"The Definition of Insanity is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results" - Albert Einstein

Sunday, February 27, 2011

T- Minus 7 Hours

Today's the Day. The day I've been waiting for for 33 days. Oscar Day. I'm ready. I've seen the films (or at least a good 70%). I've read the articles. I've watched the Guilds. I've made my bulletin board. I've filled out all four of my ballots. And now I just have to wait 7 hours until judgement.

I have to say, I'm relieved. As much as I love Academy Award season, sometimes I'm not sure it's worth the anguish. I rarely agree personally with what the Academy picks as its winners, and I've lost and regained too many friends over what's going to be Best Picture (Sorry Gus).

But after tonight, I get to put it all behind me. Whatever is going to happen will happen. And I'm ok with that. I just need the closure.

With that said, here is my breakdown of the awards tonight, by category.

Leading Actor: This category is a bit of a no brainer. Colin Firth for the King's Speech is gonna take home the golden statue, no questions asked. And he is completely deserved. Not only does he display some major vocal chops, he's overdue, and his role as a man struggling to communicate with the public in the dawn of new media is impressive. I'll admit that in my fantasy ballot I picked Jesse Eisenberg for the Social Network, but I have no hope of him winning and I will have no qualms with Firth when he does. For what it's worth though, I was extremely impressed with Eisenberg's take on the role of the man struggling to communicate with the public in the dawn of new media.

Lead Actress: Two Words- Natalie Portman. Also- Black Swan. She's great. And she's 29 years old, which makes her the age females are most likely to win Academy Awards when nominated. And her haunting turn as a ballerina is impressive in acting and dancing. My apologies to all of the Bening fans out there, but I'm throwing all my weight behind Queen Amidala on this one.

Supporting Actor: Christian Bale for The Fighter. It's an amazing movie, and his role in it is what makes it the most phenomenal. He's got the momentum on this too, and after he wins, I'm going to have a celebratory watching of Newsies.

Supporting Actress: Another win for The Fighter. Melissa Leo killed the role of the mother in this film. She's absolutely phenomenal in it. I will say, there's a chance that some of her politicking will get her in trouble and the statue could go too newcomer Hailee Steinfeld for her role in True Grit. It's possible, but it's much more likely that she will fall into the Keisha Castle-Hughes trap and will only go home with the memories of getting to meet Johnny Depp. Not a bad night if you ask me. For the record though, I've picked Helena Bonham Carter in my fantasy ballot. If only so Bellatrix can win one for Voldie.

Animated Feature: Toy Story 3. Another no brainer. It's one of the best films of the year, and any movie in which my whole family cries in the theatre and then on the car ride home is worthy of an Oscar in my book.

Art Direction: I'm going with The King's Speech on this one. It's got the momentum and the historical edge to beat out my fantasy pick, Inception. This will be a repeated theme of the night.

Cinematography: Tricky category. I've picked Black Swan to win for my ballot at home, The Social Network to win for my Meshuganotes ballot and Inception for my fantasy ballot. I'm really hoping for Black Swan to take home the win on this one, because the handheld camera work in it is stunning throughout the entire film, but that being said, I'd love the upward pans of the Social Network to take home a win too. I picked Inception for the fantasy win because it won't win much tonight at all, and it will most certainly have deserved some.

Costume Design: The King's Speech. Period Pieces. Momentum. Could also go to True Grit. If it goes to The Tempest or Alice in Wonderland, I may cry.

Directing: Ok, I hate this category. Because I wholeheartedly believe with every inch of my being that Chris Nolan should win this award. And he's not even nominated. That being said, it seems pretty clear that Tom Hooper will win this for The King's Speech. He certainly is the safest bet for the pool. I'm however dreaming of a David Fincher win for The Social Network. It wouldn't be unheard of, but it would certainly be an underdog victory. In the 1 in a million chance that Darren Aronofsky gets a win for Black Swan, I would be pretty happy also, because that movie is directorially amazing.

