Knee-jerk review: "The 85th Annual Academy Awards"

1. We admire Seth McFarlane.  He's a self-made man, an artist who toiled in obscurity animating lame Hanna Barbera cartoons while quietly crafting the idea that would became the juggernaut "Family Guy."  His success was not handed to him.  We like that.  Yeah yeah, "Family Guy" never explored high-minded social satire like "The Simpsons," but it certainly can still be funny, cramming in more jokes-per-minute than just about anything we've ever seen.  The fact that so many of the gags are directed right at the pop culture nostalgia of Generation X makes it all the more appealing in that inside baseball sort of way.  If you get it, you're in the club.
2. We have mixed feelings about "We Saw Your Boobs."  Hmmm.  The juvenile side of us finds it quite hilarious, especially given the many hours we logged long ago (not now, of course, don't be silly) looking for naked scenes in movies.  But there's also a side of us that's a little offended, a side that doesn't like how the song reduces talented actresses' accomplishments to some fleeting nude scene in a way that simply can't be done in a similarly insulting way for male actors.  Then again, one could argue that this is the hallmark of a great gag: you laugh and cringe at the same time.  Extra credit for the convoluted time-travel set-up, by the way, which allowed Seth to do the bit while also openly acknowledging how inappropriate it is.  Extra credit also for stating what we all know to be true: Kate Winslet invariably takes off her clothes in every movie.
3. The Captain Kirk thing went on too long.  We're in agreement on that, right?
4. That's surely the first Smokey and the Bandit reference on network TV in since the 1990s.  "We're gonna do what they say cain't be done."  Aside: there is no obvious evidence of medical intervention on Sally Field's face.
5. A shocking win for Christoph Waltz and Django Unchained.   Wow.  Is it just us or is Waltz essentially playing the same character that won him the Oscar for Inglourious Basterds?  They sound... exactly... the same.  It's the same guy, people.  Guess you have to give the Academy credit for consistency.  They really really like whatever it is Waltz has been doing.  Maybe he should keep doing it.
6. Any acceptance speech that isn't just a list of names is a good one in our book.  We often wonder if the Oscars should somehow come with closed-captions so viewers at home can keep track of the agents, producers, publicists, and attorneys getting name-checked at the podium.
7. If there is any equal of our beloved filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, it's probably Ang Lee.  Both of them refuse to be pigeonholed in a single style, choosing instead to travel in a variety of genres.  Westerns, sci-fi, superheroes, thrillers, heists, fantasy, period drama.  They don't always succeed, but their efforts are always intriguing.  We could use more directors like this.
8. For these overviews of the Best Picture nominees, why can't they show a single powerhouse scene to really take us into the movie?  Why do we instead get these trailer-like montages?
9. Maybe Joss Whedon should have written the banter for The Avengers actors.  Awkward and unfunny.
10. We felt bad that the visual effects guy was cut off by the Jaws theme, especially since he was trying to talk about the fragile, hopelessly dysfunctional state of the visual effects industry.  But these people were surely all told a million times how much time they had and what would happen if they ran over.  If he wanted to preach about visual effects finances, he should have started sooner.  What if everyone were indulged and allowed to talk as long as they wanted?  Dogs and cats living together... mass hysteria.
11. How embarrassing would it be if the winner for Best Costume Design showed up wearing something really ugly?  Would the Oscar win offset any perception of fashion incompetence?  Could they still get hired?  These are the things we think about.
12. Very exciting!  Fifty years of James Bond... but then all we get is a long montage clip.  At the very least, shouldn't the six Bond actors stroll out on stage in matching tuxedos to thunderous applause?  Then we learned from Deadline's Nikki Finke that Connery hates the Broccoli family.  How petty.
13. It feels wrong to hear Halle Berry say "Pussy Galore."
14. Shirley Bassey is still alive?  Huh.
