Monday, February 27, 2012

Dale plays devil's advocate and defends the Oscars, and not even that half-heartedly

Well apparently my guarantees mean nothing.

Just as my 1000 word guarantee has gone out the window several times, so apparently goes my “Billy Crystal will make at least three jokes about how long the show is going” guarantee. Though, as predicted, today's coverage is chock full of complaints about the length of last night's broadcast. Hey assholes. It was three hours long. It is ALWAYS three hours long. Get over it.

As for the rest of it, here's my assessment:

Billy Crystal was a competent host and, as expected, his material was pretty lame and whatever the opposite of bleeding edge is. He opened the show the same way he used to in his glory days: by inserting himself into a montage of clips, doing a few of Bruce Vilanche's jokes, and then doing his “Oscar Song” (“Its a wonderful night for Oscar. Oscar Oscar. Who will win?” - yeah that one).

The montage, usually one of the highlights, was pretty lame, though you have to hand it to George Clooney; the guy's a sport. The low point was the insertion of that singing dolphin in shoes, Justin Bieber, in a lame bit about appealing to a younger demographic that was not helped by Crystal hauling out his Sammy Davis Jr. impression for one last laugh, or in this case, complete comedic black hole.

Crystal's monologue was pretty much as expected (apparently Vilanche was not involved this year – not sure why), though a few things struck me. First, is it just me, or has Crystal actually turned into that Catskills comedian he used to play on SNL and made the movie Mr. Saturday Night about? Also, his presentation seemed just a bit desperate, which may be for one of two reasons that I can think of: Jack Nicholson was not there for him to throw to every time one of his bits didn't land, and also his face kind of looked like an old catcher's mitt perched on top of a tuxedo. Was there some kind of sitcommy botched botox incident before the show? Like that episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia this season?

Here's the thing though.

I love edgy comedy, and edgy comedians. I liked Billy Crystal a long time ago, but he really has become a relic of the past. But what even I forget sometimes is that the Oscars are not supposed to be a comedy show. It's an awards ceremony. The format? People get up and make speeches, then give trophies to other people who then come up and make speeches. The fact that they spice it up with comedy and movie clips is very much appreciated, but those things are extraneous portions of what, by nature, is a dull event.

Sure, it's way more exciting for me if someone with a bit of edge is going to host. I'm one of the few who loved David Letterman's hosting gig, and Chris Rock was great. But damn, as long as it's not Whoopi Goldberg, I don't really care (though last year's Franco/Hathaway debacle was awkward on so many levels, maybe Billy is a way to reset the whole process and attain some kind of equilibrium).

One last thought about the host: the pundits always talk about how the members of the Academy are so old, which is why certain types of films almost always receive nominations, and that is a valid complaint. A large portion of the membership does not put any work or thought into who they nominate. They do not do what I, were I an Academy member, would do. They do not methodically compile a list of the films they saw that year, and then scan critics' lists for highly rated movies that may have flown under their radar, then make an attempt to see as many of those as possible before deciding which films to put on their lists.

Most members pick their favourites from the past year and make all their choices out of those few films. And it is well known that a ridiculously large number of them merely wait to see what happens at the Golden Globes and other awards shows that happen before them.

However, aside from the various injustices of which these people are annually guilty, when it comes to the ceremony and the host, it's their Academy, not mine. And if they want the ceremony to have a certain amount of reverence, or blandness, then I guess that's their right. I realized last night after my tenth eye-roll at one of Billy's lame jokes (followed by that little smile that tells everyone just how pleased he is with himself) that I wasn't watching the latest Louis C.K. Stand-up special, I was watching the latest broadcast of an esteemed event that's been going on for almost a hundred years. And while it's fun to watch a host who'll take the piss out of some of them, it's their right to say “No. Ricky Gervais scares the shit out of us”.

So what we got last night was a totally predictable evening, made even more predictable by the fairly lacklustre crop of nominees and the fact that pretty much every award given out was pretty much a lock. You know it's a predictable Oscar night when the only upset is Meryl Streep sneaking in to take the Best Actress award from Viola Davis. Then again, who would have imagined a world where anyone could consider Meryl Streep an underdog?

