Wednesday, January 31, 2007

AMERICAN IDOL: ALABAMA

Not a lot of excitement tonight. The blond bombshell is does not look 17 years old, and her story about the paralyzed father sounds fishy.

The funny guy at the end seems promising. I don't think we've ever seen anyone on the show who had a sense of humor.

There were no real standouts tonight. I don't think we'll see a third Birmingham idol.

Paula was clearly stoned in the first half of the show, and her disappearance in the second half for "a family event" makes me wonder if Betty Ford is part of her family.

INFAMOUS

It's a strange experience watching INFAMOUS; it's like watching a remake of a movie that was just made. (It tells the exact same story as CAPOTE did last year.) Each movie has its points, but CAPOTE is the better film. It is better written and, in particular, the last act stands up much more powerfully.

In INFAMOUS, Toby Hall plays a different and perhaps better version of Capote than Philip Seymour Hoffman did. He looks much more like him, and sounds like him without sounding like an impression. INFAMOUS deals with his sexuality more honestly, but CAPOTE did a better job showing his difficulties writing the novel. Sandra Bullock gives the best performance of her career as Harper Lee... perhaps even better than Katherine Keener.

But where INFAMOUS falls apart is in the character of Perry Smith, played by Daniel Craig (who was fantastic in CHILDREN OF MEN and very good in CASINO ROYALE). The character in this film is explained as being in love with Capote, which is hard to believe, and which demystifies the character. Craig's performance is nowhere near as fluid ss Clifton Collins in CAPOTE (or even Robert Blake).

Still, it's an interesting viewing, and should make for great fodder for comparative film classes.

Monday, January 29, 2007

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION

I sat through about four shots of FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION before I realized what was wrong with it.

It's not a mockumentary.

There's something about the form that makes even the most caricatured performance seem "real" when you believe it's a documentary. In watching these same actors who were in BEST IN SHOW, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN and A MIGHTY WIND move out of mockumentary and into traditional storytelling, suddenly they seem like they are doing bad sketch comedy from MAD TV.

That's not to say the movie is terrible. Katherine O'Hara gives the only layered performance as an aging actress who allows herself to get excited over a rumor of a nomination. She's fantastic. Fred Willard and Parker Posey are also very funny. But there are a lot of setups that never payoff, and quite a few misfires. Surprising considering the material that could have been mined.

The movie is also SO short that when the director's credit came up I said aloud, "THAT'S IT???" One missed opportunity was showing the actual Oscar ceremony to see its outcome. Since the whole show is a buildup to it, it leaves the viewer unfulfilled at the end, which is no way to leave the theater.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

New Addition to Our Family!


Riley, full name "Life of Riley," (as in, "What a revoltin' development!") is the new love of our lives. He's a five-pound, two-year old papillon. We've had him for a week. He came from a very reputable breeder who used him as a show dog in his first year and decided to turn him over. I apologize for the focus on the photo, but shooting an untrained dog is a lot harder than I thought. When he's looking up and you can see his face, he's a lot cuter. He still needs a little house-training, but he's doing a great job so far!

He loves people and is very affectionate. His favorite time of the day is sitting on the couch with us watching TV. He actually watches. I've never seen a dog that actually watches TV. If we watch Animal Planet (which we do a lot), he reacts to all the animals on the show, but he also reacts to movies. He really did not like Paul Giamatti in THE ILLUSIONIST. I guess that's a compliment on his performance, as he was supposed to be a threatening bad guy for most of the movie.

It's also nice to have someone excited when you get home!

TAKE THE LEAD

A few years ago there was a great documentary called MAD HOT BALLROOM about an inner-city program that taught ballroom dancing to high school kids. TAKE THE LEAD is a fictional film about a similar story. The film has its heart in the right place, but the script is terrible. Scene after scene has characters doing and saying things that would never happen. The film also overstays its welcome by at least half an hour. Antonio Banderas is good; he reminds me of a young Ricardo Montalban here. Alfré Woodard is also good, as are many of the younger cast, although some of the high school students look like they are pushing forty.

Excellent music choices, though.

Friday, January 26, 2007

SOUND NOMINATIONS

The Motion Picture Sound Editors have posted nominations in their many sound categories. As Past President and Lifetime Board Member of the organization, I know a lot about how they do their nominations. They have the most thorough and inclusive nominations of any group can think of, including the Oscars.