15. If you can't get the Bond actors, then the next best thing would have been to coax to the stage McCartney for "Live and Let Die" (best Bond song ever) and Carly Simon for "Nobody Does It Better" to hit the trifecta.
16.  At this point, stand-up comedy and sitcoms are just an amusing footnote to Jamie Foxx's career, aren't they?
17. The orchestra is up the street and around the corner in the Capitol Building.  Why? 
18. An homage to classic movie musicals... of the last ten years only... and one of which is up for Best Picture this year.  We liked the Les Miserables showstopper, but in general, this felt like a waste of 15 minutes.  It was pointed out to us later that the people who are producing the Oscars - producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan - are Broadway guys who helped make Chicago.  Now it's starting to make sense, isn't it?
19. This goes without saying, but we'll say it anyway.  It is absolutely ridiculous what filmmakers can do with computer technology (even as they run effects companies into the ground - see #10 above).  It's easy to spot big tentpole effects of dinosaurs and aliens and nuclear holocausts, sure.  But the majority of the effects work that you see in movies is completely seamless and rendered so realistically and vividly that you'd never guess it was an effect at all.
20. We laughed out loud at the Von Trapp "They're gone!" gag.  Sorry.
21. As is often the case, Best Supporting Actress goes to the ingenue.  Oscar loves anointing cute young women.  Here, we get Anne Hathaway doing her "oh my gosh I'm so excited" routine yet again.  The realest thing about her acceptance speech is the weirdly craven moment she whispered "It came true" to her new Oscar.  We suppose we should all be happy for her, finally achieving her goal.  Doesn't she know you're supposed to pretend to be above it all and not want it that badly?  She really is like the annoying perky, hammy, isn't-it-swell? theater arts student.  That said, we can't fault her for her talent.  She has the goods.  Hathaway was easily the best thing in The Dark Knight Returns and The Devil Wears Prada is way underrated. 
22. Sit down,Harvey Weinstein, you're in the shot!
23. Okay okay, Adele's song "Skyfall" is definitely growing on us.
24. If Kristen Stewart doesn't want to be there on stage giving out an award, why is she there?
25. Stuntman (and member of the weird 1970s Burt Reynolds royal court) Hal Needham gets an honorary Oscar.  Big cable staple growing up: Needham's film Hooper.  No CGI back then.  You're really driving cars under collapsing brick smokestacks.
26. And now... "In Memoriam."  Or, that part of the show where you say "I didn't know he/she died!"
27. Here we go again with more Chicago love.  Good grief.  It was a great movie, yes.  But it was ten years ago and the show's now devoted two segments to reminding us about it.  Memo to Oscar producers: no one cares.  How about some random celebrations of Shakespeare in Love or Forrest Gump or while you're at it?  We saw a tweet that said the producers are making the Oscars into the Tonys so they can get a job producing the Emmys.  Zing!
28. Why is ABC making Seth do his own "coming up next" bumpers?  Could they not hire an announcer?
29. Quentin Tarantino is a polarizing figure, but count us among his fans.  That said, this is an unexpected win for him.  Inglourious Basterds was more deserving.  Does this mean Hollywood likes him?  It's his second Oscar for writing, so this certainly seems like validation.  
30. Jennifer Lawrence falls on the way up the steps, a humiliating moment that instantly mutes any Hathaway-ian criticism.  To us, Lawrence is like Sandra Bullock with more talent and gravitas, the cute-but-gawky girl next door who finds Hollywood politics rather amusing and any talk of her a sex symbol to be utterly ridiculous. 
32. Daniel Day Lewis wins for Lincoln.  You could have written it down back when Spielberg cast him two years ago.  That's about as stone cold a lock as Oscars give these days.  
33. We like the First Lady, but please get out of our Oscarcast, Michelle Obama.  We're trying to go to bed.  Enough of these gimmicky shenanigans.  Open the envelope and let's call it a night.
34. The more we think about it, the sillier it seems to have this many Best Picture nominees.  Five was a nice round number.  You get two critics' choice front runners, a populist box office hit, an arty indie, and a dark horse.  It made sense.  Now it's just this weird free for all.  Five one year, ten the next.  Stop the madness.
35. Argo deserved it.

