  Douglas, on the other hand, almost gave all the nominated actresses a heart attack as he cracked non-funny jokes and reminded the audience at the Kodak Theatre that he had been nominated for Academy Awards three times, and had never won. It took a bit of time for Douglas to move out of camera range so that Leo could make her acceptance speech.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis have come to the stage.  Kunis is wearing a gorgeous lavender gown – Grecian in style – and they have arrived to present awards in animation.  “Day and Night,” “The Gruffalo,” “Let’s Pollute,” “The Lost Thing,” and “Madagascar” were nominated;  “The Lost Thing” won the award.

For Animated Feature Film, “How to Train Your Dragon,” “The Illusionist,” and “Toy Story 3” were nominated.  It was no surprise to hear “Toy Story 3” announced as the winner.

Hathaway introduced Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin, dressed like twin ice cream salesmen in white dinner jackets, to present the awards for Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay.  Writer Aaron Sorkin won the award for best Adapted Screenplay, for his work on “The Social Network.”  For best Original Screenplay, David Seidler won the award for “The King’s Speech.”  Seidler, calling himself “a late bloomer,” gave an eloquent acceptance speech, accepting the award “on behalf of all the stutterers in the world…we have a voice, we have been heard.”

Hathaway has changed into a tuxedo and is sitting on the edge of the stage.  She is presenting a parody of “On My Own,” for “Les Miserables,” about Australian actors and Hugh Jackman in particular.  The big surprise:  she has a really lovely singing voice – a pleasant treat.  Franco struts out to the stage in a hot pink silk dress and jewels with a Marilyn Monroe wig and makeup including a beauty spot.  Why?  Not sure.  Russell Brand and Helen Mirren – an odd couple of ever there was one – have come to the stage to crack wise.  Mirren, speaking in French, tells Brand he’s an idiot.

The patter gives way to the presentation of the award for best Foreign Language Film.  “Biutiful,” “Dogtooth,” “In a Better World,” “Incendies,” and “Outside the Law” were nominated.  “In a Better World,” from Denmark, won the Award.

Reese Witherspoon arrives in a lovely black and white dress, to present the award for best supporting actor.  The nominees were Christian Bale (“The Fighter”), John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone”), Jeremy Renner (“The Town”), Mark Ruffalo (“The Kids Are All Right”), and Geoffrey Rush (“The King’s Speech”). Christian Bale won the award – another award for “The Fighter,” set in Lowell. Bale gave a shout-out to Mark Wahlberg, the Executive Producer of the film, as well as to Dicky Eklund (who Bale portrayed in the film) and Mickey Ward, who Wahlberg portrayed.

Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, two of Australia’s most notable film stars, are introduced by Hathaway (who has donned a black, jewel and lace dress, reminiscent of costumes for “Kiss of the Spiderwoman”) to present awards for best new original score.  The nominees were composers for the following films:  “How to Train Your Dragon” “The Social Network,” “127 Hours,” and “Inception.”  The winners were Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, for “The Social Network.”

Scarlett Johansson  – wearing a dark red lace sheath that was a yawn, with hair that looked like it had been styled by a toddler, arrived on stage along with Matthew McConnaghey arrived to present an award for excellence in sound.  Sounds designers for “Inception,” “The King’s Speech,” “Salt,” “The Social Network,” and “True Grit” were nominated, and the designers who worked on “Inception” were winnters (sorry, check the official listing of winners for details on the names).  Sound editing nominees were “Tron Legacy,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit,” and “Unstoppable” were nominated; Richard King won for his work on “Inception.”

So far the award show is moving along, but it is a total snore in terms of entertainment value.  Give me the streaker who surprised David Niven, or almost anything Billy Crystal could dish up…this show is too tame!

