December 1, 2014

The Ultimate Oscar Prediction

This year, instead of writing about my own personal Oscar predictions, I thought I’d do something a little different.  I started thinking about how many zillions of magazines and blogs would be doing their own predictions, which made me wonder just how predictable the Oscars really are.  If you were to put together every single website’s and every single magazine’s predictions and then figure out the top voted nominees amongst them all, could you actually predict this year’s Academy Awards?

Though it would be impossible for me to gather that amount of information, I’m going to try it out on a smaller scale.  Below, I’ve focused on ten of the film industry’s top publications.  I combined their Oscar predictions and used them to predict an ultimate winner in each category.  By the end of the day, we’ll see just how predictable the Academy Awards have become.

Here are the 10 publications I pulled from, with links to each site:

The Hollywood Reporter, Moviefone, Entertainment Weekly, Metacritic*, Deadline Hollywood, Cinema Blend, Awards Circuit**, Vulture, Rotten Tomatoes, Indie Wire

*Metacritic’s predictions were established by “[aggregating] the predictions of 45 entertainment writers and awards experts”

**Awards Circuit provided the predictions of 7 of their staff members, which I combined into 1 average prediction

I did my best to draw from the most respected / most notable film sources possible, but I may have missed a couple.  I searched for Variety‘s predictions but if they put them out, I couldn’t find them.  Now, without further ado, the results:

Everyone is picking "The Artist" to win Best Picture, and you should too

BEST PICTURE: THE ARTIST

Picked by 10/10 of the publications

BEST DIRECTOR: MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS

Picked by 10/10

BEST ACTOR: JEAN DUJARDIN

Picked by 8/10, Runner up: George Clooney with 2/10 picks

BEST ACTRESS: VIOLA DAVIS

Picked by 10/10

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER

Picked by 10/10

Both Viola Davis (above) and Octavia Spencer seem to be locks for their performances in "The Help"

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: OCTAVIA SPENCER

Picked by 10/10

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: THE DESCENDANTS

Picked by 9/10

Runner Up: Hugo with 1 pick

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

Picked by 10/10

ART DIRECTION: HUGO

Picked by 10/10

CINEMATOGRAPHY: TREE OF LIFE

Picked by 5/10,

Runner Ups: Hugo with 3, The Artist with 2

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"

COSTUME DESIGN: THE ARTIST

Picked by 5/10,

Runner Ups: Jane Eyre with 3, Hugo with 2

FILM EDITING: THE ARTIST

Picked by 10/10

MAKEUP: THE IRON LADY

Picked by 6/10

Runner Up: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 with 4 picks

ORIGINAL SCORE: THE ARTIST

Picked by 10/10

There's a 50/50 chance that "Man or Muppet" will win this year's Best Original Song category

ORIGINAL SONG: “MAN OR MUPPET”

Picked by 9/10

SOUND EDITING: HUGO

Picked by 5/10

Runner Ups: War Horse with 4, Transformers: Dark of the Moon with 1

SOUND MIXING: HUGO

Picked by 9/10

Runner Up: War Horse with 1 pick

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

Picked by 7/10

Runner Ups: Hugo with 2 picks, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 with 1 pick

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: RANGO

Picked by 10/10

"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" became an important part of the efforts that eventually lead to the release of the "West Memphis Three"

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY

Picked by 6/10

Runner Ups: Undefeated with 2, If a Tree Falls with 1, 1 N/A (“Awards Circuit” vote was a 3-way tie)

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: SAVING FACE

Picked by 5/10

Runner Ups: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom with 4, God is Bigger than Elvis with 1

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: A SEPARATION

Picked by 10/10

BEST SHORT FILM ANIMATED: THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR. MORRIS LESSMORE

Picked by 7/10

Runner Ups: La Luna with 2, A Morning Stroll with 1

BEST SHORT FILM LIVE-ACTION: THE SHORE

Picked by 8/10

Runner Ups: Raju with 1, Pentecost with 1

 

Well, that’s all the categories for you.  Check back after tonight’s Academy Awards to see how accurate this system was.  Best of luck with your own ballots!

Borderlands 2 Release Date Trailer Breakdown

It is with great joy that I share the above video, which gives us the longest look so far of the upcoming Borderlands sequel and concludes with a release date – September 18th.  Anybody who considers themselves an “avid-gamer” should have played the first Borderlands by now, and if you haven’t then stop reading this article and get to your local Gamestop right this instant.

The first Borderlands was excellent to say the least, though not without flaws.  The feature of the game that had most players talking was of course the sheer number of different guns that you’ll find while playing, which at last count was a whopping 17,750,000.  Yes, you read that correctly, over 17 MILLION guns, all with unique characteristics and functions.  But the guns weren’t the only notable thing about Borderlands.  One of my personal favorite features of the game was just how damn funny it was.  There was a slew of hilarious characters, many of them your enemies, who kept you laughing and almost made you feel like sparing their lives just so you could hear one more zinger.  And then there was the gameplay itself, which featured some cool vehicles, cool characters to play as (four different options added to the replay-ability), some slick cell-shading type graphics, and loads of bizarre creatures to face along your way to finding the Vault.

The playable characters of Borderlands: (L to R) Roland, Lilith, Mordecai, and Brick

Ah yes, the Vault.  Here’s where we reach what many players consider to be Borderlands’ greatest fault, and I’d have to agree.  It feels almost like the developers at Gearbox and 2K were so caught up in putting exceptional content into the game, that they forgot about a storyline and just threw one in at the last minute.  It’s not a good sign when I’d rather drive around doing chores for people than accomplish missions that concern finding the Vault.  I was hoping that Borderlands 2 would take us far away from Pandora and the silly Vault, but the end of the above trailer (a character quipping “Pandora has changed”) has me worried that we’ll be returning to the boring plot of the previous installment.

Still, even if the Vault plot-line returns, there’s plenty of new material to be excited about in Borderlands 2.  In this first extended look at the new game, there’s lots to soak in.  I particularly liked the part exclaiming that “87 Bazillion guns just got bazilliondier”, which just emphasizes the sense of humor these developers have and how this sequel has the potential to be just as amusing as the first game.  Let’s take a minute to break down all the action-y goodness that was loaded into the three minute trailer for Borderlands 2.

Mordecai Returns?

For a split second in the opening of the trailer, a character that looks a lot like Mordecai from the first Borderlands appears jumping down from a tall building.  A bird resembling Mordecai’s pet, Bloodwing, swoops towards him as well.  Then at 29 seconds into the trailer, we see him again, swigging a bottle of something, with Bloodwing clearly perched on his arm.  Will we still be able to play as Mordecai?  Will he simply make an appearance as a character you interact with / do tasks for?  Can’t wait to find out.