Documentary Feature: Exit Through the Gift Shot. Just because I'm a huge Banksy fan.
Documentary Short: Poster Girl. Random Pick.
Animated Short Film: Day & Night. Super Cute.
Live Action Short: Wish 143. Random Pick

Film Editing: The Social Network. It won the Guild award, and while yes, I have a soft spot in my heart for this film, it should win this award.

Foreign Language: Incendies. Random Pick.

Makeup: I guess I'm going with The Wolfman, because it has the coolest title. Also, I completely agree with not nominating Alice in Wonderland for this category. That movie blew orange and neon chunks.

Original Score: Trent Reznor and The Social Network. It's so freaking good. I'm literally listening to it while I write this. Amazing use of digitalization and music.

Original Song: "If I Rise" from 127 Hours. The other songs are cute (except for the Country Strong song, which is terrible) but this one's my fave.

Sound Editing: I'm picking Inception for the win and for the fantasy ballot. Inception should have been nominated for a lot more editing awards. But it will win this one. It's too good not too.

Sound Mixing: The Social Network. The club scene. The party scene. You know what's cool? A billion dollars. And this film winning a sound mixing Oscar.

Visual Effects: Inception. Duh.

Adapted Screenplay: The Social Network. Aaron Sorkin's dialogue in this film is absolutely the best part of the whole damn movie. It's snappy, it's perfect, and it's just too well written to be real life. But it is the smart, well written dialogue I'm trying to emulate in my own life. Congrats on the Oscar ahead of time Mr. Sorkin. It is very much deserved.

Original Screenplay: Yes, the King's Speech will probably win for this as well. Yes I've picked it for my Oscar Ballot. BORING. I'm going with Inception for the fantasy ballot. It rules, and the story line of that movie is one of the best aspects. I'm convinced it would win if it didn't have the line "We have to go one level deeper!" Oh well, nothing is perfect.

Best Picture: Ok, for everyone out there reading this to try to win your Oscar pool, pick The King's Speech. It's going to win. It's a heartfelt, brilliantly acted and directed piece of film and history, and it won all of the important Guild awards. Black Swan can't win because it's too young for the voting members, so it should just enjoy the nomination of being honored. The Fighter is probably a better film that the King's Speech in my opinion, and if you ask me, it would have been in the running should there have only been 5 nominees in this category as well. Same goes for The Kids Are All Right. Poignant, Current and Depressing usually makes for a Best Picture win, but it's gonna get edged out by other great films this year. Inception, 127 Hours, True Grit, Toy Story 3 and Winter's Bone are all quality, but they are really only included in this category because of the new 10 nominees rule. But for what it's worth, I'm going to go with The Social Network. Because it is hands down the Best Picture of the Year.

Good luck with your ballots everyone, and watch for some live tweeting of the Awards Ceremony from my Twitter Account. @hirschybar92

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Strike a Pose

Meshuganotes Scavenger Hunt.

This past Saturday, Shugs took over the city of Columbus, taking pictures and causing mayhem. We split up the group into 4 cars and then set loose for 4 hours in and around campus, downtown, German Village, and everywhere else. Personally, I would like to recommend the Digital Picture Scavenger Hunt for all of your group activity needs. To put it colloquially, it's super fun. Here's some greatest hits.

Take a Picture with the Clipper's Statue.

Take a Picture Singing on a Street Corner

Take a Picture with the Wire Tree at COSI

Take a Picture with a Man with a Mustache :)

Take a Picture Eating a Donut!!

Take a Picture in Room 16 of the Book Loft.

Take a Picture Eating a Katzinger's Pickle

Take a Picture at the Capitol

Take a Picture with a Theatre Marquis

Take a Picture of the Whole Car Doing Something Weird

Super Win.

Meshuganotes in Cleveland

This weekend excursion was a few weekends ago, but that's no reason to not blog about it. It occurred to me that I don't do a lot of blogging about Meshuganotes, which is a giant fail on my part, because they are such a huge part of my life. We are OSU's ONLY co-ed Jewish acapella group on campus, and we sing lots and lots of different types of music (including contemporary). And best of all, we hang out. We have fun. We go to Cleveland and go sledding down a giant hill. Here's a good looking group of kids all padded up in Ryan's family's clothes to hit the big hill after an epic snowfall. If you look closely, you can see that the sleeves of my jacket have naked women silhouettes on them. Super win.