In feature films, there are two ways to be nominated. First there is a ballot sent to all active members of the organization who can write in any film they like that qualifies. The top vote-getters in each category are automatically nominated. However, this purely democratic process means that films that get a big release are much more likely to get more votes, since smaller films will be seen by less people. To make up for this, there is also Blue Ribbon Panel which screens every film that is submitted. The panel then recommends additional nominations to the board.

Several of the categories will end up with as many as 8 nominees. This is because we try to be as inclusive as possible. There are definitely more than 5 films a year that deserve recognition. We also have many categories. The Oscars only present the award to the Supervising Sound Editors. If you look at the credits to a film, you'll see literally dozens of sound editors on any movie. We also recognize Dialogue/ADR editors and Music Editors. We recognize all media, including television, video, and computer entertainment.

I'm extremely excited that this year in the student category, one of my 310 students from last semester, Kevin Klauber, has been nominated for his excellent film BIO-RHYTHMS. (No, I'm not on that Blue Ribbon Panel, and I don't even know who is.) I've been involved with the MPSE for 20 years and I've never seen a 310-level film get nominated before. Advanced and thesis level films, yes, although frankly USC has not had a great track record with the awards. I think the main reason is that so many films at USC films are "talkies," i.e., everyone sitting around talking in close-ups, that the lack of creativity visually means that there's very little opportunity for inventive sound design. Kevin's film is not a traditional narrative, it's an experimental film with no dialogue at all, and therefore encourages creative use of sound. Even the title of the film was made with sound in mind; it's about the natural rhythms all around us. Credit also his partner Freddie Wong, his Foley Artists Victor Lacour and James Owsley, and his mixer, another former student of mine, Jan Pfenninger, who is an Animation major.

I myself was also nominated in one of the television categories for my work on the ABC miniseries THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, starring Dougray Scott, Omar Shariff, and Claire Bloom. The film won't (and shouldn't) win, but I'm very proud of the work I did on it, as it was a tremendous challenge.

In Domestic Feature Sound Effects/Foley Editing, BLOOD DIAMOND*, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS*, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA*, M:I 3, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN*, THE PRESTIGE, SUPERMAN RETURNS, and WORLD TRADE CENTER were nominated.

The four films with asterisks above were also nominated for the Oscar for Sound Editing. The fifth Oscar nominee, APOCALYPTO, was not nominated for the Effects MPSE, but was nominated for both Dialogue Editing and Music Editing, so we're in good agreement on the Oscars.

The MPSE is different from the Academy in the way that they determine "Foreign" films. In the Academy, it's Foreign LANGUAGE film (although their rules are a little screwy; IWO JIMA was not eligible in Foreign because it was a US production, even though it's in Japanese.) In the MPSE, we determine if a film is Foreign based on where the sound editing is done. This category has changed significantly in recent years with the huge amount of work going overseas. You'll see that many otherwise American, English-language films end up in our Foreign category.

In Foreign Sound Editing, BABEL, BLACK DAHLIA, CASINO ROYALE, CHILDREN OF MEN, CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, PAN'S LABYRINTH and UNITED 93 were nominated.

I'm also on the Board of Directors of the Cinema Audio Society who have their own awards for Sound Mixing. Sound Editing and Sound Mixing are entirely different crafts. Most people do not do both. Sound Editors find the right sounds, either by recording them or finding them in a library, and edit them into synch with the picture. Re-recording mixers take all of the elements delivered by the many sound editors and blend into the proper perspective with each other.

The CAS nominees for Feature Sound Mixing are: BABEL, BLOOD DIAMOND, DREAMGIRLS, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST. You'll notice a lot of crossover from the editing awards. (DREAMGIRLS was nominated in the MPSE Musicals category.) A mixer can't do a great job without great tracks delivered, and an editor's brilliant work needs an mixer's touch to make it all work. The Oscars nominated APOCALYPTO instead of BABEL for mixing.

Since I'm personally involved with both of these organizations, I'm not going to make predictions on their outcome, only say that there were a lot of great, great sounding films this year, and every nominee is worthy in their own way.

PAN REDUX

I saw PAN'S LABYRINTH again tonight. It's definitely my pick for best film of the year. It stands up very well the second time through; there's lot I didn't notice the first time through. In fact, my entire read of the film has changed. I'll post that as a a comment, so don't read the comments unless you want MAJOR SPOILERS.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

AMERICAN IDOL: NEW YORK

Too long at 2 hours, although apparently they let through twice as many as any other city so far, but they sure didn't show them on TV.

