miscellaneous commentary

Archive for February 2012

Gas Attacks

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1. The U.S. exported more gasoline, diesel and other fuels than it imported in 2011 for the first time since 1949, the Energy Department said today.

2. Blaming the president for the recent rise in gas prices ignores many pertinent factors:

Now certainly America’s oil consumption, and to some degree our policies in the Middle East, affect global oil prices. Refining capacity is also a factor, and it happens that an unusual number of US refineries have been shut down recently by their operators. (The West’s confrontation with Iran is also having an effect, according to this news report.) But we are also clearly in lockstep with global price trends. So if you want to blame Bush for that peak (as Nancy Pelosi did; neither party is immune to political opportunism) or credit him for that crash, or you want to blame Obama for the subsequent rise in prices, then you should also blame and credit German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and the rest of ’em.


Written by camcarlson

February 29, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Posted in Politics, Science

Tagged with , , , , , ,

84th Academy Awards… YAWN…

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I am so uninterested in the Academy Awards this year that I’m not going to bother predicting the winners. There are so many precursor awards nowadays that making predictions is not only incredibly easy but downright pointless. In fact, I’m not even going to watch the ceremony tomorrow night. I don’t care enough about most of the nominees and I don’t find Billy Crystal to be that funny. I’ll probably watch a movie instead… would be a good opportunity to re-watch “The Tree of Life”, my personal favorite of 2011.

But I might as well say it — “The Artist” will probably win for Best Picture, Director, Leading Actor, Score, and maybe for its editing and costume design as well. I saw “The Artist” last week and liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I don’t think I’ll ever feel compelled to watch it again. It was a one-time gimmicky movie, the type Miramax… er, The Weinstein Company… is so good at concocting and promoting for Oscars. It was as forgettable as last year’s Best Picture winner, “The King’s Speech”, which was also put out by the Weinsteins. Go figure.

Random factoids about this year’s nominees:

Meryl Streep extended her record of most nominations for an actor or actress to seventeen, for her leading role in “The Iron Lady”. Fourteen of her nominations have been for leading roles and three for supporting roles. She won Supporting Actress for “Kramer vs. Kramer” in 1979 and Leading Actress for “Sophie’s Choice” in 1983. But she’s expected to lose this year to Viola Davis for “The Help”.

Woody Allen extended his record of screenplay nominations to fifteen. All have those nominations have been in the original screenplay category. If he wins (which he is expected to), he will become the first person to have won in this category three times. His last won 25 years ago for “Hannah and Her Sisters”. He also scored a seventh Best Director nomination, his first in 17 years, and has surpassed Billy Wilder for the record number of dual directing/screenwriting nominations (with seven). Allen’s latest film, “Midnight in Paris”, is the most financially successful film in his 45 years of filmmaking and is still playing in theaters, nearly nine months after it was released!

Speaking of records, composer John Williams earned his 41st and 42nd nominations for Original Score (for “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin”). He trails the record in this category by a single nomination. Williams has 47 overall nominations (the other five are for Original Song), which makes him the most-nominated living person and the second-most-nominated individual in history, behind Walt Disney.

For the fourth year in a row, the Supporting Actress category features two nominees from the same film; Amy Adams and Viola Davis for “Doubt” in 2008, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air” in 2009, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” last year, and Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for “The Help” this year. The conventional wisdom is that multiple nominees in the same category split the vote, but Leo managed to win last year, and Spencer is considered a favorite this year.

Pixar failed to earn a nomination in the Best Animated Feature category for only the third time since the category’s creation in 2001. All eight of its feature films made between 2001 and 2010 had been nominated and only two lost. This year marks the first time one of their films (“Cars 2”) wasn’t even nominated. See, this is what happens when you let Disney buy you out…

Sound mixer Greg Russell earned his fifteenth nomination and is still seeking his first win. He trails his former sound mixing partner Kevin O’Connell, who has been nominated twenty times without a win. Ouch.

This year’s Documentary Feature category is the only real wide-open race, as three of last year’s best-reviewed docs — “The Interrupters”, “Project Nim” and “Into the Abyss” — were not nominated.

Scott Feinberg surprised me by predicting “Hugo” will beat “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” for Best Visual Effects, but he notes that, since 1977, no Best Picture nominee in this category has ever lost to a non-Best Picture nominee. He’s usually pretty good with his predictions, so we’ll see.

On a closing note, I absolutely agree with Jason Bailey’s sentiments regarding illogical choices in Oscar history and how they make us take them less seriously:

Every true film lover can pinpoint the moment when they “broke up” with the Oscars, when the Academy made a choice so illogical, so upsetting, and so numb-skulled as to blow their credibility forevermore. When you’re young, the Oscars are a big deal, the movie geek equivalent of the Super Bowl; then they blow it, and while you may watch in the years that follow, it’s never with the same enthusiasm or gusto. For some, that moment came in 1971, when The French Connection beat out A Clockwork Orange and The Last Picture Show; for some, it was Gandhi’s 1982 win over E.T., Tootsie, and The Verdict; for others, it was Shakespeare in Love beating Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line in 1998. But this writer made it all the way to age 30 before giving up on Oscar, when the biggest award of the night went to Paul Haggis’ pedantic, contrived, and utterly artless Crash.