The Return of (Some of) Our Favorites:

I almost did “joy puke” my face off when I saw that Borderlands 2 would bring back a number of my favorite characters from the original, including Scooter, Dr. Zed, Clap-trap, Mad Moxxi, and Marcus Kincaid (sort of, see 30 seconds in).  There was no glimpse of General Knoxx though, which is just a crime (he should be the first character you bring back!).

4 New Playable Characters:

I was happy to see four new heroes to play as – Salvador, Maya, Axton, and Zero – though three of them appear to be variations on the previous foursome from Borderlands.  Salvador looks a lot like Brick from Borderlands, which the Borderlands wiki describes as “a gigantic hunk of muscle and meat with the mass of all three other characters combined who specializes in beating the ever-living crap out of anything he can get his hands on”.  Based on the trailer, I’d say that appears to sum up Salvador in a nutshell.  Maya also seems to be similar to Lilith from the first game, and Axton has similarities to Roland.  However, the new character Zero seems to be a departure from Mordecai, featuring some super-sweet ninja moves.  Here’s to hoping that he has some sort of equivalent to Mordecai’s killer-pet Bloodwing (if not, that attack special is sure to be missed).  Even though these new characters seem a bit familiar, I’m sure Gearbox will give them unique abilities and traits that will end up separating them from their Borderlands likenesses.

Ooh, a flying vehicle! For me?

Finally, a Flying Vehicle?

It’s only shown for a few fleeting seconds, but in the trailer we see somebody piloting a flying vehicle.  You can’t really tell if it is one of the four characters you’ll be playing as, so here’s to hoping.  It’s not included in the segment that boasts “Catch a New Ride” though, which worries me (1:11 in).  How pissed will we all be if this is just a glimpse at something your enemies will be piloting around but that you never have a chance to hop into?  If this is a new flying vehicle we get to use, maybe it will help cut down on the time spent driving from mission to mission.

New Baddies

Apparently the new bad guy supreme in Borderlands 2 is a guy named Handsom Jack, and he’s going to be the end of us all.  And then there’s that person in a full red body suit wielding a giant metal shield.  We only got a glimpse at those two, but I’m sure there will be many more new villains to hunt down, and hopefully at least a few of them will be as amusing and enjoyable as General Knoxx or Mr. Shank.  I have high hopes for the big-breasted woman we got a glimpse of (see photo below) – there’s potential there.

Looking forward to meeting this lovely lady

Well, those are the juiciest parts of the trailer examined.  What were your thoughts about the new preview?  What are you looking forward to or having doubts about?  Leave it in the comments below!

2012 Oscar Nominees: The Top 9 Categories Reviewed

The nominees for the 2012, 84th Annual Academy Awards have been released and the film industry is already buzzing with speculation on who will take home the Oscars on February 26th.  Here’s my two cents about the nominees, who got snubbed, and an early (tentative and subject to change!) prediction about who could take home the gold.  I only reviewed the nine most-talked about categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Cinematography, Best Lead Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  I will include every category in my official prediction post, which will come when the Oscars get closer.

BEST PICTURE

Could "The Artist" be another "Slumdog Millionaire"-esque Oscar-sweeper?

Contenders: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Didn’t Make the Cut: Drive, The Ides of March, Young Adult, Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, My Week with Marilyn, Bridesmaids

Thoughts: No surprises here.  Five of the films tote big-name directors: The Descendants (Alexander Payne), Hugo (Martin Scorsese), Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen), Tree of Life (slightly lesser known Terrence Malick), and War Horse (Steven Spielberg).  Three films were based on best-selling books: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Moneyball, and The Help.  And the remaining film, The Artist, has always been seen as an awards contender ever since it’s release.  The Academy remained predictable as ever this year for the Best Picture noms.

Every movie fan is bound to have at least a few films that they’re annoyed didn’t get picked, and this year mine were Drive and The Ides of March.  Drive featured excellent cinematography, a catchy soundtrack, a unique story and a killer performance by Ryan Gosling (also ignored by the Academy this year, we’ll get to that later).  The Ides of March, was easily my favorite film of the year.  It was an edge-of-your-seat thriller that kept you guessing and featured another great Ryan Gosling performance, as well as excellent writing and supporting appearances by George Clooney, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Early Prediction: I think Best Picture will come down to a fight between The Artist and The Descendants.  The Descendants took home two Golden Globes (Best Picture and Best Actor – Drama) a few weeks ago, but The Artist boasts a whopping ten Oscar nominations to The Descendants‘ five.  In the end, I see The Artist eventually going home with the gold.  The Artist was definitely one of the year’s best, and it’s one of those artsy, indie films that voters just love to give awards to.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

George Clooney in "The Descendants"

Contenders: Demián Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Didn’t Make the Cut: Ryan Gosling (Drive or The Ides of March), Leonardo DiCaprio (J. Edgar), Michael Fassbender (Shame), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter)

Thoughts: The only real surprise amongst the five nominees is Demián Bichir for his role in A Better Life.  I vaguely remember seeing the trailer for this film, but that was the last time I had heard or thought about it until Bichir got this nomination.  The performance must be a doozy for him to knock out the likes of DiCaprio and Fassbender. After leaving Ryan Gosling out of the race for the second year in a row (he wasn’t nominated for Blue Valentine last year, though Michelle Williams was), I’m beginning to wonder what the Academy has against the guy.  As “The Hollywood Reporter” points out in it’s Oscar snubs article, it was a great year for Gosling, who had three really good films – Drive, The Ides of March, and Crazy Stupid Love.  “THR” goes on to speculate that his lack of a nomination might have to do with him not making the rounds and doing the awards circuit to promote himself and lobby for a nomination.  Which makes me mad, because the Academy should be voting on an actor’s performance, not the number of appearances he makes or parties he attends.

Early Prediction: Clooney and Pitt both gave the best performances of their careers this year, but again I think this category comes down to The Descendants vs. The Artist.  In the end, Clooney’s previous Oscar win for Syriana might cause the Academy to favor Djuardin this year, who is enjoying his first ever Oscar nomination.  Plus, it’s hard to top an actor who gave an excellent performance without speaking a single word (The Artist has no-dialogue).  I’m calling Jean Dujardin the winner on this one.