I have a lot more to say but am going to cut this short. I may bring some of them up later. But before I sign off I want to share one quick observation. I was live-tweeting the ceremony last night (follow me @nervoushospital. Please, anyone) and late in the show The Artist won yet another award (it might have even been Best Picture). The producer started speaking, and he looked eerily like Peter Lorre back in his M days. I tweeted, “Holy shit! Peter Lorre has risen from the grave!” A minute late, Patton Oswalt tweets, “I wonder if the director of THE ARTIST realizes he has a chalk “M” on the back of his tux.”

See? This shows why Patton is one of the most successful and talented comedians out there while I am a schlub with twelve followers.

Wait! Thirteen! The gap begins to close! Maybe with hard work and much, much more talent, I'll get there one day!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dale talks Oscars. That's pretty much it. Oscars.

When I was ten years old I was allowed to see my first Mature movie.

Back then movie ratings went from General to Mature to Parental Guidance (if you were under 18, you had to have a parent or guardian with you – as the years went by, my friends and I tested the definition of “guardian” many, many times) to Restricted, which meant you weren't getting in unless you could prove you were 18. Or if you were a very tall 16 with a sprinkling of pube-like facial hair and ended up getting the box office cashier who didn't give a shit.

And then you would walk in to the Odeon Theatre to see Conan The Barbarian, feeling triumphant glee at making it past the gate sentry mixed with breathless anticipation for what was sure to be the greatest masterpiece ever filmed by humans, ever in the history of films or the history of humans. You would turn to Cole and Craig, your two friends, one of whom drove us here from Selkirk, MB in his Mom's station wagon, ready to high five each other out of pure joy. You would look around, puzzled, trying to figure out what happened to Cole and Craig. They were right behind you at the box office, after all. You would glance back at the large window looking out at the street and see Cole and Craig out there, faces pressed to the glass like little kids waiting for the unveiling of the Macy's Christmas toy display. They would look at you, sad but in an odd way elated that one of their number got under the wall. And then, to your surprise, they would signal to you that you should go ahead. See the movie for all of us. They would meet up with you later.

You don't find those kinds of friends very often.

Too bad the movie turned out to be a mixed bag. Some of the worst acting in the history of cinema combined with what is very likely the manliest movie of all time. Plus it set a new high water mark for fastest time to decapitation.

But that isn't what I'm here to talk about.

When I was ten years old I was allowed to see my first Mature movie.

The picture was Jaws and I wanted to see that movie with a zeal bordering on religious. My parents were pretty strict about which movies my brother and I were allowed to see, but they had prescreened this one and gave it the all clear. Considering the material as I look back I'm not sure what it was about Jaws that was okay for a ten year old (and his nine year old brother now that I think of it). My assumption is that, much like with the people who rate movies today, as long as there are no boobs, bush, sex or swearing, it's all good. Severed heads, geysers of spouting blood, and watching a man being eaten alive? Jaws has all those things, but I suppose the general consensus is that those are things that build character.

Not that I'm complaining. At the time (and for two more years – until Star Wars came out), Jaws was the greatest motion picture I had ever seen.

So that winter, when I found out it was nominated for something called an “Academy Award”? Well, I was on board for that. Go Jaws! And so, for the first time ever, I eagerly awaited an Oscar ceremony, not suspecting that after that first one I would be hooked, and not miss another one until I was old.

There were a few things that excited me about the show. The first was, obviously, the chance to cheer on the greatest movie of all time as it competed for glory and honour.

The second was that during the show they would show clips from Jaws, the greatest movie of all time. Yes, they actually used to do that. There was a time when the producers of the Oscars broadcast assumed that people who loved movies were watching, and so the show was geared to them, with lots of clips showcasing the work of the various nominees, and a bunch of features celebrating the history and the craft of moviemaking.