This hill was kind of epic, and may or may not have been the largest most terrifying sledding hill I have ever seen. We may or may not have wiped out more than twice. Possibly three times. There was a minor chin injury involved. And a possibly a concussion.

Here are some sledding actions shots.

Way to go Shuggies.

Also, Meshuganotes takes sweet pictures at awesome stores called "Great Fun" in the Coventry Area.
But the best part about being a Meshuganote is eating at Melt: Bar and Grilled. Otherwise known as the greatest gourmet grilled cheese restaurant in existence.

Here is mine, The Parmageddon. Perogies, Parmesean, Provolone, sauerkraut and all wrapped up in Grilled Cheese goodness. Paired with fantastically cooked french fries with a side of vinegar to go with. Thank you Melt.

And here is The Russian. Think Reuben meets Grilled Cheese. Meets happiness.

I fully expect to see Melt on Diner's Drive-in's and Dives any day now, so I want full credit for discovering it, and not Guy Fieri. I doubt this will happen, but it's worth dreaming over. So is this Grilled Cheese Goodness.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What a Glorious Feeling!

Given the choice, I must admit that in most cases, I’d rather watch a movie that was released in the last 5 years than one that was released in the last 60. Not because there aren’t hundreds of amazing movies I would watch over and over again that were released in the early to middle 20th century, but because I’m usually more interested in issues of current reality than I am in watching what is much more likely considered to be a “classic.”

That being said, no movie musical I’ve seen in the past 5 years can even hold a candle to the magic of a “Classical Hollywood” musical like Singin’ in the Rain. It feels like a complete joke to me to even attempt to compare the likes of something like Mammia Mia, Rent, Hairspray or Nine to the standard of musicals to which I hole all others to. Nothing is as perfect as Singin’ in the Rain. Nothing can come close to the amazing talent we are watching on screen. It is folly to even try to compare any leading man of a musical still living to the likes of Gene Kelly. Trying to judge Singin’ in the Rain from a modern musical generic standpoint feels like comparing freshly picked and perfectly ripe apples to last week’s orange peels that have been sitting on my countertop rotting.

It is particularly hard to review Singin’ in the Rain from an unbiased standpoint knowing that it is consistently named in the top of “Best of” film lists in multiple categories, especially considering that it is a movie made 59 years ago. And while it is difficult, to assess its technical merits as such, there is something to be said about some of its simplicity in its filmmaking choices.

For starters, the absolute best part about Singin’ in the Rain is the long takes of musicals numbers with full body shots. This technique involves very little camera movement, and often just follows the actors around, keeping their entire bodies within frame while they dance, sing and act. On one hand, I could see how this could be boring for someone used to watching a Jerry Bruckheimer film with an edit every 3 seconds, but the “simple” cinematography of this film is most of what gives it its magic. Much of the narrative of Singin’ in the Rain revolves around concerns involving filmmaking. How do we as an audience know that who we perceive to be singing a song is who is actually singing a song? And in a film where we are trained to question if what we are seeing is actually reality, the one thing we can be certain of 100% is that the dancing we see by Kelly, Reynolds and O’Connor is all them. We know because we can see their faces and their full bodies in motion. And while I wouldn’t be so bold as to argue that such talent as theirs completely doesn’t exist in any musical stars of our time, it can certainly be said that since musical numbers are not shot the same way and are edited together differently, that (at least for me) the magic of watching what I know is the actor doing the dance is gone. Watching the Richard Gere tap dancing scene in Rob Marshall’s 2002 film Chicago is a perfect example of this. Gere dances, but the song is edited between takes of him on stage and him in the courtroom, and there is never a full body shot of him dancing. The delight I get from watching Gene Kelly tap dance while playing the fiddle without any edit or break is gone when watching Gere. And while it may seem like outdated cinematography and filmmaking, when it comes to a musical, I’d rather watch things the way they used to be.