Side Note: How is this Gary Oldman’s first Oscar nomination, ever?  That just seem so wrong…

Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier in "My Week with Marilyn"

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Contenders: Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn), Jonah Hill (Moneyball), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Christopher Plummer (Beginners), Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

Didn’t Make the Cut: Albert Brooks (Drive), Armie Hammer (J. Edgar), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Patton Oswalt (Young Adult)

Thoughts: Who would’ve thought the pudgy kid from Superbad would be an Oscar contender?  I certainly didn’t, and I’m still not sure he belongs up there with the likes of Kenneth Branagh and Christopher Plummer.  Sure, Hill did a decent job in Moneyball, but I didn’t leave the theater thinking it was an Oscar-nomination-worthy performance.

I actually would’ve preferred it if Andy Serkis had gotten the nom over Hill.  This could have been the Oscars in which motion-capture performances were finally given their due.  Say what you will about the goofy Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but if you see the work that goes into Serkis’ role as Caesar the ape it’s really impressive.  This was a chance to right the wrong of Serkis never receiving a nomination for his landmark performance as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Early Prediction:  I’d say this category boils down to a Plummer vs. Branagh match-up.  This is Plummer’s 2nd nomination and Branagh’s 5th, and neither has yet to win an Oscar.  Plummer was good in Beginners, but Branagh was exceptional as Sir Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn.  Gold goes to Branagh.

Glenn Close as Albert Nobbs

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Contenders: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn)

Didn’t Make the Cut: Shailene Woodley (The Descendents), Charlize Theron (Young Adult), Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin), Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia), Elizabeth Olson (Martha Marcy May Marlene)

Thoughts:  Tilda Swinton missing out on a nomination seems to have made everybody’s “Oscar snubs” list this year.  This category could be a tight one, with all very transformational roles in the running – Streep portraying Margaret Thatcher, Williams playing the iconic Marilyn Monroe, Rooney Mara almost unrecognizable as hacker Lisbeth Salander, Davis as maid/nanny Aibileen Clark, and Glenn Close as woman pretending to be a man.

Early Prediction:  This one should be Glenn Close‘s – this is her sixth Oscar nomination and she’s yet to win.  Meryl Streep has been nominated a whopping 17 times but she’s also already won twice.  This is Michelle William’s third nomination (no wins yet) and Viola Davis’ second (no wins yet either).  Close seems overdue for a win, and her role seems to be the most challenging since she’s essentially playing a man.  Plus, Williams and Davis are younger and have more of their careers ahead of them.

Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson in "The Help"

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Contenders: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)

Didn’t Make the Cut: Shailene Woodley (The Descendants), Cary Mulligan (Shame or Drive), Marion Cotillard (Midnight in Paris), Melanie Laurent (Beginners)

Thoughts:  What’s that, a surprising Oscar nomination?!  I didn’t think such a thing existed.  But wouldn’t you know, the Academy catches us napping and actually nominates Melissa McCarthy for Bridesmaids.  I still haven’t seen the movie, but regardless of what I end up thinking of it, I still love this nomination.

First off, it’s a nomination for a woman in a comedy film.  That’s almost unheard of at the Oscars, and to see a comedy get two nominations (Bridesmaids also got a nom for Best Original Screenplay) is really refreshing.  Even if the movie loses both categories, I still hope that their inclusion marks a new era in which comedies will be given more credit and eventually, maybe even a few awards.  I’m not saying that The Hangover should have been up for Oscars, I’m just saying that I feel there are some really exceptional comedies of late and that it wouldn’t hurt to recognize them with a few nominations.

Secondly, Melissa McCarthy has been nominated for being a funny woman.  I’m not sure when the last time was that a Supporting Actress nominee came from a comedy film (if it ever has happened, that is).  This nomination carries on the message that Bridesmaids has carried from the start: that women can be just as funny as men and just as successful in the comedy genre.

Early Prediction:  It was big enough for the Academy to nominate Melissa McCarthy in the first place, so I don’t see her then taking home the Oscar as well (as cool as that would be).  Due to the recent Artist blitz this awards season, I think Bérénice Bejo might have this one in the bag.  Plus, critics weren’t big fans of The Help or Albert Nobbs (which scored 62/100 and 55/100, respectively, on Metacritic).

Woody Allen directs Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni on the set of "Midnight in Paris"

BEST DIRECTOR

Contenders: Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)

Didn’t Make the Cut: Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), George Clooney (The Ides of March), David Fincher (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Bennett Miller (Moneyball), Clint Eastwood (J. Edgar), Steve McQueen (Shame), Jason Reitman (Young Adult)

Thoughts: God I hope Terrence Malick doesn’t win.  Much to the anger of pretentious/artsy-film-lovers everywhere, I heartily disliked The Tree of Life.  To be honest, I’m pretty disappointed with the nominees this year.  Looking at the rather long list of directors who missed out, I’d prefer most of them over those who have been nominated.  Again, it’s a damn tragedy that Winding Refn and Clooney were left out.  But it’s no use crying over spilt milk, so if I have to pull for one of the nominees, it would be Alexander Payne.  The Descendants is the best film that received nominations this year (besides Ides of March), so I’d like to see Payne take home the statue.

Early Prediction: Besides The Artist having a recent hot-streak and touting the 2nd-most nominations this year with 10 (just behind Hugo‘s 11), I think the Academy might vote for the newcomer this year and go with Hazanavicius.  Payne already has an Oscar, which he won for the last film he was nominated for – 2004’s Sideways.  Scorsese is in the same boat, with an Oscar for The Departed, and Malick has been nominated twice before.  Plus, Hazanavicius needed real skill to direct the dialogue-ess Artist.  At this point, I’m calling this another victory for Hazanavicius and The Artist.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Contenders: The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Thoughts: To be honest, I’ve only seen one of these nominees – Tree of Life.  As much as I disliked the film, the one thing I appreciated was that it truly was beautifully shot.  It’s not an exaggeration at all to say that you could pause the film at any point, and the frame you froze on could hold its own as an incredible still photo hung on the wall of a photography exhibit somewhere.  I’d have to see the other movies to be sure, but my guess is that The Tree of Life has this year’s best cinematography.

Early Prediction: A fight between The Artist and The Tree of Life, with The Artist winning out.  A more informed prediction is still-to-come.  

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Contenders: The Descendants, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Thoughts:  I’d love The Ides of March to win the one category it’s up for, particularly because I think it is the most worthy amongst the fellow nominees.  But it’s doubtful that’s going to happen, so if Ides can’t win, I’m rooting for The Descendants.  It was an excellent script, and it would be really awesome to see one of the co-writers, Jim Rash, win an Oscar.  Some people may be more familiar with Rash as the character Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community, which is one of my favorite TV shows.

Early Prediction: With the film sitting well on it’s other four Oscar nominations, I think The Descendants is the one to beat in this category.  Tinker could give it a run for it’s money though.