For me, that first show was magical. Transcendent even. It led me to some classic films, but the main impact was that in 1976, before I turned eleven, I actively wanted to see movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Man Who Would Be King, and Dog Day Afternoon. These were movies that would never have been on my radar at the time, but thanks to the Oscars, I was now aware of them, had seen some great scenes from them, and thought that they looked amazing.

I have watched every Oscar broadcast since then, waiting for each one with excitement, though it seems with each passing year that excitement wanes just a bit.

Each year, movies or performances I love are routinely snubbed, undeserving movies beat deserving ones (Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture in 1989 against movies like Do The Right Thing, Field of Dreams, and Glory, to name just a few), and each year the ceremony becomes less and less about the love of movies and more and more about appealing to the general population (yes, I intentionally used a prison term there). Apparently, people don't like a long ceremony - I guarantee that tonight there will be at least three jokes by Billy Crystal about how long the show is running - even though they seem to love five hours of fashion assessment by desperate, cocaine-fuelled E! correspondents (or even worse, the fistful of assholes that inhabit Canada's entertainment news networks) from the Red Carpet.

Which means, in their yearly attempt to shorten the show, they lose more clips, tributes, and montages. And yet somehow the show stays the same length. And the next day the pundits all complain about how damn long the ceremony was. You know what? Some of us actually like movies, and actually want to watch the show. And you know what? When you like something and are having fun, you don't mind if it runs a little bit long. So screw the Toddlers & Tiaras/Real Housewives/Kardashian trogs out there and make the fucking thing about movies again. I guarantee, all those assholes will still watch, and they'll all complain about the show being long and boring, but I also guarantee that they'll find it long and boring anyway, unless you find some way to start giving awards to stuff like Jack & Jill and Zookeeper. And the People's Choice Awards already does that.

I'll be watching tonight, and I'm looking forward to it, even if this is the most uninspiring set of nominees I've seen in a long time. I really liked a lot of the films, don't get me wrong, but the only one I really loved is Hugo. But since PG films rarely win the major awards I'm not holding out too much hope. So we'll see what happens and I'll share my thoughts with you tomorrow. I'm also thinking about live-tweeting the show, so feel free to follow me @nervoushospital on the Twitters!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

After a long absence, Dale's voice cries out from the Darkest Depths of Saskatchewan

I’ve been on the road for a while now and, I gotta tell ya, find it super hard to write from hotel rooms.

Part of the problem is that I’m one of those writers who can’t take any distraction while writing, not even music. I need complete silence to get anything accomplished. And hotels are rarely distraction-free. In fact, as I am writing this very sentence my next door neighbour has decided to go out for the evening, announcing this to the rest of us (“the rest of us” being everyone staying at this hotel) by slamming his door multiple times, presumably to be sure the job was done right, and then yelling to whoever is outside waiting for him. I think one of them has beer, or has plans to get beer. Their words were hard to make out, but a lot of intention can be read through tone.

Meanwhile, down the hall, some parent, or group of parents, have decided to send their kids out to participate in the ongoing Hotel Corridor Olympiad that seems to  have been running during the months of January and February in various hotels throughout Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. I myself have not been following the results, but am guessing that the home teams have been doing well, judging by the frequent sounds of celebration ringing through the halls. And two weeks ago, at the Days Inn in Regina, there was a team of eleven year old ringette players whose victory was so glorious that the celebrations went on well into the night.

So yeah, there are distractions.

The other problem is that when I’m on the road I’m stressed out and depressed. I miss my kids, I miss my wife, I miss my friends, and yes, I miss my stuff. And with a brain that’s always clanging around like a pinball on a 10,000 point run at the best of times, things like stress and depression make it almost impossible to achieve the state of near-nirvana that I need to get to to write.

It used to be easy, when I could just eat my feelings. The best cure for road-blues used to be going out, buying a big bag of whatever salty, snacky, comfort food struck my fancy, and gorge myself on it alone in my room, away from the judging eyes of others. Others whose high and mighty “my body is a temple“ outlook would never allow them to understand the need to occasionally crush up a bag of Doritos and pour the results directly from the bag into my mouth like I’m chugging a yard of ale.