In going with this simple-minded “racism is bad” tale, Oscar voters passed over Ang Lee’s revisionist cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain, Bennett Miller’s masterful biopic Capote, George Clooney’s enthralling Murrow vs. McCarthy tale Good Night and Good Luck, and Steven Spielberg’s difficult but rewarding Munich. It’s not just that the less-deserving nominee won; at the 78th Academy Awards, the worst nominee (by leaps and bounds) won. Me and Oscar still hang out every once and while, but we haven’t been the same since.

(I also agree that Robert Benigni winning Best Actor for that despicable Holocaust denial movie from 1998 was ridiculous.)

Written by camcarlson

February 25, 2012 at 8:22 PM

Gone Bust

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A quick update to my Feb 17 entry — UNI announced today they will be closing Price Lab effective July 1. No word on how many students will be transitioning over to the CF school district. From what I’ve read, any closure would require state legislation, so that’s the next thing to watch for, to see if that can be done by this summer.

Aside from Valley Lutheran (a quick web search didn’t reveal how many students they have), it will be odd having only one high school in Cedar Falls. No more *snort* inter-city rivalries!

Written by camcarlson

February 22, 2012 at 5:27 PM

Posted in Cedar Valley

How many movies have I seen?

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I have no idea. A helluva lot. Too many. But probably not enough.

In the 10th grade Steve McCrea lent me his VHS copy of “Taxi Driver” to watch to aid in my research on designing a better Alcatraz, which was my second semester LAE project. That led to him lending me copies of other movies — “Blade Runner”, “Apocalypse Now”, “Straw Dogs”, “Papillon”, et cetera — which transitioned into a junior- and senior-year independent study on cinematic violence. McCrea and other ALPHA students helped me draft a film studies list; movies that had been been deemed “classics” as well as a separate list of films whose violence could be vouched for by a few upperclassmen (namely Dan K. and Elijah D.). I also obtained a copy of a similar “must-see” list from Andrea, containing titles to 400 similarly-acclaimed classics. I still have both of these lists, saved in a binder.

McCrea had an arrangement with the Blockbuster Video on University Avenue, allowing him to check out a seemingly unlimited number of films for his students. We were never asked to pay anything, so long as we returned the movies when they needed to be back, though I sometimes wonder if McCrea had the school system billed for the rentals or if the manager was simply being kind and letting the movies out for educational purposes. Either way, it was because of this charity that I was exposed to “The Godfather” films (they also had the Godfather Saga on VHS, which I managed to see one time only), “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Walkabout” and “The Seventh Seal”, among others.

After high school, my interest turned to quality films in general, where it has been ever since. I was a regular customer of the 49-cent Tuesday specials at the Mr. Movies on Waterloo Rd; through them I saw Buñuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” and Robert Altman’s “Nashville”. At the end of each fall semester at UNI I would check out as many DVDs and VHS tapes from the UNI library as I could stuff into my bookbag, ensuring I would be properly occupied over the winter break; Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and the powerful documentary “Night and Fog” come to mind. I continued to take advantage of their impressive selection even after I graduated, thanks to the generous assistance from my friends Blake and Katya.

When I lived in Omaha I had access to a pretty good selection of movies at the nearby Hollywood Video. I saw “Dark Blue World”, “Santa Sangre”, the Samurai trilogy with Toshiro Mifune, “Twin Falls Idaho” and “My Own Private Idaho”. I saw “Northfolk” and a midnight screening of “The Evil Dead” at the Dundee Theater and fell in love with “Lost in Translation” at the AMC on 132nd.

When I lived in Oxford I had no access to video rentals and was an hour’s drive from the Esquire in Cincinnati. But I did manage to see “The Dreamers” there in the spring of 2004, in its uncut NC-17 format. I do remember seeing the second “Kill Bill” film and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” at the Princess in Oxford, a little place with cheap ticket prices and small screening rooms.

I have pretty much exhausted the available titles at both local libraries and I can no longer readily access UNI’s constantly growing collection (unless I opt to pay for a limited membership, which I may do in the near future). Family Video is the only remaining video rental store in the Cedar Valley and I have seen what titles I wish to see from their shelves. They are now only good for new releases, and even then they don’t offer a wide selection of documentaries, independent or foreign films. Soon I will bite the bullet and pay for a premium Hulu membership, so I can stream their high-def Criterion collection. Once I have exhausted that selection, which could take most of this year, I will bow to Netflix.

So, returning to the question I posed in the title of this entry… whenever I see a movie that’s on my film list, I cross off the title in red pen. When I watch a movie that’s not on the list, I write it in the margins in red pen. When I see a movie in the theater, I write it sideways in the left margin on the first page. Sometimes I will write a suggested title in black pen or in pencil on the last page, but lately I have added new titles to a file on my computer, to be added at the end-of-year cleanup. I have kept every one of these lists. I have no intention of counting each pen strike or added entry on each list, but I have glanced over each list and have estimated a fair number for each. Below are the results of my half-assed estimations:

High school: 250? I am guessing 100 VHS tapes per year, plus 10-15 theater films and who knows how many seen on television.