Could "Bridesmaids" be an Oscar winner?

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Contenders: The Artist, Bridesmaids, Margin Call, Midnight in Paris, A Separation

Thoughts: Go Bridesmaids!  It feels odd to be cheering for a film that I’ve yet to see and could possibly even dislike once I see it.  But in rooting for Bridesmaids, I’m rooting for the comedy genre in general, which I think is an important cause.  Plus, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see an upset (gasp!) at the Oscars this year?  Down with predictability!

Early Prediction:  Like Melissa McCarthy’s nomination for her performance in Bridesmaids, I have a feeling a nomination is as far as this film is going to go.  The Artist is certainly the talk of the town right now and far more prominent than Midnight in Paris and the indies Margin Call and A Separation.  And at the risk of sounding like a broken record – no dialogue.  I can’t even imagine how tough it is to write script that’s entirely action.  So my guess is, this is another Oscar for The Artist.

Here’s a more condensed list of my tentative predictions for these categories:

BEST PICTURE:  The Artist

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:  Jean Dujardin (The Artist)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:  Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:  Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:  Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)

BEST DIRECTOR:  Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:  The Tree of Life

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  The Descendants

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:  The Artist

Attack the Block: Review

Movie Poster for "Attack the Block"

RATING: 4.5 / 5 Stars

In theaters everywhere, aliens have been raining down from the skies ever since 1951’s The Day the Earth Stood Still – and probably even before that.  In the sixty years since Earth Stood Still, movie audiences have been introduced to a wide variety of extraterrestrials, spanning from Spielberg’s cute and cuddly E.T. to the genocidal aliens of Independence Day to the humanoid Na’vi of James Cameron’s Avatar.  So with countless takes on what extraterrestrial life might be like, the challenge becomes somehow providing a new take on the classic alien invasion plot.  The indie flick Attack the Block does just that.

Attack the Block centers on a gang of young teenagers who roam the streets of their neighborhood (which they call “The Block”) looking for trouble.  One night, as the gang is mugging a woman they caught walking alone, something comes rocketing out of the sky and lands with an explosion on a nearby parked car.  When the leader of the group, Moses, goes to raid the demolished vehicle, the creature inside scratches his face and then runs off.  Seeking retribution, Moses and the gang hunt down the animal and kill it, realizing afterwards that it’s something from another planet.  It’s not long before dozens of other aliens come crashing to earth, which the boys plan to seek out and kill as they did with the first one.  But when they arrive on the scene, they discover a very different type of alien instead: jet-black, bear-sized monsters with razor sharp teeth and healthy apetites.  Moses and the crew go on the run, trying to stay alive long enough to come up with a plan to get rid of the aliens for good.

Nick Frost as pot dealer Ron in "Attack the Block"

Though the main plot of the film is familiar – survive long enough to kill the aliens – nearly everything else is new.  Rather than ground zero of the invasion being set in New York City or LA, Attack the Block takes place in South London of all places.  Most of the main characters are black British teenagers whose child-like features contrast sharply with their passion for violence and kicking alien ass.  There are no movie-stars-as-heroes here, with the only notable celebrity presence being a minor appearance by Nick Frost (Shawn of the Dead).  The cause of the alien attack is also something different, though I won’t ruin that one for you.

What’s also refreshing is that there is actually some subtext going on amidst the chaos of aliens-chomping-on-humans.  Attack the Block ends up exploring how a catastrophe can bring out the best in people and erase any previous bad history between them (I’m being vague on purpose to avoid any sort of spoilers).  It appears that at the end of the day, when we are facing great adversity together, we’re all just human.

That’s not to say that Attack the Block is lacking in classic alien vs. human carnage.  When the monsters get their jaws around someone, there’s plenty of blood and guts.  Plus, the gang’s odd assortment of weapons (a baseball bat, fireworks, a katana sword) result in some pretty cool hand-to-(hand?) combat scenes with the aliens.

Just when the alien genre seemed to be getting tired – Mars Needs Moms anyone? – Attack the Block comes along and effectively refocuses the human vs. alien formula.  If you’re a fan of alien movies or just sci-fi in general, this film is absolutely one that you can’t miss.

Check out the trailer below:

The Nielsen Problem: Understanding the Ratings and How We Can Beat Them

If you’re an avid TV watcher, then you’re probably familiar with the Nielsen ratings.  Every show lives, dies or thrives based on these ratings, which are determined by Nielsen Media Research.  Plenty of promising shows have been abruptly cancelled due to a lack of viewers, some of which may have been favorites of yours.  Though most of us know about Nielsen, many of us (including myself until writing this article) don’t exactly know how it works.  So here’s a bit of the basics about the ratings powerhouse: how it works, how the system could improve, and how you could help defy the Nielsen death sentence.

Decoding Nielsen: How the System Works

The first part of understanding how the Nielsen ratings work is knowing how they collect their viewer data.  If you have time,  check out this really interesting About.com interview with a real “Nielsen family.”  Here’s a quick summary of the how Nielsen collects the data:

Photo of a Nielsen box, which monitors what your household is watching on TV

1. Nielsen approaches a family about becoming a “Nielsen Family” for a certain period of time.

2. If the family is interested, Nielsen asks a few qualifying questions and conducts a general survey about the family

3. If the family qualifies, Nielsen installs monitoring boxes on all the cable boxes / DVRs in the house (and sometimes non-cable-connected DVD players as well).

4. After the installation is complete, each family member must check in every time they start watching TV, as well as re-check-in every 45 minutes they continue to watch.

5. If the family purchases any new equipment (i.e. TVs, DVD players, etc), Nielsen comes back to the home to install a recording device to it.

6. The family is paid $50 every six months.  Nielsen usually keeps a family hooked up for 2 or 3 years at the most.

If you have any other questions about the process, check out the About.com article I linked above.

So how does Nielsen translate the data it receives from it’s families into viewership and ratings information?  Nielsen utilizes a technique called statistical sampling, which means that they create a sample audience and then use the data created in that sample audience to estimate what the entire population is watching.  For a more thorough explanation of how Nielsen uses this technique, check out this informative HowStuffWorks page.

Below is a screen cap (taken from TVByTheNumbers) that shows some Nielsen ratings for this past Saturday, October 22nd, 2011.  For further help in decoding the numbers and decyphering that chart, use this step by step walkthrough (skip to step 3).

 

Nielsen’s Flaws

Though Nielsen’s numbers are utilized and scrutinized by every television network in America, the information that the company generates are really only estimates.  Sure, Nielsen uses complex and supposedly accurate processes to calculate their numbers, but we can never be sure that they are 100% accurate.  The only way to actually track what the whole country is watching would be to track every single American citizen’s viewing habits, which Nielsen doesn’t have the time, money, or manpower to do.