But goddammit, that’s not an option anymore. It’s hard enough to eat right on the road as it is, but piling on a 1200 calorie bag of cheetos is just not in the cards for this guy these days.

Quick note: I just noticed that Microsoft Works auto-corrected the word “goldsmith” in the last paragraph and replaced it with “goldsmith”. Just thought you should know.

Anyway, I haven’t posted anything for two weeks, and above is my feeble-ass excuse for that. I need to keep reminding myself that, one: I am allowed to write a short post (in fact, I assume most people prefer shorter posts), and two: once I get going I end up having plenty to say. Too much in fact, the result being that I have broken my 1000 word limit promise twice now.

So I’ll quickly update my recent gaming and movie-watching progress.

Firstly, in GEEK TALK news, the item I mentioned sarcastically two weeks ago, the cloth shoulders my priest in WoW needs? They still have not dropped, and my kill count on that boss is now 31. I had no plans on discussing the issue again, but come on! Thirty-One times!

Aside from that, I’ve been playing some retro games on Steam. My eldest recently bought me the Serious Sam collection on sale and I’ve been running through the first one of those lately.

Serious Sam is a first-person shooter from a few years back that combines the massive, monster-filled battles of the original Doom with the laid back, comedic, misogynist tone of Duke Nukem, and the frantic pace of what I imagine Gary Busey‘s dreams are like. This is a game that features headless kamikaze bombers who run at you from a mile away, holding big cartoony bombs in their hands, screaming at you as they rush you, even though, since they have no heads, they seemingly have nothing to scream from. But that is a large part of the game‘s charm.

Since I am nearing the end of my word limit, I will wait until next time to discuss Atom Zombie Smasher, a fun little game that I was obsessing over for a few weeks of this trip.

But before I sign off, I’ll update you on my progress regarding Friday movie night: So far I have managed to get a movie watched every Friday, even if that meant putting a DVD into my laptop and watching it on the weeny screen. Last night I finally got around to watching MacGruber, which I liked very much, even though much of it was more miss than hit.

I have also watched Choke on the laptop, which I thought was okay, but it’s based on my favourite Chuck Palahniuk book and I didn’t feel the movie lived up to the book.

I also saw some movies in actual theatres, though the selection has been limited lately, unless I want to break down and see The Vow or Phantom Menace 3D. And since I feel no urge to fight the desire to pound railroad spikes into my eyes, I’ve stuck to the laptop. But I did manage to see Soderbergh’s Haywire a week or two ago, along with Fincher’s version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Maybe we can discuss those movies next time, along with a discussion of the Oscars that, since we’re dealing with me, seems inevitable.

1011 words. God. DAMMIT!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dale plays Red Dead Redemption and, as usual, is unjustly vilified after trying to do the right thing

News from the gaming front.

Okay, I admit I've been languishing in my comfort zone, playing World of Warcraft most evenings. Again, this is mainly because I have friends online who actually look forward to playing with me. Also, there is a set of cloth shoulders that my priest needs that just will not drop. I have killed the boss who drops them exactly twenty three times and the one time they dropped, they got ninja'd by some retarded, cheeto-eating ass-monkey of a warlock, who Needed on them to vend them for some quick gold. I mean, isn't it enough that, as a warlock, he's using me as his personal mana pool? Go back to the lame PVP realm you came from, jackass!

And that concludes tonight's episode of GEEK TALK. I hope you all enjoyed it.

Anyhoo, in the last month, outside of WoW, I have been playing a few different games.

The best one is Red Dead Redemption, a game I started right after it came out a couple years ago, but lost track of after putting in no more than a couple hours into it. I seem to do that with a lot of Xbox games. I start getting into them, but then find myself not playing them for awhile, often due to the console not being available to me for the reason of teen males in the house.

But, more commonly, it's so much work to go all the way downstairs, find the disc I need, eject whichever one's in the damn machine, put mine in, let it load, log in to the machine, and finally load up whichever level you were on. I mentioned being lazy in my last post. This may begin to illustrate the deverity of my laziness. I have actually had the moment from that Jim Gaffigan bit – the one where you're laying on the couch and your show ends, an infomercial comes on, and you reach for the remote but can't find it. You then look at the length of the path from the couch to the TV and say to yourself, “Well I guess I'm watching this then.” I told people that story long before I'd ever heard of Mr. Gaffigan, but it is comforting to know there are others like me out there.

