Monday, February 25, 2013

Golden idols

Did you watch the Oscars at your house, as we did at our manse?  All in all it wasn't a bad show, although not very fulfilling for a variety of reasons.

Let's get the business of the first time host, animation producer and part-time big-band crooner Seth MacFarlane, out of the way right up front.  The guy is the brains behind numerous animated programs like "Family Guy," "American Dad" and others, and also wrote, directed and kind of starred in a movie called "Ted" last year.  Subtlety and propriety are not among his strong suits, and were Seth here now to discuss with us, he'd most likely agree readily.

I thought MacFarlane was entertaining, somewhat bawdy, sang and performed well when called upon (he often sings in character in the context of his animated programs) and did the host "thing" well enough.  The theme of the ceremony was some sort of a salute to music in the movies, and I'm sure he didn't object but he also had no part in choosing that as the thematic overview, either.  So whatever I thought of the show, Seth MacFarlane wasn't an issue for me.  In fact, I love "Family Guy," and am accustomed to his style of humor, so no problem here.

No, here are some of the areas where I thought the thing fell short:

A "tribute" to fifty years of James Bond films was quickly introduced by one-time Bond girl Halle Berry and consisted of a few minutes of film clips that were unremarkable in and of themselves.  Then Shirley Bassey, who performed several of the Bond theme songs back in the 60's, arrived on stage to perform the theme from "Goldfinger."  Or, as her distinct vocal style has it, "Gold-fin-GAH."  Very nice, and she still has most of her vocal power.  And later in the broadcast we were treated to a live performance of the theme from the most recent Bond outing, "Skyfall," by the dynamic pop singer Adele (it won for best original song).

My objection was that it had been hinted and rumored that there would be an onstage reunion of all of the actors who played James Bond.  No such luck.  Seeing Daniel Craig chatting up Sean Connery would have been priceless, but it didn't happen.

There were other musical performances from recent years, but the best was a medley from last year's "Les Miserables," performed by several members of the movie's cast.  Very well done (even Russell Crowe) and conveyed at least some of the emotional impact of the original film (which was very good, by the way).

I honestly believe it might be time for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (glad I don't have to type that repeatedly to let you know what I'm referencing) to delete some of the less notable awards from the ceremony.  It seemed to me that the same pale Caucasian man with shoulder length grey/white hair claimed three awards in editing, sound effects or something less visible.  It was actually three different people, but they all had those features in common, and I really wasn't that interested in them anyway.

Here's another thing....how can a film be nominated or even win for Best Picture (there are NINE nominees now, instead of the former number of five) and yet that film's director isn't nominated, let alone win, for Best Director?  It happens, it's happened before and again last night "Argo won Best Picture, yet Ben Affleck was left out of the Best Director nominees.  Inexplicably, Ang Lee won again for Best Director for a movie that was not voted Best Picture, and I still don't understand how Steven Spielberg didn't win for "Lincoln."  Frankly, I smell a "he's won before, you know" conspiracy against Mr. Spielberg, who labored over this film for a number of years.

The acting award were OK, although I would have liked seeing Tommy Lee Jones win for his portrayal of a curmudgeonly abolitionist legislator (gee, there's a stretch) in "Lincoln," but an actor from  Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" (which I did not see) won instead.  Tarantino also won for best original screenplay, and, honestly, when he receives these awards it kind of validates his unusual perspective a little more than it should.  I liked "Pulp Fiction," but let's be clear, that was almost twenty years ago.  Think Quentin has grown any in that time?

Kentucky's Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for "Silver Linings Playbook," another flick I didn't see (and don't want to, as I prefer not to be that uncomfortable watching folks with mental illness on screen) and, bless her heart, fell down on her way up the stage steps.  And Daniel Day-Lewis won going away, it would seem, for his startling portrayal of the title character in "Lincoln."  If you've seen that AND the film for which he last won Best Actor, "There Will Be Blood" from just a few years ago, he is the very definition of an "actor" in my mind.

Movies I liked won a few, lost most, or weren't nominated.  To me, the movie business is divided into three categories:  1)  make money among undiscriminating teens and young adults, 2) make money among the masses ("franchise" movies like "The Avengers" and "Harry Potter) or 3) gain critical acclaim.  Seems that a good many winners come from the third category, and I suppose I reveal my narrow cultural parameters by saying that much of the time I don't find movies in that category to be all that interesting.

Oh, well, there's always next year.



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mail, man

Did you hear that the United States Postal Service is really, finally going to suspend delivery of regular mail on Saturdays?  But they're waiting until August?  And the Post Offices that are currently open on Saturdays will continue that practice, and packages where the sender has paid the extra fees for Saturday delivery will also be delivered.

Let's think about the Postal Service for a moment.  They're the only federal government agency or program that's required to fund in advance and in full its retiree healthcare program for 75 years.  The agency lost over $11 billion just in the first three quarters of 2012.

Heard somewhere that UPS contracts with the USPS to deliver a large percentage of its packages.  Why?  Because the Postal Service is already delivering mail to remote areas.  UPS (and FedEx and the other package services) figured out long ago that they couldn't do what the Postal Service does and try to make a profit, which, of course, is the intent of a private enterprise.  But the Postal Service will still take a letter or greeting card from you, providing it has the correct stamp on it (which now costs a princely 46 cents), and deliver it from your home in Miami to the recipient in Seattle.  Pretty amazing, if you think about it.

I've heard it expressed that, in days gone by, the highlight of the day in rural areas used to be the arrival of the daily mail.  That represented most of the contact one would have with the outside world.  For a long time daily newspapers from a city fifty miles away would have been delivered the following day by mail.

Think of the phrases that would no longer apply:  "I bought this mail order."  "The check is in the mail."  "He really airmailed that throw and threw it over the catcher's head."  And so on.

My wife and I began banking electronically in 2008, which, coincidentally, also meant that we bought a lot fewer postage stamps and mailed a great many fewer items (except for Christmas cards, which I've written of in this space previously).  In fact, we do this so seldom that I almost have to think about the process, and where to place the stamp, and so forth.

And what we receive in the mail consists almost entirely of bills and junk mail, and nothing else.  Which means that those who WANT to communicate with me are doing so via other means.  Which, in turn, is why the Postal Service will never be able to continue operating as it does now.  Consider this:  if one of the large package delivery services bought the Postal Service, they'd do away with daily mail delivery, and suddenly we'd pay around $2.00 to mail a letter.  As I said, that's OK with me, since I don't send much mail.  But I expect that our creditors would begin to require us to sign up for e-mail-based billing and invoicing, as THEY wouldn't want to pay that rate per item.  And it would be the end of junk mail, which would not be such a bad thing at all.

So think of your letter carrier, if you're lucky enough to see the same man or woman regularly.  Won't be many like them in the future.

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