But in this day and age, there could be a solution that would circumvent Nielsen or any other ratings projections.  The answers to the Nielsen problem are just beginning to take shape, but there is hope that in time, there may be a way to know exactly what people are really watching.  No more speculations or estimates.  For a glimpse at a Nielsen-less future, it’s worth taking a look at how one show has already harnessed the power of the internet.

Twitter and “WeGiveAChuck”

In time, television networks may turn away from the Nielsen ratings and instead look at buzz being generated through social networks.  For at least one show, this practice has already taken place and helped save a beloved show from getting the axe – that is, for just one more season.

I’m talking about one of my personal favorites, Chuck.  The show is returning for it’s fifth and final season starting this upcoming Friday, October 28th on NBC.  But before fans were given one last season to say fairwell to their favorite Nerd Herd-er, Chuck was on the bubble and in serious jeopardy of being cancelled.  Sadly, this excellent show is no newcomer to the struggle for another season, as Entertainment Weekly called it, “The perpetual bubbliest of the broadcast bubble shows.”  Last spring was no different, as the conclusion of season four meant a new battle for one more year of Chuck.

When the show returned from its break in January, the fan movement began to build, slowly but steadily.  It began with the creation of a website called wegiveachuck.com, where fans from around the world could join together and brainstorm new ways to reach out to NBC and persuade them to grant Chuck one final season.  We Give A Chuck was the beginning of a firestorm of various campaigns that simply could not be ignored.  Two of the most successful campaigns were (click the headers for additional info):

 

A pre-designed postcard that WeGiveAChuck provided to fans

Chuck vs. the Postcard

Each week, We Give A Chuck provided fans with the addresses of businesses who advertised either through product placement or ad spots during commercial breaks.  Armed with these addresses, thousands of fans would bombard the businesses with postcards from wherever they lived.  Each postcard would thank the companies for supporting Chuck, tell them that the viewer had seen their product on the show, let them know that the viewer had supported their company because of their Chuck support, and ask them to tell NBC that they would continue to support Chuck if the network granted the show a fifth season.

#NotANielsenFamily

Joshua Gomez, who plays lovable buddy Morgan on “Chuck”, tweets his support

For this campaign, fans took to Twitter.  While watching Chuck, fans would tweet the Twitter accounts of companies who advertised on the show, telling them that they had seen their product or ad.  These tweets would conclude with the hashtag #NotANielsenFamily.  This campaign was an effort to circumvent the flawed Nielsen system and let advertisers know that, despite not being counted by Nielsen, viewers were in fact taking notice of their products while watching Chuck.

 

Seeing how much effort the die-hard fans of Chuck put into their push for one more season, it’s no wonder NBC finally granted their wish.  Just as season four came to a close on May 16th, it was announced that the show would have a final half-season (just 13 episodes) to give fans a proper goodbye.  The show’s creator, Josh Schwartz (who also created The O.C, Gossip Girl, and the new Hart of Dixie), was so struck by fans’ dedication to the show that he tweeted, “The passion of CHUCK fans has been heard again… We are all truly lucky to have the greatest fan base on TV.  Thank you.”  Using a website, Twitter, and good-old-fashioned snail mail, this show’s die-hard fans were able to rescue it from the brink of cancellation.  And what’s more, they did it without any help from Nielsen and it’s ratings system.

For additional recap of Chuck fans’ incredible efforts, check out this “Looking back…” page on WeGiveAChuck.com

What’s Next: Stickers for All

So Chuck’s faithful viewers demonstrated that people who aren’t Nielsen families can still have their voices heard and even rescue shows from extinction.  But there’s still one problem that remains.  The outcry from Chuck fans made it clear that tons of people were actually watching the show, but there was no way of putting an actual number on that mass of viewers.  Were there 8,000 loyal viewers leading the charge, or 800,000?  Nobody really knows. But a new social networking website has arrived that could be a game changer.

Some of you may already be aware of and/or using the site GetGlue.  For those of you who haven’t heard of GetGlue, it’s simple:  registered users (it’s free to sign up) “check-in” to their favorite shows as they watch them.  As an incentive to check-in, GetGlue offers users collectible stickers that can be earned through check-ins, some of which give them discounts on merchandise or even in-store.  Some stickers can be earned simply by checking into a show once, while other stickers can only be earned by checking in right when the show airs or by checking in multiptle times.  After a certain amount of stickers are earned, a user can provide their address and GetGlue actually mails out physical copies of the stickers that he or she has earned, free of charge.

A Sample of some of the thousands of GetGlue stickers

Every time a new episode of a show airs, GetGlue keeps track of how many users are checking in and ranks the night’s top shows.  Networks and advertisers can see how many people are watching shows and seeing ads, and the users who are checking in can earn exclusive stickers for doing so.  Everybody wins.

Of course there are still flaws in this system, which poke holes in the theory that GetGlue could render the Nielsen ratings useless.  First off, there aren’t nearly enough people checking in – yet.  Even though GetGlue was launched in October of 2009, it’s only recently started to catch on.  According to this New York Enterprise Report published October 2nd, 2011, GetGlue has 1.5 million users and will soon reach the 10 million check-ins-per-month milestone.  AMC’s The Walking Dead recently crashed the GetGlue site when fans rushed to check-in during the show’s season two premiere.  So far, just shy of 265,000 people have checked into the show – a number that is a far cry from Nielsen’s projected 11 million viewers for the October 16th premiere of the show’s second season.  Still, with time the difference could eventually begin to even out.

Another problem with relying on GetGlue check-ins is that, in a sense, users can cheat.  There’s nothing to verify that you are actually sitting in front of your TV watching Modern Family when you check in – you could be checking in on GetGlue’s mobile app while you’re actually at a party or visiting your grandparents.  In comparison, Nielsen families must actively be checking into the boxes connected to their TVs, making that data far more reliable.

Though though there are issues with both the Nielsen ratings and relying on social networking sites like GetGlue, there seems to be more promise in viewers taking to the internet.  If more people begin to check-in to their favorite shows and GetGlue tweaks a few things, more accurate viewership data could result.  Perhaps such a change could lead to fewer shows being axed despite a loyal fanbase. The revival of Chuck has taught us that with enough will-power, dedicated fans can actually fight unfavorable Nielsen ratings and win.

Time will tell if the Nielsen ratings can be shaken by the internet and social networks.  For now though, you can do your part – start checking in and making some noise online about your favorite shows.  Start the revolution!