I did like the hot Jersey Girls, but not as singers. The opera singer was just OK.

The Runaway Girl was terrible. I think her whole back story is a hoax. Her father did not sound AT ALL mad.

THE ILLUSIONIST

THE ILLUSIONIST is a fine and entertaining film with a great performance by Paul Giamatti. It's not great, and there are certainly weaknesses; the story is almost too simple, and the twist predictable and overly explained in the movie. The rest of the acting is along the lines of melodrama, with Ed Norton overdoing it. Philip Glass's score is completely out of context with the story and visual style of the film. The visual style is annoying at times, using a flicker effect to the point of distraction for a long flashback sequence, and using an iris effect almost throughout the entire film.

Yet Giamatti still makes it worth watching. It's amazing how he steps into a character and makes it his own without overdoing it. In both this film and SIDEWAYS he does character voices, yet at no point is it obvious that it's an affectation.

I'll try to write about the Oscars no later than tomorrow.

MONSTER HOUSE

I PROMISE I'll write about the Oscar nominations as soon as I have time.

In the meantime, I'll review MONSTER HOUSE which I watched tonight. Totally deserving of the Oscar nomination it received today, it's an incredibly well-written script, with great characters, lots of unexpected plot twists, great animation and terrific sound design and music. It's also a very dark movie; I'm surprised at what slipped into a children's film. I highly recommend it.

AMERICAN IDOL: MEMPHIS

In tonight's AMERICAN IDOL: MEMPHIS, the background singer chick was amazing. Had a Gladys Knight-Tina Turner vibe to her. The fat son of a #1 singer was pretty good too.

The guy who missed his baby's birth will not make it past the next round.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Office Hours

My wife and I have been passing the same cold back and forth for about a week now. That's reduced my movie viewing, so I'm taking the time to catch up on some work that's been piling up. I expect to be back in class on Wednesday.

My normal office hours this semester will be Wednesdays 4-5 PM and usually longer. I will also usually be on campus Friday afternoons, but please try to make an appointment either way. I'm easily distracted so I'm not usually in my actual office unless I know someone plans on meeting me there.

Yes, I know Oscar nominations are announced tomorrow morning. I'll try to post some comments when I get the chance.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Football

Well, I was right about the Bears (I made the predictions last week), but the Colts beat the Pats. I'm not too upset, as I've said before, the Pats have done so well in recent years that I'm almost feeling guilty.

The Colts are favored by 7 over the Bears, but I really think the Bears are the strongest team in football.

Friday, January 19, 2007

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN is a pretty good film noir thriller that tries a little too hard to be THE USUAL SUSPECTS, but succeeds anyway. A great cast, and a labyrinthine plot make the film worthwhile. Interesting comparison to the film I saw last night, THE BLACK DAHLIA, as they both have similar plots, and both star Josh Hartnett. Hartnett is MUCH better here, as he gets to play a much more light-hearted character, and apparently there was a director on the set.

The film also sounded really good. Definitely a recommend.

YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME

YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME is one of the strangest documentaries I have ever seen. It's about the rock singer Roky Erickson of the 60s psychedelic band THE 13TH FLOOR ELEVATORS. Unfortunately, the first third of the film is poorly edited and very confusing; it could have used some explanatory dialogue to establish timeline and relationships. However, once you figure out what's going on, the story is captivating. The only movie I could compare this to is CRUMB. As in that film, you keep thinking to yourself "this can't possibly get any weirder," and then it does, again and again. With each new character introduced, the story takes another bizarre turn. I'm not going to say too much about the plot as it's best to see it unfold in the movie.

Roky is mentally disturbed. It's unclear what caused it; he was a heavy drug user in the 60s. One band mate says he never recovered from a particularly bad acid trip. He admits to dropping acid over 300 times. His ex-wife says he got hepatitis from using heroin. He was also diagnosed as schizophrenic. He was arrested for possession of a joint and plead insanity, which was common at the time to avoid jail. He was sent to an asylum, but after escaping was sent to a home for the criminally insane, where he was given electroshock therapy.

So it's impossible to figured out exactly what fried his brain, but meeting his family certain shows that he had problems before any of that began.