However if there is a downside to Singin’ in the Rain it is its small gaps in storytelling. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s kinda cheesy. And very predictable. I know the minute Gene Kelly falls into Debbie Reynolds car that they will be together at the end of the movie despite their initial hostility. And the “Broadway” number really has no point in this film, and it feels like it is just tied in because one of the filmmakers decided they wanted to put in a Broadway dance number. Granted, now that I think about it, this could be a parable to the silliness of the plot structure of “The Dancing Cavalier,” so maybe it is intentionally bad narrative at that point, but either way, its silly.

Singin’ in the Rain is not a perfect film by any means. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a damn good one either. Overall, it’s cheerful, magnificently shot and acted in, and shines some sunlight on even the rainiest day. 5 out of 5 stars, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Little Tea and Scones

Even when my life is dreadfully busy, I can always make time for tea and scones. That is just one of the pleasure of life I am not willing to compromise for anything. This past saturday, I took a trip out to Grandview to the Cambridge Tea House with the fabulous Elle "Mulebomb" for a chance to taste the finer things.

Elle is guest photographing for this blog post, which is why all of the pictures are better than usual. For more of her wonderful shots, check out her own blog: Days in the Life

Here's Cambridge Tea House from the outside. I assume that it is meant to look like a replica of a country home in England with a faux thatch roof. This made me very happy.

On the inside, it is an adorable establishment. Admittedly if there was one thing wrong with the space, it is too small, as Elle and I basically sat in on a date with the people next to us (really nice people, just probably didn't want to listen to us plan a Meshuganotes Retreat on their romantic morning out). The decor is also sort of frilly for my taste, but I am goign to forgive this on the grounds that it was kinda cute, and it's a tea house, so it's not like the inside would be post-modernly designed anyway.

The china is delicate and ornate, which is perfect with their aesthetic, but the cutest thing about CTH is their handmade tea cozy's that you place over your pot of tea to keep it warm. It made me think of Dobby, and how if he had popped in wearing one of these I could have died of happiness. Alas, he is fictional.

Alright, on to the main event, the tea and scones. Elle and I both partook in a very tradition English Cream Tea, two scones, clotted cream, jam and a pot of tea. CTH does a really interesting version of clotted cream, since they cannot replicate the original English version due to a discrepancy in pasteurization laws between us and them (stupid FDA ruining everything). Their version is very good though. A little bit of an orange citris kick to it, which is a nice compliment to the jam they serve.

Pictured here is one traditional cream scone, and then the scone of the day, which was a sweet raisin with an icing drizzle. I'm salivating just thinking about them again. I don't even like raisins (they are humiliated grapes) but this scone was awesome. And God knows I can't turn down anything with an icing drizzle.

I had the Pomegranate Oolong tea, while Elle had the Florence, "A Delicate Blend of Chocolate and Hazelnut" or what we are now calling, Liquid Nutella. Both excellent choices, her's was sweeter and creamier, while mine had a more natural sweetness and fruity blend. My only complaint, CTH doesn't serve English Breakfast Tea. This is a major oversight in my opinion, as English Breakfast Tea is 1. My favorite tea, 2. An absolute staple of English Tea in the UK and 3. CTH claims to be an English Tea House. That's like going to any ice cream establishment in the United States and there not being any version of Chocolate Ice Cream on the Menu. It's just sort of bonkers in my opinion.

If tea and scones isn't your MO, there are also lots of food options on the CTH menu. And I have to admit, as I was watching the waitresses bring them by to the other tables, I was sort of envious I didn't have infinite amounts of moolah and stomachs, because I probably could have sat there all day and just eaten. And for those of you with small children, there is an adorable Prince or Princess tea that comes with Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, sweets and a tiara for the little princess in all of us. (Take note Mother, we are paying a visit soon).