 

 

Q&A with Margin Call’s J.C. Chandor and Zachary Quinto

On October 18th 2011, Roadside Attractions provided a live stream of “Margin Call” to the press for review.  Following the movie, the film’s director J.C. Chandor and the film’s actor/ producer Zachary Quinto took part in a Q&A session with the press.  Here is the transcript of that Q&A:

 

Q: Do you think that the film opening on a week when Occupy Walstreet is all over the news helps your marketing efforts?

J.C Chandor: I’m not sure. We’ll have to see. It’s certainly rewarding – it takes many years to make a film. I started writing about 3 years ago today. To be able to introduce a film into that environment is very rewarding. Whether it will help from a box office standpoint, we will have to wait and see. We wanted to give the viewer an entertaining look into this field. Hopefully it will give the viewer a greater understanding of who we’re protesting against.

Q: Did you have a specific article or incident that inspired you to create this film?

J.C Chandor: No, there were several incidents that came together throughout late 2006, into 2007 and then into 2008. It wasn’t only one article. We were trying to make a somewhat universal bank in the film – so it was representative of many banks. That also goes for many of the characters. None of them were based on one particular person.

Q: Zachary, why did you pick this film as your first feature film as a producer?

Zachary Quinto: I started a production company three years ago and I thought the script was fantastic.

Q: Zachary, to prepare for your role in the film, I heard you spent a few weeks shadowing a few Wall Street workers at Citibank.  Were they initially skeptical or hesitant to allow you to do that?

Zachary Quinto: The Citibank workers were really supportive and really available. They were able to help myself and the other actors.

Q: Zachary, why did you choose this film as the first film your production company would produce?  Also, do you think this film talks down to it’s audience too much? I’m citing the line “Speak to me as you would a young child or a golden retriever.”

Zachary Quinto: [I chose this film because] I like how it handled the subject matter; I liked how it drew me in. I thought it was really compelling material. And I don’t think the film talks down to the audience at all. It’s to great effect that the characters are less adept at understanding the complexity of the financial models that they’re talking about.

Q:  J.C, what reason would you give a person to go see Margin Call?

J.C Chandor: I would say a reason to see Margin Call is hopefully it entertains you for an hour and a half. We tried to make a compelling drama. The second thing is we tried to do is give the viewer insight into a world they are not normally privy. A world not normally available to them.

Q:  What are the challenges of marketing a film about an unsympathetic company taking advantage of people?

J.C Chandor: You don’t have to like everyone in the movie. This is about coming into a world where you really aren’t supposed to like everyone in it.

Q: John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) gives a speech about winners and losers, saying that the percentages of the two always stays the same. Given the current climate (even though it’s Tuld’s statement), can you still attest to that rationale?

J.C Chandor: Every character is human. In the same way a horror movie can be entertaining and fun, you are with these people in their every day professional lives. You see it from a different point of view. The fun thing about writing a film is you don’t have to agree with everything every one of your characters says.

Q:  The budget seems quite small for the talent on the project; if so, did the actors participate because they believe so much in this project?

J.C Chandor: The cast was an unbelievably great surprise. I sat down and wrote this script with the idea of directing it myself. I wrote it with a tentative budget in mind of under $1M. After Zachary’s production company got involved, we started to send it out to actors and the response was overwhelming. The challenge of getting all these people to show up to make the movie, we one by one locked people in after they responded to the script and agreed to work with us.  It was a 17 day shoot, which was very very short in the world of filmmaking. This allowed us to not have to require the actors to be with us for an extended period of time. This also helped us in landing actors with very busy schedules. These actors really believed in the project. It made it that much more rewarding.

Q:  What do you think about a comparison between “Margin Call” and “Glengarry Glen Ross”?

J.C Chandor: [There aren’t] so many Glengarry Glen Ross comparisons. The film seems to be taking on a life of it’s own.

Q:  JC, do you plan on visiting any of the Occupy movements around the country?

J.C Chandor: I have gone and visited the NY Occupy site. It’s very inspiring that people are actually out in the street having their opinions be heard.

Q:  Jeremy Irons acting alongside Kevin Spacey was magnificent. What specifically about both of those actors played a part in casting them?

J.C Chandor: I believe both of those actors turned in performances that as a writer and director are all you could ever dream of. To think back, before we shot the movie, it was actually a bit of a risk at the time to cast Kevin in a role that is essentially for much of the film supposed to be quite empathetic with the audience. In the past, it might have been more typical to cast him as the CEO. But Kevin came in and inhabited that character and made it his own.

Q: I heard that you wrote a first draft of the script in just 4 days, between job interviews. That’s pretty impressive, can you talk about that?

J.C Chandor: Yes, I had the idea for the script and had been working through it for over a year. But the way I like to write is have an idea not fully formed, but fully researched and thought through before I sit down to actually write it. In this case, I had been working on the story off and on in my mind for over a year and finally sat down and wrote the line by line script in just 4 days. I then went back and made many additions and revisions but for the most part, almost all of that 81 page draft is in the final product. I’ve never written anything else that quickly before and probably won’t again. But this was a script that at that time, I was clearly ready to write.

Q: Did the short shoot also help the actors not know each other so well, which fits because Zachary’s character and Penn Badgley’s character didn’t know the heads of the company that well?

J.C Chandor: Absolutely. Whenever you’re shooting a low budget film, by it’s very nature, there are going to be many hurdles and barriers due to limited resources. What I always try to do as a filmmaker or writer, no matter the budget, is to use your weaknesses and try and turn them into strengths. In this case, I had a story about very intelligent, Type A people who are trained to never show panic. I was working with highly intelligent, very accomplished actors who also rarely ever panic on a job at this point in their careers. But the pace and scope we were having to shoot in such a limited time period, created an environment that at times even put these accomplished actors through what I later realized was a mild, low-level sense of panic under their performances. Which are used, hopefully, to great effect to express what their characters were feeling as well.

Q: Margin Call is one of several films recently being released on VOD; what are your thoughts on the importance of a film such as this reaching as much of the American population as possible?

J.C Chandor: I’m very excited to see where this experiment ends up. No one quite knows in this current market/environment what the best way is to distribute the film. But we are getting a 60/70 city release theatrically. For a small budget film, that is a very exciting release. To add to that, most major markets and many smaller markets can view the film on VOD. That’s exciting to get the film out to the widest audience. I always believe the best experience is in a theater, but I also have 2 small children and know going to the movies can be a complicated and expensive endeavor so it’s nice to know this film is going to get it’s widest audience possible.