If you get a chance to see this film, see it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

COPYING BEETHOVEN

I'm a very tough audience for films about the art of music composition. Most of them grossly simplify both the act of composing music and the artists that create it. I'm famous for being one of the few people who did not like AMADEUS for those reasons. (Although a recent re-viewing of the director's cut raised my opinion... slightly. It's definitely far better than the play.)

One of the few films in the genre that I like is IMMORTAL BELOVED. Okay, it's not the best movie ever made, but it's interesting and well-acted.

So already I'm a tough audience for the film COPYING BEETHOVEN, which covers some similar territory to IMMORTAL BELOVED. COPYING implies that his beloved might have been his copyist, or that at the very least, she was a muse to him late in life. Although the film has some good moments, it's not as great as I'd hoped. Polish director Agnieszka Holland, who gave us EUROPA EUROPA and OLIVIER, OLIVIER (why wasn't this film called "LUDWIG, LUDWIG"?) does a decent job, but the film feels stagy at times and seems to lack development.

I love Ed Harris as an actor, he was phenomenal in POLLACK, but he seems slightly miscast as Ludwig. I never noticed his New York speech patterns until he was playing a European. Of course it's a conceit that Beethoven would be speaking English, and I don't expect a German or Austrian accent, yet it just seems strange. Diane Kruger is not a strong enough actor to stand up to Beethoven's character or Pollack's performance (although the part is not written as strongly as it should have been to be his interest).

There are also some structural weaknesses; there's a point in the second act where we watch an entire movement of a symphony for no real reason. It seems like the movie is wrapping up, yet we still haven't gotten to the third act. And the real end of the movie just seems to stop.

The sound and music were excellent. The period pianos sounded very good. The orchestral performances were a little contemporary, but I'll let that slide as it's more exciting that way.

I'd recommend it for a rental if you're interested in the subject matter.

THE BLACK DAHLIA

Take one of the most famous unsolved true-crime stories in Hollywood history, add some of the biggest name actors of our time, and throw in the director of CARRIE and THE UNTOUCHABLES, and what do you get? One of the worst films of the year.

I don't know where to begin ripping this apart. The script was terrible. I'm told it's one of Elroy's weakest books, and the adaptation is weak. It's 20 minutes into the film before we get a whiff of anything regarding the Black Dahlia. You'd think that her real-life story would be interesting enough, but Elroy felt he had to create a whole fictional world of film-noir stereotypes to flesh out the story.

There's so much that's over the top. perfectly fine actors like Hillary Swank are laughably bad here; she does an accent that sound like a cross between Katherine Hepburn and the Lucky Charms guy. The camerawork is insane; one entire scene is done subjective camera for no reason whatsoever. Fiona Shaw could have used a fire hose to notch down her performance from burlesque to reality. It's like the actors had no director at all.

I usually like Mark Isham's work, but the music was a sledge-hammer as well. The sound design was weakened considerably by the needless voice-over.

Skip it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

AI Night 2

The humor continued in night two of AMERICAN IDOL. Thank god for Tivo, you can get through the show pretty quickly. The only real talent I saw were the Indian siblings (the "Twin-dians"), although they implied that there would be sibling rivalry further down the road. I also liked the Giraffe woman, although her voice needs a lot of work.

American Idolatry

AMERICAN IDOL opened tonight to highest-rated opening in its six-year run, with more than 37 million people watching.

There is something very bizarre about this cultural phenomenon. As a musician (I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston) and a singer myself, I was offended by the whole idea of the show. It seemed antithetical to finding true musical talent by trying to groom a new pop star, so I skipped watching the first season of the show. My wife, however, started watching it, and I ended up seeing a few shows towards the end of the season. The choice of Kelly Clarkson as the winner only confirmed my suspicions of misplaced talent. We ended up seeing her perform at the Grammys the following year, and outside the studio setting, she is truly awful and can't carry a tune.

When season 2 began, my wife and I had just moved into our new home, so I started watching it regularly with her. It was at this point that I got hooked to the show. They have tweaked the format a bit (including voting rules) so that the show is a little bit fairer, and the judges seem to be looking for different kinds of talent now. Seeing Reuben Studdard, a blues singer, win this season was worth it.