Morissa Tomei sweeps onstage in a black dress with way too much tulle on the skirt and a borrriiinnnggg bodice.  Tomei summarizes scientific and technical awards presented prior to the awards show.  Cate Blanchett, wearing a pale pink dress with an odd pearled bodice, presents awards in makeup.  Nominated were “Barney’s Version,” “The Way Back,” and “The Wolfman,” with “The Wolfman” winning the award. The costume desig award went to Colleen Atwood for her work on “Alice in Wonderland.”

The first two of the songs nominated for Best Song were introduced by Kevin Spacey. “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3” was performed by Randy Newman. Performing “I See the Light,” Mandy Moore (in what looked like a blue prom dress) and Zachary Levi appeared, offering up this year’s sentimental ballad among the nominated songs.

Is it my imagination, or is this year’s awards show one of the most lackluster in years? The Oscars program has been on for more than ninety minutes, and nothing about the program is exciting or thrilling.  Everything (except Kirk Douglas, who was embarrassing and a little sad, I thought) is very scripted, very safe.

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhall come out — Adams in a classy dark blue sequined sheath that is the best dress of the evening, so far — to present awards for short subjects. “Strangers No More” won for best documentary short subject, about immigrant children seeking education, and opportunity, in the United States.  Live Action Short Film went to “God of Love,” with NYU film school graduate, filmmaker and lead actor Luke Matheney, rushing to the stage declaring, “I should have gotten a haircut.”

Hathaway, in another sparkling dress reminiscent of a 1920’s beaded sheath, joined Franco to introduce Oprah Winfrey, who presented the award for outstanding documentary.  “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” “Gasland,” “Inside Job,” “Restrepo,” and “Waste Land” were nominated, and “Inside Job,” about the financial meltdown and corruption on Wall Street, won the award.

My wish has been granted:  Billy Crystal just arrived on stage and the crowd’s on its feet, cheering.  I think they’re as desperate as I am, wishing that he were hosting the show.  He jokes that he’s going right to the Best Picture award, but alas, it’s not to be.  Crystal’s time on stage is brief:  he raises up the spectre of Bob Hope, who hosted the awards show for decades with a herd of writers who were the best in the business.  The visual tricks performed with Hope’s image were just the right introduction for Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law, who offered up the statue for best visual effects.  Designers for “Alice in Wonderland,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I,” “Hereafter,” “Inception,” and “Iron Man 2,” were nominated, with “Inception” winning the award.  For achievement in film editing, those who worked on The Black Swan, The Fighter, The King’s Speech, The Social Network, and 127 Hours were nominated.  The Oscar went to the film editors of “The Social Network” (again, apologies for missing all those names, but check out the news reports for details).

Hathaway and Franco introduce Jennifer Hudson, looking fabulous in a tangerine ball gown, who introduced a song from “127 Hours,” “If I Rise.”  It’s a brief snippet, and an odd one.  That’s followed by Gwyneth Paltrow singing “Coming Home” from “Country Strong.”  None of the nominated songs are knockouts — nothing close to “My Heart Will Go On,” for instance.  Of the four nominated, Newman’s “We Belong Together,” from “Toy Story 3” was the clear favorite, and Newman took home his second Academy Award.

The “I See Dead People” section of the show arrives, with Celine Dion singing “Smile” as images of those departed from the film industry flash on the screen.  Halle Berry comes to the stage to recognize the remarkable contributions of Lena Horne, a pioneer in music, film, and theatre.

Hillary Swank arrives to introduce Katherine Bigelow, last year’s Best Director winner, to present this year’s award.  Nominated are Darren Aronofsky for “Black Swan,” David O. Russell, “The Fighter,” Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech,” Joel and Ethan Coen, “True Grit,” and David Fincher, The Social Network.”  Winning was Tom Hopper for “The King’s Speech.”

Annette Bening, in a dreadful black and sequin dress, announced the Lifetime Achievement in Film Awards, given to Eli Wallach, Jean-Luc Godard, Kevin Brownlow, Francis Ford Coppola.  The evening bumps along…still a snore.