 

The Ides of March – Review

Rating: 5/5 stars

With so many films yet to come out this year, it’s far to early to claim a best picture, which is why I will have to settle with saying that The Ides of March is the best movie I’ve seen thus far.  Still, at this point I can at least say that Clooney’s political thriller has a very strong chance of ending up as my number one by the end of the year.

With Ides, George Clooney has directed yet another gripping masterpiece that will captivate audiences from start to finish.  The script was adapted from the 2008 play Farragut North by Beau Willimon, which was based loosely on Howard Dean’s 2004 Democratic primary campaign.  Clearly The Ides of March is a relevant and important commentary on the current state of politics in the U.S, regardless of how much truth there is to Willimon’s play.  But in addition to providing a pertinent look into the dirtiness of politics, the film features a riveting story and fascinating characters that add up to one of this year’s best pictures.

Theatrical poster for "The Ides of March"

In The Ides of March, Ryan Gosling plays Stephen Myers, a young rising-star in the political campaign world who has finally found his perfect candidate – “the one.”  That perfect candidate is governor Mike Morris (Clooney), who is in the midst of the Democratic primaries and hopefully on his way to the Democratic nomination for the next president of the United States of America.  The primary battle has come down to the state of Ohio, where the winner is said to have the nomination locked.  Just as Morris’ team begins to feel confident in an Ohio win, a series of events takes place that throws the entire campaign into turmoil.  Suddenly the fate of Morris’ presidential bid lies solely on the shoulders of Stephen Myers.

The supporting cast of The Ides of March are impressive – Clooney as Morris, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Morris’ head campaign manager and Paul Giamatti as the opposition’s campaign manager.  But the knock-out performance is given by Ryan Gosling, who continues to impress in the opening of his third film in just four months (Crazy, Stupid, Love in July, Drive in September).  Rather than give us Gosling-fatigue, Ides serves as a potent example of just how talented he is.  The energetic, spirited and naive Stephen Myers who opens the film ends up completely changed by it’s conclusion, and Gosling handles that transformation flawlessly.  As the movie progresses, we experience everything through Myers – the loss of innocence, the shock and awe, and the feelings that go with it.  Honestly, the Academy would be foolish to ignore Gosling’s performance here by robbing him of at least a nomination.

A poster for candidate Mike Morris, played by George Clooney

Though the political theme of The Ides of March is exceptionally relevant, what’s really intriguing is the thriller within it.  Once Myers hits that first bump in the road, everything begins to snowball into a nasty storm of lies, scandals, blackmail, and cut-throat politics that could lead to the destruction of any number of individuals.  Much more can’t be said without ruining the element of surprise and suspense, but suffice it to say that you wont be able to ease off the edge of your seat until the credits role.

The Ides of March comes at a time in which many have begun to question the political system that this country relies on.  Because of this condition, the film serves a dual purpose – it addresses how dirty and corrupt politics have become while simultaneously providing a compelling thriller that ranks among the best of them.  Despite what other Oscar-bait might come out by February, The Ides of March will most certainly end up as one of the year’s best films.

 

Directed by: George Clooney

Written by: George Clooney & Grant Heslove (screenplay), Beau Willimon (play,Farragut North)

Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman

 

I Believe in Eddie – Oscar’s Newest Host

When it was announced on September 6th that this year’s host of the 84th Annual Academy Awards would be Eddie Murphy, the news was greeted with a resounding, “Really?  Him? ”  It was a bit of  a shock, since Murphy has practically fallen off the face of the earth as of late, following bombs like Meet Dave and Norbit.   The success of the Shrek franchise kept Eddie somewhat relevant, but the actor’s recent box office plights outside the world of Shrek have overshadowed his lovable turn as Donkey.

But then came the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ early-September announcement and suddenly people were talking about Eddie Murphy again.  I think that, though Murphy may not have been my first choice, he’ll do a fine job and that his success as Oscar host may be the much-needed kick that his career reboot has been needing.  Here are a few reasons why I think the Eddie’s Oscars could be a hit:

James Franco and Anne Hathaway Host the 2011 Oscars

After Last Year, Anybody Will Look Good

Eddie Murphy couldn’t ask for a better time to host the Oscars – after last year’s fiasco, there’s no where to go but up.  Just about every critic shredded Anne Hathaway and James Franco’s hosting job last February, so at this point audiences will probably be pleased with anything short of watching paint dry.  Nothing takes the pressure off like following up what many people called “the worst Oscars ever.”

The Return of the Comedian

For some reason, last year the Academy decided to depart from it’s reliable decision to put comedians in charge and instead put two ordinary actors to the task.  Though Hathaway and Franco may be amusing and charming on film, for whatever reason it certainly didn’t translate in person.  This year the Oscars are wisely going back to the old formula, putting a well-seasoned comic back on the stage.  Previously well-received comedian hosts include Whoopi Goldberg (hosted 4 times) Johnny Carson (5 times), Billy Crystal (8 times) and Bob Hope (8 times).  Not every Oscar show hosted by a funny person has worked out (looking at you, Dave Letterman), but the practice has a pretty good track record.  Murphy’s stand-up comedy experience as well being a Saturday Night Live veteran should help him put on a funny show.

Hollywood Veterans Work Best

Part of the problem of inviting Hathaway and Franco to host the Academy Awards was that they’re simply too young for it.  Both of them only really stepped into the spotlight ten years ago, and many older Oscar-watchers had no idea who they were.  Though they have both recently become big box office names, they haven’t been around Hollywood long enough to have the needed experience that seasoned Oscar hosts have.  The combination of inexperience and an age-disconnect for many older viewers led to a failed broadcast.

Murphy as Det. Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop

By comparison, Eddie Murphy has been a part of the Hollywood machine for quite awhile, despite a bit of a career slump at times.  His resume features three People’s Choice Awards, one SAG Award, five Golden Globe nominations (including a win for Dreamgirls), four MTV Movie Award nominations (see? He’s popular with the kids too), three Emmy nominations and an Oscar nomination.  Not to mention that he got is own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1996.

Besides his impressive awards history, Eddie Murphy has been around long enough that it feels like just about everybody loves him in something he’s been in.  Sure, you may not be a huge fan of The Nutty Professor and you might wonder how he’s been allowed to keep acting after movies like Norbit and Meet Dave somehow got made.  But you’re bound to have loved him on either Saturday Night Live or as Detective Axel Foley in the Beverly Hills Cop movies.  And thanks to Murphy, Donkey from the Shrek franchise has become one of today’s most iconic animated characters.

We’re all plenty familiar with Eddie Murphy, and since most of us have enjoyed him in at least one of his roles, it means that we’ll be rooting for him when he takes the stage this February.  And maybe it will make us a little more forgiving of a misstep here or there as well.