The show is very addictive. Like 49 Up, once you see the contestants in an early week, you want to see what happens to them. There are certainly valid criticisms of the show. The opening two weeks are all about the comedy of humiliation. The open auditions deliberately siphon all the worst singers into auditions in front of the three judges (most don't make it that far) just so we can laugh at their reactions. In last night's season opener, there were several people who left crying. Numerous people quit their jobs to travel across the country for the auditions, only to get heckled on national TV. Some of the auditionees are very young, many are 16. They are not mentally prepared for this. I've always felt (as has Simon) that they should set the age limit at 18. But the record producers want the teeny-bop audience.

Which is weird. The show's core audience is not kids... it's adults! That's why they get guests like Barry Manilow, Prince, Gene Simmons and other people only 40+ audience members would recognize. Most of the contestants do not even know who these people are. Last night they had Jewel. Rumors are that Paul McCartney is a big fan of the show and may appear this year, which would also open up the Beatles songbook for them.

I can see why some viewers are turned off in the first few weeks. But at the same time, they plant the seeds for some of the good singers. You can see the excitement in the judges' eyes when someone good finally starts singing.

By the time you get to the Hollywood round of the auditions, the humiliation is, for the most part, over, and the show becomes about watching talent develop. I think Clay Aiken probably showed the most development over the course of the show. The intensive rehearsals they do between each show helps each singer blossom over the three-month course of the show, so that by the time you get to the end, it's very satisfying to see the top 6 or so.

If there's any doubt about the success of the show, Jennifer Hudson is a stunning example of success. She was eliminated early on in season three, and last night won a Golden Globe for her amazing performance in DREAMGIRLS.

I can't guess from last night's show who might make it to the final 12. But I did like the young version of Charo, whose "koochie-koochie" demeanor is very endearing. It will be interesting to see if she can do more than Latin music without making people laugh. There's also one great story in the making already; a 16 year-old boy who auditioned against his parents' wishes (he was the only one auditioning without his parents there) made it to the Hollywood round, and when he called his parents to tell them, it's the first time he heard them say "we're proud of you." He cried like a baby.

Monday, January 15, 2007

THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT

THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT is an outstanding documentary about a black man who was wrongly convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a white reporter in Winston-Salem, NC, and served almost 20 year before the truth came out.

It's a stunning example of the blatant racism and pathetic incompetence in the judicial system. With no reliable witness, the prosecution relies on a man with a long rap sheet who uses an alias to call in the crime, a schizophrenic prostitute who changes her story, and a KKK member who drives around looking for trouble as their "witnesses." Things only get worse over time as it becomes clear in appeals that evidence was kept hidden from the defense and that defense witnesses were threatened not to appear, yet the appeals STILL lose!

Even when DNA evidence is not matched to the accused, the court rejects a potential appeal.

The film is very well made. The filmmakers did not start until ten years into the case and had to deal with mostly local news footage to create the first half of the film. There are a lot of on-camera interviews from all the major characters (except the police, who refused to appear).

One of the interesting subtexts of the film is that no one takes the case seriously until an investigative journalist spends seven months researching the case and runs an impartial series of articles on the case, changing the public tide from a race case (white people assumed he was guilty) to actual justice.

Ummm... the victim was a journalist. It took 20 years for another journalist to look at the case impartially? Wouldn't you think the journalists she worked with would have done this right after her death? There's a subliminal indictment of the media throughout the film.

I highly recommend it.

A LION IN THE HOUSE

A LION IN THE HOUSE is a documentary about children with cancer. I feel like MrCranky for saying this, but this is the kind of movie that should be apportioned as punishment to criminals. I can't imagine anyone in their right mind WANTING to watch a 4-hour movie about children dying. "See a child vomit while having a feeding jammed down his throat! See a boy get a hole drilled is his head! See a 4 year-old girl cry while getting a spinal tap! See the corpses of several dead children at the end!"

OK, there's a reason this movie is important. It should be required viewing for parents of children who have been diagnosed with cancer. They need to know what they are about to go through, and maybe seeing what other people do right, and wrong, will help them deal with it better.

There are plenty of wonderful moments. Most interesting to me is how strong the children are and how they maintain good attitudes in the absolute worst of conditions. One kid who turns 20 in the movie has suffered with Leukemia for almost a decade. And he's funny. The children are willing to ask about death before the parents are willing to accept it.

In two cases, when it comes time for the children to die, the parents just can't deal with it and leave their children alone in the hospital to die. It's hard to judge someone in that extreme a case, yet it just seems wrong.