I don't usually rate the establishments I visit, but why not start. Cambridge Tea House gets 4 out of 5 stars. Excellent if you aren't in a hurry and really want an intimate and heart-warming tea and scones experience.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What is Hidden in Cache?

Michael Haneke’s 2005 mental thriller Caché is best characterized as a cinematic attack on your sanity. Upon leaving the theatre after viewing Caché, to say I was extremely disturbed would be an understatement. In fact, I had a minor meltdown while walking along High Street rendering me closer in appearance to that of a mentally unstable homeless person with a respiratory problem than that of a college junior exiting film class. The film is fabulously well made, completely captivating in its narrative, emotionally jarring, and has caused me much mental anguish over the past 24 hours. I don’t think I’ll ever voluntarily watch it again.

Caché begins with a disturbance in the lives of Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), a successful host of a television program in Paris, his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) and their younger teenaged son Pierrot. The Laurent’s have received a surveillance tape of their lives from an unknown source, and while they are immediately concerned, the police refuse to help them while the tapes remain “non-threatening.” Soon, the tapes come accompanied with crude drawings involving a child bleeding from the mouth and a beheaded rooster. As Georges delves deeper into the mystery of who is sending him these tapes and why, an incident from his own childhood is called into recollection, and the questions without answers further unravel the Laurent’s peaceful life and descend the family into a state of constant paranoia.

To start, the acting in the film is brilliant. Juliette Binoche is wonderful as a concerned mother and wife, dealing with trust issues in the face of an impossible difficult situation. The intimate moments of concern she shows for her family coupled with the anger and confusion over her current situation is perfectly blended with her scenes as the smiling hostess for a dinner party or the proud mother of a champion swimmer. It is not an easy feat to portray a character with that many layers, and it further solidifies my love of Binoche as an actress. I’ve yet to see a movie I don’t adore her in.

Paired against Binoche’s modern mother and wife is Daniel Auteuil’s portrayal of the television personality and father, Georges. I found Georges to be a generally unlikable character. He is a man who is occasionally withdrawn from his family, secretive in nature and one with an affinity for losing his temper unwarranted at the most inopportune moments. That being said, it is very hard not to feel bad for the guy being tormented by his past and an unknown aggressor. Georges goes through some of the most horrifying incidents in the film, and Laurent does an admirable job of pulling all of those elements together.

However, the true greatness of Caché is in the plot. Haneke has created a perfect script for this film in the balance of discourse and story. Most interesting, is the elements of the story that are not in the discourse, which the audience has no way of recovering. Some of the most crucial elements of the story need to be interpreted and assumed, and it is likely that each viewer will have a different reading of the ending of the film. But the elements of the story that Haneke does show us are a fascinating mix of fundamental scenes for the discourse and seemingly unnecessary moments of family life or surveillance footage, begging the question, why are we shown what we are shown? Haneke could clearly make this an unambiguous “closed” film a la the work of directors such as Fritz Lang or Alfred Hitchcock, but he doesn’t. He chose to make an open and ambiguous film more in the vein of Jean Renoir or Cristian Mungiu. This serves his purpose extremely well, as the film is more mentally anguishing afterwards with the concern over the various “missing” elements. The ambiguity of the film is what makes it so haunting.

The Times in London listed Caché as number one in the “Best 100 Movies of the Noughties” released in the UK from 2000-2009, an interesting choice for a city with more Closed Circuit TeleVision (CCTV) surveillance cameras in public places than in any other country in the world. While on the other hand, when it was reviewed for the San Francisco Chronicle it was absolutely panned by Mick LaSalle. The threat and paranoia of unwanted surveillance in Caché is the ultimate driving force behind the film, and it clearly resonates with some audiences rather than others. It certainly is a cinematic achievement on its own, worth maybe seeing once, but I admit I’d have a hard time recommending it to anyone I didn’t want to experience some serious mental disturbances. That being said, I’m still giving it four out of four stars. I have to admit, it absolutely captivated my attention throughout the entire 117 minutes, and while I may not have clearly enjoyed the film, I certainly didn’t not enjoy it either.