Variety Makes for the Best Show

Oscar viewers tend to enjoy it when a host brings variety to the program – comedy and a little bit of song and dance with some heartfelt moments mixed in.  Audiences seemed generally pleased with Hugh Jackman’s theatrical opener in 2008, and Billy Crystal provided us with plenty of classic musical numbers throughout his years as Oscar host.

Hopefully Murphy will use all of his talents to bring a similar variety to this year’s show.  Though Eddie is well-known for his comedic side, he’s actually musically inclined as well, which became evident when he played James “Thunder” Early in Dreamgirls.  In an interview about the film and the way that Early was a departure from his typically comedic roles, he insisted that, “I’ve sang my whole life – I’ve been singing for years and years.”  It would be great to see Eddie use his musical talents to put together a musical number that, blended with comedy, could be compared to Jackman’s opening and all of Crystal’s classic bits.

Eddie Murphy as James "Thunder" Early in "Dreamgirls"

When Eddie Murphy finally takes the stage on February 26th 2012, I’ll really be rooting for him.  A successful Oscars experience could (hopefully) rekindle the fire of a what has become a quickly smoldering career.  Despite the atrocities against film that he has committed with Norbit and Meet Dave, I think Murphy is a funny and likable comedian who still has the potential of turning his career slump around.

Maybe a well-received Oscar bout could be just what the Relevance Doctor ordered.

 

“How I Met Your Mother” Premiere Review

On Monday night CBS premiered it’s newest season of “How I Met Your Mother”, which included a bonus 2nd episode following the first one.  Things picked up right where they had left off at the end of last season: Barney is reconnecting with Nora, Lilly and Marshall are dealing with one of the first steps of having a baby (figuring out when / how to tell everyone the good news), Ted is readying himself to restart his search for “The One,” and Robin is coming to the realization that she may still have feelings for Barney.

This first episode proves that the writers and cast of “How I Met Your Mother” still have plenty of funny left in them, despite entering the seventh season of the show.  Throughout the course of these two new episodes there was a good mix of classic and new material to keep both diehard fans and new viewers laughing.

However, the most promising aspect of the “How I Met Your Mother” premiere wasn’t the comedy, but rather the directions that our beloved character’s stories are headed.

Barney tries to land a 2nd date with Nora

Just as the monotony of Barney’s playboy characteristic had reached a breaking point, the writers have breathed new life into his character by flashing forward to his own wedding as well as bringing Nora back into the picture.  It was a relief to see that finally Barney might start to settle down and put his past six seasons of womanizing behind him.  That’s not to say that there’s a need to entirely drop that aspect of Barney – there is still room for boob jokes and sexual innuendos, and the writers seem to realize that.  Still, it will be a welcome change of pace to see how Barney’s relationship with Nora (and Robin) will develop as the season continues.

Lilly and Marshall’s baby story line is progressing nicely too.  The last season (or two) has been spent watching them go through the pre-pregnancy jitters, every minute of which was funny and enjoyable to watch.  But now that it’s certain that they are pregnant, it will be exciting to watch the couple throughout the season as Lilly (and Marshall) deal with pregnant life.  Plus, is there any doubt about Marshall being the most hilarious, awesome dad ever?

After focusing on Robin and Ted’s careers last season, it appears that this one will go back to following their quests for love.  Though Ted’s endless quest for his soulmate is beginning to drag a bit, it is obviously essential for the continuation of the show (or is it, really?).  Still, it will be interesting to see how Robin’s lingering feelings for Barney play into the Barney / Nora / Robin love triangle.

All-in-all, it looks like we’re in for another funny, interesting, heart-warming, and dare-I-say moving seventh season of “How I Met Your Mother.”  Who knows how much longer they’ll be able to maintain the “Met Your Mother” gag, but for now they’ve still got us hooked.

Oh yeah, and one more thing – let the awesome guest appearances begin:

Martin Short as Marshall's new boss, Garrison Cootes

Promo for New Call of Duty DLC Gets Released

Above is the new 3-minute-long preview for the upcoming release of Treyarch’s third DownLoadable Content package for Call of Duty: Black Ops.  The new map pack is called Annihilation and contains three new multiplayer maps plus a new Nazi Zombies map as well.  Here are some brief thoughts of mine about each of the upcoming maps.

Hangar 18

This could turn out to be a great new map because it seems to have something for everybody.  They mentioned that its a medium map, which is a positive for me.  I hate gigantic maps because they always end up being a waste of space – the majority of combat ends up taking place in a small corner of the map while the other 75% of it goes unused.  They also talked about it being constructed, “for all game types” with some close quarters areas as well as some sniper points.  It seems like there’s a great opportunity for teamwork there too, with the goal of securing the hanger for your team.

Silo

I’m not looking forward to Silo so much.  Dan Bunting (Treyarch’s online director) says that Silo is possibly the biggest map in the game thus far (see previous comments about why giant maps suck).  Then again, Bunting and level designer Phillip Tasker go on to talk about not being able to stay in one place very long and staying on the move, so that seems to indicate a minimal amount of campers.

Drive-In

I think Drive-In is probably my most anticipated map of the bunch because Bunting talks about how similar it is to the popular map Nuketown.  I’m a huge fan of Nuketown and that style of multiplayer game-play, so it seems Drive-In could be just my thing.  Get ready for fast-paced run-and-gun combat and FREQUENT deaths.  Love it.

Hazard

Inspired by World at War‘s “Cliffside” map, hmm….  I guess that was a decent map.  I’ll admit that I’m a fan of the golf course design and the witty pun of the title (as in a golf course hazard like water or a bunker).  But I’m a little concerned about their emphasis on it being a map for long-range battles.  This golf course-themed map could quickly turn into a camp ground…

Shangri La (Nazi Zombies)

Creative Lead Jimmy Zielinski’s comments about this new zombie map have me both excited and concerned.  I’m looking forward to the “new weapons, new environment, new ways of getting around the map” as well as the “holding areas and escape hatches.”  But what worries me is Zielinski saying that the new map will take things “to a whole other level.”  My chief complaint about recent zombie editions is that they keep adding new features that just make it harder, more annoying, and over all less enjoyable.  I wasn’t a fan of the new crawling zombies in “Kino der Totennor was I thrilled at the appearance of perk-stealing monkeys in “Ascension.”  Lately I’ve become a bit more used to George Romero’s presence in “Call of the Dead,” but at first I hated that addition as well.  Hopefully “Shangri La” wont feature too many new annoyances.

 

Well, those are my thoughts about the new map pack.  What do you think?