But more importantly, there's a definite pattern among the actions of the parents. In several cases, they refuse to accept death for much too long of a time. At some point you have to consider quality of life over length of lifespan. Particularly with the fathers of the patients, they seem to be unwilling to give up. At some level this is admirable, but ultimately they admit after the deaths that they held out too long and will feel lifelong guilt as a result.

There are some structural problems in the film. Four hours on a topic like this is just too much. They could have easily cut an hour out. Even worse, it's split in two parts with an intermission, and in the first part we are introduced to only 3 of the 5 patients. At the end of the first part, it looks very, very bad for all three. At the intermission, I was very tempted to stop watching. It is very, very difficult viewing. In part two, we introduce the other 2 characters, intercut with the other 3. Structurally this feels very weak as the introductions now seem like redundancies to what we had already seen in part 1.

There are a lot of examples of sloppy filmmaking. The voiceover is both terribly written and inconsistent; it states the obvious, yet does not explain enough early on for story to be easily followed. It's also very poorly read (did they grab a passerby and ask, "Hey, can your read? Yes? You're hired!") There's very little music, but what exists is sadly manipulative in a film that does not need it.

However, if you can stomach this material, it is worth viewing.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

NFL Playoff Wrapup

Well, I correctly picked all four NFL winners this weekend, including the two upsets. The Patriots came from an 8-point deficit to beat the Chargers, and the Colts beat the Ravens yesterday.

As I predicted, the Saints game was very close and they barely won over the Eagles yesterday.

Chicago won, but did not beat the spread, as it was a much closer game than expected.

Next Sunday, the Saints will play the Bears in Chicago. I think it's time for the Saints' luck to run out.

The Patriots will play the Colts in Indianapolis. (Sound familiar?) That should be a good game.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY

MY COUNTRY, MY COUNTRY is a documentary about the first democratic elections in Iraq, following one local Sunni doctor who decides to run for local office. It's an extremely frustrating film to watch, as we know he can't possibly win, and in fact it's possible that he will be the victim of violence as a result of the elections.

It's not the best made documentary. It assumes the audience knows a lot about the political situation in Iraq. To explain things to an average audience, it would have needed a lot of expository voice-over and maps, chart and graphs; instead, the director uses a cinema-verité style (which I normally like) which allows you to see the doctor's home life as a reality. I still feel that the film only scratches the surface of all of the related issues.

NFL Playoff Preview

I predict two upsets this weekend. The Indianapolis Colts will win by at least 3 this afternoon over the Baltimore Ravens, and the New England Patriots will win by at least 10 tomorrow over the San Diego Chargers.

It's a tossup on the New Orleans Saints; they certainly have the better story going in, but the Philadelphia Eagles have been strong.

The Bears are favored by 9 and should easily win their game over the Seahawks. Seattle has been strong, but Chicago is much stronger.

Friday, January 12, 2007

MacWorld Expo

I'm posting this from the MacWorld Expo show floor.

For the last two years, the Expo was so small and turnout was so weak that I was seriously concerned that the show may cease to exist. Last year, almost all of the floor space was dedicated to iPod accessories. Macs were hardly present.

I'm happy to report that everything has changed this year. The show is much larger, filling almost all of the South Hall of Mosconi and spilling over into the North Hall as well. I would estimate at least a 50% increase in floor space. Although iPod accessories are still omnipresent, there is much, much more Mac software as well as peripherals present this year.

Attendence is the highest I can remember it. I'm here Friday, and the place is packed. Usually the last day of a show is dead (most people arrive early in the week to see the keynote).

There are some big changes. Apple has dropped the word "computer" from its name. This makes a lot of sense as they are now a multimedia company as much as a home computer company. The iPod really saved the company from the brink of disaster. And now, their biggest announcement in a while.

The iPhone is just too hip for words. I watched a demo on it that was breathtaking. There's a model on the floor in a glass case. You can't touch it, but there was a line of people waiting just to take a picture. I have never seen this behavior for a product at a show before.



What is most amazing is that Apple has a completely different approach to technology than most companies. Most companies would brag about how fast the tech specs are on a new piece of equipment.

Apple's motto of "think different" applies to their own corporate culture. This product is not about what the tech specs are. It didn't just create a phone to market, they created an entirely new interface to work with. Yes, it combines a camera phone with an iPod. But so what. My Treo essentially does the same (although not truly an iPod, it plays MP3s).