Here's what we said about the 83rd Annual Academy Awards.  You know, the year The King's Speech won.  And the 81st Annual Academy Awards.  The year that Slumdog Millionaire won.


Knee-jerk review: ABC's "Oscars Red Carpet Live"

1. The Cheese Fry once lived around the corner from the theater formerly known as the Kodak.  Oscar week was always a nuisance of street closures and bright lights.  We walked down there a few times mid-week to see the bleachers going up and the red carpet laid out (always covered with plastic until the last second) or the giant wooden Oscar sentries rolled into place.  And then the day of the event, the sky would be filled with noisy helicopters, the streets with stretch limos.  Cool, huh?  Maybe it wasn't such a nuisance after all.
2. We want to like Kristin Chenoweth.  We do.  But we can't.  She seems to be trying... oh... so... hard. Her neck cords are always popping and straining.  And why is she the one doing the red carpet interviews?  Was Terri Hatcher and Kelly Ripa busy?  Then again, at least Kristin has been in movies.  Kelly Rowland is even more of a mystery hire.
3. Nice shot of the long red-carpeted staircase leading up to the theater lobby.  You'd never guess those heavy red drapes on the sides are hiding tourist-trap mall stores like an ice cream shop and a perfume discount outlet.  
4. There's always someone who shows up on the red carpet who completely enrages us because of their mere "why-did-you-get-invited?" inclusion.  Who will it be this year?
5. We have succumbed to Channing Tatum's charms.  Sorry.
6. The "Hooray for Hollywood" Diet Coke spot gets us every time.  Subtle, classy, and perfectly capturing our rose-tinted, magic-houred nostalgia for the magical way movies used to be made in an organized studio system.  Also a nice shout-out to the people who stick the signs on the billboards - they're important too.

7. We heard nasty rumors about Lara Spencer's cold-blooded ambition, but can't remember the details.  Does that mean we shouldn't still dislike her?  Because we do.
8. We remain fascinated by this obsession with celebrity fashion and the shallow "who are you wearing?" question.  Was it Joan Rivers who started this nonsense on her E! shows?  We get the appeal from an old-Hollywood glamour angle.  These are attractive, larger-than-life figures dolled up to look their absolute best.  But there's now also this ridiculous need to rank best-dressed and worst-dressed.  Don't these people live with enough scrutiny already?  It's enough.
9. Entertainment Weekly editor Jess Cagle seems like a classy dude.  And he's out in the red carpet hinterlands on Highland Avenue interview Daniel Radcliffe, who always looks startled.
10. We harbor a long-standing crush on Naomi Watts, but she doesn't look so good tonight.  And with that... we just became a part of the problem we attacked in number 8 above.  11. "Oscar Road Trip."  What a clever promotion, letting ordinary moviegoers hold an Oscar and get tickets to the show (or is it just tickets to the red carpet grandstands?).  Sometimes it seems like the audience is barely a factor, doesn't it?  
12. It really is all about Kristin Chenoweth in these interviews.  Jeez.
13. "I think she looks pretty there," says Mrs. Fry regarding Nicole Kidman.  We, however, note that her face doesn't much move above the nostrils.
14. Nice moment where we get a glimpse of what it's like to shuffle down the red carpet for dozens of whirring cameras.  A friend who worked in the TV world says this is called "step and repeat."  Smile, pose, walk two steps, smile, pose.
15. Mention now of another great program, this one that brings film students to Hollywood to learn about the Academy and Hollywood filmmaking.  These kinds of outreach programs are so great, but we hadn't heard about it until now.  Same with that "Oscar Road Trip."  Shouldn't that better-publicized to generate goodwill?
16. We just noticed there's no Ryan Seacrest.  No wonder we're enjoying ourselves.
17. That Oscar Mystery item better be something real and cool after all of this awkward build-up.  (Update: it is.  A pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.)
18. The people sliding past DeNiro as he gives his red carpet interview.  We wonder if they're nudging each other and whispering, "There's DeNiro!" "I know!"
19. The 44-year-old Jennifer Aniston is aging oh so well.  That is all.  Sigh.
20. Adele is towering over Chenoweth.  Looks like Adele could pop her in her mouth like a Gummi Bear.  We wish she would.
21. Oh, George Clooney and his little trophy girlfriends.  What a life.
22. Whispered reverentially by Mrs. Cheese Fry regarding Sandra Bullock: "I love her."
23. Sorry, but Anne Hathaway has become insufferable with her phony humility and false modesty.  She's her own biggest fan.  We're not saying this isn't true about every actor, but she's got to do better at hiding it.
24. We barely recognized Renee Zellweger.  It's almost tragic the way actresses feel a compulsion to get cosmetic work done.
25. Cool how the people in the show's control room are all wearing tuxedos.
26. At this point, hip-hop is just an amusing footnote to Queen Latifah's career, isn't it?