We’re getting down to it:  Jeff Bridges comes to the stage to present the award for outstanding performance by an actress in a leading role.  The nominees were Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”), Nicole Kidman (“Rabbit Hole”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), Natalie Portman (“Black Swan”), and Michelle Williams (“Blue Valentine”).  The winner, as expected, was Natalie Portman, in a gorgeous magenta gown.  “I am so in awe of you,” Portman said to the other actresses nominated for the award.  Portman thanked those she worked with on the film, but acknowledged, “most importantly, my family and friends.”

Sandra Bullock, looking fabulous in a red gown, introduced nominees for best performance by an actor in a leading role:  Javier Bardem (“Beautiful”), Jeff Bridges (“True Grit”), Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”), and James Franco (“127 Hours”) were nominated, and the superb performance by Colin Firth was honored with the award.  Firth, a class act, gave a charming, self-depricating speech.

The final act:  Hathaway, in another sparkling gown (her eighth?) introduced Steven Spielberg, who walks to center stage to present the award for Best Picture.  Spielberg highlights the fact that even the films that don’t win the award join a series of remarkable films.  Starting last year, ten films were nominated for best picture (instead of five).  This year’s nominees:  “The King’s Speech,” “True Grit,” “Black Swan,” “Winter’s Bone,” “The Kids Are All Right,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “Inception,” and “The Fighter.” Throughout the montage of film clips, which included bits from all the nominated movies, Colin Firth’s voice from “The King’s Speech” echoed in a preview of the final result: “The King’s Speech” won Best Picture for 2011.

Sweet Endings:  Franco and Hathaway (yes, another dress change) introduced the kids from PS 22 in Staten Island, who sang “Over the Rainbow,” with cute and well-rehearsed movements.  As the kids finished their song, they were joined by the flock of award winners, waving their trophies in the air.  Hathaway, standing center stage, whooped audibly, “We did it,” and high-fived a number of the kids in celebration – and relief.  It was a grinding, unremarkable awards show – without major glitches, but also lacking in the thrill and energy one has the right to hope for from Hollywood.

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For several years I’ve spent part of many Sunday evenings watching one excellent HBO series or another.  This all started with “The Sopranos,” and proceeded on to include “Carnivale,” “Rome,” “Deadwood,” the superb “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Big Love.”  I’m not sure if the uber-executives at HBO planned it this way or whether it’s just a coincidence, but all these series (most of which I find terrific, by the way and worth viewing on DVD or on demand) have a common thread: characters whose lives exist in a society where there are no rules, or where the rules don’t apply.

In Deadwood, South Dakota (a real lawless town that was born during the Gold Rush), a lot of what you see in the HBO series really occurred.  Unwitting prospectors are lured out to the hills at night and shoved off cliffs, then thrown to the pigs by Chinese immigrants, the lowest of the low in this community.  Whores are brought in to amuse the prospectors and beaten brutally when a saloon owner doesn’t like a glance or an attitude.  The Sheriff has no real power and is left to try to act as a moral presence in a town where swindling, shooting and conniving are everyday activities.  And in “Big Love,” the series now in its final season, modern-day polygamists who have moved into a Sandy, Utah community hoping to advance the principle of plural marriage try to blend into contemporary society, all while threatened by the adherents of a fundamentalist faith who inhabit Juniper Creek, the ‘compound’ outside of city limits — and city laws.

These activities aren’t only the stuff of TV drama.  In the United Kingdom a grandmother bashes a group of would-be robbers to foil their plans for a heist, while in the US a man goes mad, stabbing people on the street and in the subway, and a mother and her toddler son are found, dead in a dumpster. While it’s true that these things have always gone on, it seems to me that over the last year there has been a proliferation of situations in which people, for many reasons, are deciding that the rules don’t apply to them.