This is a phone with no buttons. The touchscreen is unlike anything I've ever seen before. It automatically adjusts to widescreen by turning sideways. It rejects error touches very smartly. You can resize the screen by "squeezing" two fingers together.

All the apps are very well integrated. One really cool function is non-linear access to voice mail. The phone downloads your VM in the background and lists it by caller name (or number) so you can decide what to listen to first. Since it's now an MP3 file on your phone, you can scan immediately to any part of a message instead of listening to 3 minutes again because you missed a digit on a phone number.

It also has built-in Wifi, so you can surf much faster when you get close to an open network.

There are some problems with the phone. First, it costs $500 - $600, plus a 2-year commitment to Cingular. That's not likely to come down any time soon.

Second, it's Cingular, or no phone. This may be the single biggest problem. Apple has had a long-time history of refusing to share technologies with other vendors, and has several times puched them to the brink of destruction. I'm not sure why they would not want other vendors to be able to sell the phone.

Third, it uses GSM technolgy, which is much slower than the newer EVDO for phone/internet access. I'm sure they have a reason for this. Maybe they assume most people will get Wifi access when they need it.

Also, the phone will not be ready for shipping until at least June. That's an eternity in contemporary technologies. Other marketers may be able to annouce similar products with lower prices by then.

Finally, the lack of a keypad may be a disadvantage to people used to them, although they insist the smart screen has autocorrection for typos. I'd have to try it to see if it really works.

Overall, though, it will kick butt. Everyone who is anyone will want one.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

BCS Wrapup

Well, I was right about everything except I wrote "Ohio State" where it should have been "Florida" and vice-versa.

CES

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has some interesting new items. There's a lot of new video technologies. Plasma screens have reached 70 inches and LCD hit 108. HDTV screens are supporting 1080p. HD-DVD and BluRay are now available on the same disc, and the same player.

Tivo has introduced TivoToGo for the Mac, allowing users to copy shows from their Tivo onto their home computers, where they can burn DVDs or copy them to video iPods. Unfortunately you must buy Toast 8 to do it.

HD radio price points continue to drop, with JVC's car audio version hitting $149 retail.

Booth Babes (AKA Booth Bimbos or Booth Boobies) are in high demand this year. For a while it looked like CES was trying to be politically correct with less showgirls, but this year there were more than ever, particularly in the North Hall where mobile audio was located. Thank goodness they've found a day job for all the strippers.

BCS Prediction

Ohio State will beat the 7-point spread by a wide margin and win by at least two touchdowns. They will hold Florida to under 20 points.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

NFL Playoff Wrapup

Well, I was right about the fact that all four favorites won, but only two of them beat the spread,
the Patriots and Colts.

Next Sunday the Patriots will play the Chargers in San Diego. The Chargers will be well-rested, but I think the Pats could upset them.

WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR?

WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? is an outstanding documentary about the massive conspiracy to prevent the success of electric cars in California. This should be required viewing for anyone who cares about the environment, global warming, and global politics. I was constantly amazed while watching this film; it's just unthinkable that so many of the events covered in this film were never covered by the mainstream media. It's also sad that the film did not get nominations for the Oscar, IDA, or Independent Spirit awards.

See it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

AKEELAH & THE BEE

AKEELAH & THE BEE was directed by my friend Doug Atchison, who took the same directing classes at USC that I did. The script won a Nichols award in 2000, more than two years before the documentary SPELLBOUND (directed by fellow USC alumnus Jeff Blitz) was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary and opened audiences' eyes and ears to the excitement of spelling Bees.

AKEELAH is the fantastic and inspirational story of a young black girl from South Central who goes on to the national spelling bee. The film features great performances by Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, and newcomer Keke Palmer as the title speller. I highly recommend the film, and wonder why it has been overlooked this award season.

SOPHIE SCHOLL

I believe this is the first movie that I've taken the time to review that is not a current release. This was an Oscar nominee last year, and well-deserved. It's practically a stage play, with almost all of the movie an extended interrogation scene. It's extremely well-acted.

The reason it's worth a late review is the number of unintended parallels with certain current events. Sophie and her brother were arrested under the Nazi regime because they questioned whether fighting a war that was destined to be lost was in the best interest of the country. Because they criticized their current administration's war, they were considered "aiding an abetting the enemy," and special wartime laws had been enacted allowing them to be tried (and ultimately executed) immediately.