"All work and no play"

The Shining isn't a great movie (it's a little dull and rather obtuse), but it's certainly a memorable one.  It has several creepy moments seared into our collective subconscious.  Would you want to watch the bit with the twin girls alone at night?  Neither would we.  But most of all, it's a Kubrick movie, which means there is no shortage of subtext and depth and purpose to every shot, every line, every composition.  Nothing is left to chance, which is why Kubrick movies can inspire mania and obsession.  Our favorite is 2001: A Space Odyssey.  We'll read anything about the making of that movie, the meaning of that movie, the making of the meaning of that movie.

Pixar filmmaker Lee Unkrich's obsession is The Shining.  His website TheOverlookHotel.com is chock full of factoids and pictures and artwork about the movie.  Our favorite is his post about the fictional Overlook Hotel keychains.  How obscure can you get?  And are they for sale?

A patchwork of NFL fanatics

For once, Facebook isn't a useless timesuck.  A Sean Taylor used the website recently to analyze users' NFL team favorites and develop a map of NFL allegiances during the regular season (we duly note the kingdom of the Cowboys in the south - only the Broncos can boast a similarly large geographic area), then compared that map to some of the playoff rounds as teams started dropping out.


Blurry boys, blurry boys

This article from Entertainment Weekly's Dan Snierson about the post-production technician who blurs out the naughty bits on Fox's "Cops" is exactly the sort of genius pop culture investigation that the Cheese Fry loves.  We wish we'd thought of it.


Knee-jerk review: FX's "The Americans"

1. Did we just find a new favorite show?  It may be too soon to tell, but we have very high hopes.  We will be back for more.
2. We've always been rather lukewarm on Kerri Russell, but she is no joke here as a fierce, rigid, rather humorless KGB agent pretending to be an all-American housewife.  She's got the goods.
3. Is "In the Air Tonight" still a powerful song in its own right (those are some seriously dark, foreboding lyrics) or is it more of a lazy way to reference the 1980s?  Should any serious producer ever include Phil Collins on a soundtrack unless there's clear irony present?  These are the questions we ask ourselves.
4. Speaking of music, what was that song that played over the opening operation?  Catchy and strange.
5. Remember pay phones?
6. Has there ever been a sub-par FX drama?  Even flops like "Dirt" or "Lights Out" were visionary and fearless in their own way.  This is what the freedom of cable broadcasting provides writers and producers.
7. That's some serious damage done by a barbecue fork.  Remind us not to ever make creepy sexual overtures to the underage daughter of a secret KGB agent.
8. Agreed, it's a pretty big coincidence that the FBI agent moves in right across the street, but we'll allow it given the conflict and tension such an arrangement will surely create.  It's easy to see the KGB agent and the FBI agent becoming friends, which will add another layer of complications for everyone.
9. Clever also that the writers painted the FBI agent as a habitually suspicious character, thus explaining why he does the rather extreme things he does at the end of the pilot.
10. It's a very strange feeling indeed to be rooting for the Evil Empire.

Six movies released in 2012 we didn't see in a theater

With appropriate gratitude to Time Warner Cable's "On Demand" service, we give you six movies we wanted to see in theaters last year but could not due to the Li'l Frys.