2000/2001: 250? My lists weren’t separated by year until 2002 I think. This does not include multiple viewings of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, which I think I saw 4 or 5 times.

2002/2003/2004: 350?… this does not include multiple viewings of “The Two Towers” (twice) or “The Return of the King” (twice), “The Matrix Reloaded” (four times) or “Revolutions” (three times), “Kill Bill volume 2” (twice in Oxford and once at Crossroads w/ Blake, Cory and Alex), or “Sideways” (twice)

2005: 325? A wild guess… this was apparently a productive year for my red pen. This does not include multiple viewings of “Revenge of the Sith” (four times, don’t ask me why).

2006: 250/275. Let’s say 260. I’m way too lazy to actually count these up tonight.

2007: 100… I slowed down a bit. But the theater count was a robust 38.

2008: 150 + 23 theatrical releases.

2009: Finally, my lists are labeled by year instead of by version. 80 + 42 theatricals. Saw “Inglorious Basterds” three times (within a week, no less).

2010: 100 + 17 theatricals. The remaining titles on my list are becoming too obscure for my local resources and I’m re-watching a number of movies I first saw a decade or so ago. I did a big purge of the list at year-end, removing a couple hundred titles I wasn’t seriously interested in seeing.

2011: 90? + 26 = 115. I’ll do a more precise count of each list later this week.

Including the few I’ve seen this year, let’s guesstimate 2,150 unique titles seen since 1997. That’s about 150 movies per year. But as we’ve seen, some years were busier than others. In early 2005 I took advantage of Blockbusters “check out three movies at a time for $20 per month” deal and watched 152 movies over the course of 28 days. Whereas last year I cut back on my film intake and read a bit more (27 books / 10,000 pages of text). Some people are well-read; I’m well-watched.

Anyway, this all came up after I read this article by A D Jameson about watching 1,925 features over the course of 15 years. I think I have him beat, but I won’t boast until I do a more precise count of my lists. I admire his thorough recordkeeping — I wish I had kept some manner of record of my basic gut-level impression of each film I watched. Color me lazy, I guess. I just go by what I can remember… so if I can’t remember seeing a particular film, it was probably not good enough to be worth remembering anyway.

Written by camcarlson

February 20, 2012 at 9:39 PM

Posted in Cinema

Tagged with , ,

Going Belly-Up

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News items of the past week:

1. UNI, facing yet another round of budget cuts, may close Price Lab rather than invest $30 in needed renovations or in a new building. A final decision will depend on the outcome of the budget bill currently makings its way through the state legislature. I like having a research school in the Cedar Valley but if the school’s function can be adequately fulfilled by other schools throughout the state, that option should be explored.

2. The Boy Scouts of American recently changed their policy requiring all camps to be self-sustaining, which may force Winnebago Council to close Camp Ingawanis near Waverly. A regional task force will meet on April 26 to discuss closing either Ingawanis or the Winnebago Scout Reserve, either entirely or just parts of each camp, and possibly selling one or both properties. While the BSA’s current policies prohibit me from supporting them, I do have many fond memories of Ingawanis, having spent four summers there, and would be sad to see it closed.

3. The company I work for may be preparing to sell itself through a prearranged bankruptcy, which could happen as soon as the end of next month. Naturally, I don’t expect to arrive to work the next morning to find the front doors locked and chained — a few million mortgages still have to be serviced — but a bankruptcy/sale sure doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. I guess I’ll just take it one day at a time. At least I got my (2011) year-end bonus today!

Written by camcarlson

February 17, 2012 at 8:48 PM

Romantic Movie Tuesday

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Written by camcarlson

February 14, 2012 at 8:54 PM

Street Life

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I did a lot of walking outside today, to Family Video and the new lift station behind the Panther Lounge, to Toads on the Parkade for a bowl of chili and the CF library for some light reading. Along the way I noticed how ugly Valley Park Drive has become with multiple “Share The Road” signs, sticking out of the ground every 100 feet like a series of sore yellow thumbs. I appreciate the city’s interest in promoting alternate modes of transportation, but I think the bike sharrows are sufficient.

With that said, I would like to share a few pics of beautiful streets. First up is Rua Gonçalo de Carvalho, located in Porto Alegre, Brazil, lined with over 100 massive tipuana trees along 3 city blocks.

© Stephen Messenger 

Then there are the Jacarandas in Johannesburg…

And finally, the revamped and uncluttered Exhibition Road in London. The intention is to make drivers more observant to their surroundings:

Experience seems to show that when you dedicate space to traffic and control it with signs and green traffic lights, motorists develop a claim on it. It becomes ‘my space.’ Drivers become annoyed if people move into it. … This new scheme is more like the behaviour in a supermarket car park. Drivers know there are people around pushing shopping trolleys and so drive more cautiously. They are looking out.

Speed limit signs are placed at each end of the road and also on lampposts along the block. (which makes me wonder why CF doesn’t utilize streetlight poles to post signs…)

Written by camcarlson

February 12, 2012 at 10:31 PM