It’s true that times are tough, and difficult days can lead to desperate measures.  However I’m hesitant to chalk up such behavior to the economy.  What role do our faith communities, society, our education system, our government, play in this drama?  Are people no longer guided around the expectations of living in a society and a particular culture?  While horrible abuses occurred in Egypt during the recent revolution, I was also  impressed with the public statements, made by ordinary citizens and generals, that seemed informed by their sense of what ‘their God’ told them to do…as if the arc of the moral universe moved within them to help plot their decisions.

More and more, there seem to be too few examples of the moral universe moving in us.  Why else do we decide to try to beat not only the conventional systems set up to exist in society, but our neighbors?  Why does membership in some political groups lead individuals to decide that “the right to bear arms” also means the right to use them – whenever we feel wronged?  The oft-quoted statement attributed to Martin Luther King (but first articulated by Rev. Theodore Parker) states, “The arc of the universe is long – but it bends toward justice.”  The question is: whose justice?  In whose name, for whose benefit?  Sometimes the rules just don’t apply.

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I like to think that I’m pretty good at cooking, staging public events, connecting with young children, running projects large and small.  If you want a great fund raising activity or you need an intergenerational musical theatre event staged and directed, call me.  If you want to knock someone’s socks off with a great party, the legendary “Hostess With the Mostess,” Perle Mesta, lives on in my shoes.  However I think of myself as being less good at venturing into places I don’t know well, or doing things I’ve never ever done before.

Nevertheless, there I was a few weeks ago, getting ready to preach a sermon on what it has taken for me to  be comfortable going to a part of Boston that, in recent years, has been subject to crime and a middle class exodus to the suburbs.  It wasn’t the preaching that got me — I had plenty of experience with that.  It was talking about what it took to get me to do something both frightening and unfamiliar.  It required me to be honest with myself at a level that I don’t like to go to every day.

And I was, at the same time, leading a Coming of Age class for the third time in six years, loving every second that I spent with nineteen 15- and 16-year-olds, despite the fact that my relationship with my own teenager is a bit rocky (too) much of the time.

And now I have found myself trying new physical challenges:  like jumping into a Zumba class (a fusion of Latin and international dance and movement that gives you one heck of a cardio workout) despite the fact that I am a dance maven only in my mind and something of a klutz, with a bad right knee and lousy left foot.

It makes no sense, really.

Frequently when I’m in the middle of doing one of these new things I am hit by that feeling that I once heard psychologists describe as the “Cinderella syndrome,” that feeling that many women have, that someone will surely find out that I can not do the things I’m trying to pull offI will be found to be an imposter, and I will be thrown out of the palace…and the coach will turn back into a pumpkin.  Even so, I keep trying.  Not things that feel downright dangerous (you will not, for instance, find me bungee jumping, not ever) but yes, I will be lured to try things that feel like they would be good for me to attempt.

We live, most of us, in the comfort zone of our existence…doing the things that are familiar, and perhaps boring, because they have unrelenting sameness to speak for them.  These are the humdrum elements of our lives.  Going to another place can be terrifying, but it can also offer a journey of discovery.  While I don’t want too much in my life that is unfamiliar — routine and dependability offer a blessing and comfort — I’m trying to pick enough challenges to provide variety for the journey.

My husband and I have a little saying that we offer to one another when  we’ve done something unfamiliar that has come off well.  Not perfectly, perhaps, but well enough to provide a positive outcome and what feels like success.  “Fooled them again,” one of us will say to the other.  As if we’ve convinced folks that we really can pull off the impossible or the unfamiliar or untested.  Of course, the people we’ve really fooled are ourselves.  We didn’t let ourselves get stopped by the ‘what if’ or the ‘I don’t know how’ virus.  We tried to do what doesn’t come naturally, and found out that doing it wasn’t so bad after all.

Today, for me, it’s Zumba and operating my own business.  Tomorrow, for Ben, it will be driving to West Virginia, to an unfamiliar place, to offer his carpentry and contracting services to an economically challenged community, along with 25 of our congregation’s high school-aged youth.

Doing what doesn’t come naturally has its rewards.  And, at the end of the day, we might be able to say once more, “Fooled them again.”

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