The point is, when I find myself away from a game for more than a week or two, especially a game with a narrative, I lose my enthusiasm for it and feel like I need to start over since I've likely forgotten potentially important story elements. Because I am not only lazy. I am also dumb.

Now that I have an Xbox upstairs though, I can play whenever I want, plus I save a couple of crucial steps. No downstairs trip and the disc in the machine has a very good chance of being the one I left there last time I played. And at the moment, that disc is Red Dead Redemption.

In this game, you play a scarred gunfighter with a mysterious and checkered past. Not a big stretch since every single video game character in history has some dark back-story. From Mario and his alleged ties to the Gambino family to Sonic's suspected substance abuse , no video game character has ever been known for living the clean life (except for Pac Man, who has never raised a hand to his wife and whose reputation as a gentleman is above reproach).

But back to Red Dead. The game starts you off with a whole bunch of long cut scenes that involve you getting shot and rescued (and nursed back to health) by an attractive widow (I have no idea if she is actually a widow or not, but she might as well be). You do some work for her on her ranch to help you learn the basic mechanics of the game, and then you strike out on missions. The plot really doesn't matter, but in the few hours of game time I've played there have been a few notable moments.

Most of these moments deal with game mechanics that I didn't know were in place, so one time, as I was trying to search the body of a fallen bad guy I instead accidentally skinned his dead horse. This doesn't sound like such a big deal, but you have to remember this game is made by Rockstar, the people who brought you both the Grand Theft Auto series and Manhunt, a game which increased your performance rating based on the extremity and gruesomeness of the murders you performed. It was a delight that in no way produced a generation of potential Dexters.

My point is that, by accidentally hitting the “skin horse” button instead of the “search dead guy” button, I found myself suddenly awash in a crazy arterial spray right out of Kill Bill as my onscreen avatar chopped and hacked away happily. I don't think he was whistling, but I can't be sure. Blood was everywhere, including on the camera lens. Remember, it's a video game, so there is no actual camera. Somebody made the decision to spray the pretend camera lens with pretend blood.

But the absolute best moment so far was during some down time in the story. I was walking around a little town, exploring, when I heard a ruckus in a nearby alleyway. Checking it out, I discovered a scene right out of the opening of Unforgiven. An angry cowboy was beating on a prostitute, yelling at her. I think she may have laughed at either the size or quality of his junk, but can't recall precisely.

I step over and try to interact with him in some way; maybe open up a chat window with some dialogue options like, “Hey, stop beating the whore in this here alleyway”, or “Drop that there knife to the ground, real quick-like”. Oh yeah, by now he had his knife out and was cutting her up real violent-like. Within seconds she was dead on the ground so, like any paragon of justice would, I drew my gun to bring this villain in.

Immediately, the man ran away. Now, I had just done a mission where I brought a fugitive in, and one option was to take him alive. So when I fought him I was allowed to shoot him in the leg, incapacitating him and allowing him to be captured without having to kill him.

So, armed with this knowledge of the game and my newfound ability to take men alive, I drew a bead on the murderous scoundrel, lowered my aim to his legs, and fired.

The result? The dirty sumbitch drops to the ground, stone dead, and a game message pops up at the top corner of the screen, telling me that doing bad things will lower my reputation and people in the game will start closing their doors to me.

I remember, years ago, playing Age of Empires and sending my soldiers across the map. I would then check on my base and monitor whatever construction was going on, and when my soldiers should have reached their target I would check on them to find that they had not reached their destination. Was it because enemy troops had discovered and ambushed them? Nope, they were stuck halfway to their destination, marching in place, piled up into a cliff wall like that marching band in Animal House.

So even in this new age of sophisticated games and advanced AI, you still have to deal with dumb-dumbs.

Just like real life.