1 Battleship is Pearl Harbor meets Transformers, which we intend as the worst possible insult imaginable.  A loud, stupid, formulaic train wreck of a movie that never met a cliche it didn't want to run right into the ground.  We were shocked by how boring and tedious so much of it truly was given the multi-million-dollar visual effects.  Even if it's empty-headed, shouldn't it be fun?  Not even Liam Neeson escapes unscathed.  Up to now, we'd been big fans of director Peter Berg.  He'll have to win us back over now.

2 End of Watch strings together visceral, gritty moments of life as an LAPD street cop working the worst neighborhoods.  There's no doubt the movie is doing an expert job of showing us what it's really like out there.  Writer-director David Ayer has practically made a career out of making movies about urban cops (if you haven't seen Training Day, what are you waiting for?).  The problem is that you keep waiting for a plot that never arrives.  Things start to unravel towards the end as it becomes clear our heroes have stumbled onto some kind of cartel operation and things end in a predictably bloody climax.  But up until then, mostly it's just a this-happed, then-this-happened episodic sort of story.  It's well-made, sure.  It just doesn't add up to anything.  What was the point?

3 Looper reminds us how hard it is to tell a good time-travel story.  Filmmakers can easily get completely sidetracked by endless paradoxes and distracting plot holes.  But when it's done right, there's something weirdly primal about the ability to go back and change the past (or keep it from being changed by some nefarious future).  It's why The Terminator and Back to the Future are such beloved classics.  Looper doesn't hit those highs, but it comes close, mostly because it doesn't spend a whole lot of time on time travel mechanics.  Instead, the movie puts two versions of the same character together and then watches the fallout: a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) faces his future, an older man (Bruce Willis) faces his past.  Both can only survive if the other is destroyed.  It's more drama than sci-fi.  There's a lot here that's quite genius.  People have quibbled about the "impossible" ending, but as catharsis, it's perfect.

4 Magic Mike is probably one of the very best melodramas you'll ever see about ambition.  How much are you willing to pay for fame and fortune?  When do youthful dreams give way to more adult realities?  At what point do you cut your losses and accept your fate?  Director Steven Soderbergh is our very favorite filmmaker and so it's no surprise that he's cranked out - in our eyes - another mini-masterpiece of mood, character, and style.  The camera angles, the pacing, the performances, all top notch.  We're finally starting to understand what all the fuss is about over Channing Tatum.  Did we mention this is a movie about male strippers in Tampa, Florida and features Matthew McConaughey in full-on shirtless self-parody?  Without question, this should be a laughable Lifetime TV movie clunker.  And yet it is not.

Pitch Perfect may be a rip-off Fox's "Glee" in that both are about misfits who find identity, love, and purpose through school singing groups.  But the movie improves on the Fox recipe.  "Glee" can be frustratingly inconsistent, silly, and implausible, often turning itself in knots to hit big moments whether it all makes sense or not.  Pitch Perfect doesn't have those problems, perhaps in part because it's happy to embrace the romantic comedy/misfit college comedy formula (uptight girl learns to let go, introverted angry chick opens up and finds love, underdogs triumph over the favorites, etc), rather than work so hard trying to upend them like "Glee."  Sometimes, cliches work because they're tried and true.  Anna Kendrick seems to be an acquired taste we haven't yet fully acquired, but the real standout is Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy.  

6 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World wins points for fully committing to its apocalyptic premise, though the low-budget, indie-sensibility does sometimes undermine the film's realism, like when it's clear the producers couldn't afford a jet plane and had to settle for a prop plane.  The movie mostly succeeds at walking a shaky line between two kinds of comedies: the dry black kind and the whimsical romantic kind.  Keira Knightley (ridiculously pretty) plays the role of the Quirky Artsy Girl you've seen countless times before, while Steve Carrell does his usual sad-sack-with-a-mean-streak routine.  Nothing new, really.  But it's mixed together well.  Lots of amusing cameos and detours.