SOUND FAMILIAR ANYONE????

NFL Playoff Preview

The Colts are about to finish beating KC by well over the 7 point spread.

I predict that all four favored teams will be win by over their respective spreads. Seattle will beat Dallas by at least 7 (the spread is 3).

New England will beat the Jets by at least 10 (the spread is 9).

Philly will beat the Giants by at least 9 (the spread is 7).

THE BAD SHEPHERD

THE GOOD SHEPHERD is a bad movie. The script is weak, it lacks structure and forward movement, and it doesn't even have an ending. The pacing is terrible, it's a real butt-buster at more than two and a half hours, and the direction is weak. A great cast is wasted. Matt Damon plays the same role as in the Bourne movies with no variation. John Turturro and William Hurt are completely wasted. Keir Dullea, whose famous non-performance in 2001: A Space Odyssey gave birth to the expression "nobody's duller than Kier Dullea" lives up to his past. Angelina Jolie is completely miscast. Eddie Redmayne is terrible as Damon's son.

DeNiro has proved that he should stick to acting.

Friday, January 05, 2007

CHILDREN OF MEN

CHILDREN OF MEN has quickly moved near the top of my best films of 2006. It's an extraordinarily intelligent film. Excellent performances by James Bond (Clive Owen), Julianne Moore (a very small role) and newcomer Claire-Hope Ashitey, who gives an astounding performance.

Also, this film has some of the most stunning cinematography I've ever seen, perfectly integrated into the action.

Wikipedia describes the following:
"For one scene, shot in one extended take, a special camera rig was invented by Doggicam Systems, developed from Doggicam Systems' Power Slide system — and a vehicle was modified so that seats could be made to tilt and lower actors out of the way of the camera. The windshield of the car in which the five actors rode was designed to tilt out of the way to allow camera movement in and out through the front windscreen. A crew of four, including the DP and camera operator, rode on the roof.

All of this took place, in one uncut shot, while numerous dangerous stunts involving fire, thrown missiles, and stunt falls were executed with meticulous timing, while the actors perform, dodging the moving camera.

In another scene, featuring an army of actors, also shot in one extended take, hundreds of bullet shots, tank mounted 'big gun' impacts and other pyrotechnic effects surround the principal actors as they move hundreds of feet along a street, into a building and up a flight of stairs, have a scene with dialogue, during which there is continuous gunplay and explosions, and a retreat back down and out of the building. The use of a handheld film camera — whose lens becomes spattered briefly at one point with 'blood' and dirt from an explosion — lends an almost documentary feeling to the cinematography."

Recommended for all intelligent viewers. Don't be turned off by the label of "science-fiction" it's not really a sci-fi.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

X3

X-MEN: THE LAST STAND is a fun movie, very well edited and enjoyable viewing. Nice score by John Powell. I was a bit surprised negative reviews, I think it stands up as well as the other two films (but I have not read the comics).

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

HAPPY FEET

HAPPY FEET is a pretty good movie that is flawed, and very strange. The film has big problems with structure and pacing. The first act is by far the slowest of the film, and much of the film is very unoriginal. There was hardly a moment that I wasn't reminded of several other films. The second act finally takes off when the penguins begin a long road trip, but the third act becomes much too serious. Nowhere in the film was there the level of humor you'd find in a Pixar film. Although I certainly agree with the environment issues raised (over-farming of the oceans), no animated film should end with real footage of people banging their fists at the U.N. Even the schoolchildren that the film is aimed towards will think they are being talked down to.

And speaking of animation... it was amazing. Probably the most complex animation I've seen. I'd recommend this film even with the flaws.

Monday, January 01, 2007

SORRY MOVIE

SORRY, HATERS is one of the worst movies I've seen in a very long time. I have NO idea how this got nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay, the writing is outright terrible. It's another two-character drama, this time with Robin Wright Penn as a completely psychotic New Yorker who manipulates an Arab-American in order to be justified with sabotaging her own country . Her character is so completely foreign to anything remotely human, I can only imagine she found her motivation by imagining she was a Martian.

This movie also includes one of the most gratuitously violent acts against an innocent animal ever captured on film.

I would not recommend this film to anyone.

ROSY BOWL!

GO TROJANS! The Rose Bowl was even better in person! The first half was close and exciting, but USC blew the game open in the second half. A great way to end the season, upsetting #3 Michigan!