Thursday, April 10, 2014

How to Properly React On the Occasion of Your Coworker's Daughter Taking Her Clothes Off for a Crappy TV Show

The afternoon before a new show was set to premiere on Comedy Central, a high school acquaintance of mine posted a message on Facebook along the lines of, "Hey, check out this show tonight. My coworker's daughter is in it. We're all really excited for her," etc.

I'm always curious about people from "back home" who took a chance in pursuit of a dream, even if our only connection is casual acquaintance from high school's coworker's daughter... otherwise known as "no connection."

So I watched the show, and it was terrible. An absolute creative failure from concept to execution. The type of thing network executives lose their jobs over.

But what about my high school acquaintance's coworker's daughter? She was only in one scene and, like every other girl in this particular show, her job was to look good in a bra and panties. At this, she succeeded.

The next day, my high school acquaintance followed up with an apology. "Sorry if anybody watched the show on my recommendation. That was awful. My coworker must be so embarrassed. I feel bad for him," etc.

No.

Incorrect.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Now, I'm not an actor. I have no desire to be an actor. Two facts I thank God for every single day of my life.

Attempting to be an actor is one of the most horrific endeavors a person can subject herself to. You don't have to be a Hollywood insider to know this; we've all heard the stories. You work your ass off just to get an audition. 5000 other people are auditioning for the same part. Your life is 99.9% rejection. You don't know why you're being rejected, so you don't really know how to do "better" next time. Worse still, the people rejecting you may not even know why they're making that decision; it's just, you know, 5000 other options, who cares? Through it all you have to smile and act happy, as if your entire existence isn't one big shattering defeat. Your likelihood of becoming Sandra Bullock: 0.000000000001%

The day you get a yes on anything -- anything -- it's the new Best Day Of Your Life! A herculean triumph! You've won! "What's the part (as if it matters)? Taking my clothes off? You only want me there because I'll look good naked? What day and what time?"

The thing that my high school acquaintance somehow seemed to have forgotten is that aspiring actors don't exactly get to pick their roles. "Hey, instead of playing a layered, nuanced lead in a compelling drama today, how about if I just take my clothes off for a crappy cable comedy? Cool?"

Sorry, you're only being offered the second thing. The only choice you get to make is I'll do it or I won't. And if you don't, you're less likely get offered the next one.

For most actors, you don't get to be "Mad Men's Jon Hamm" without first being "The Big Date's bachelor number two."


So, here's the proper response when someone you know has a loved one who was cast in a movie or TV show, no matter the role, no matter the quality of the project: enthusiastic congratulations and support.

Congratulations and support. That's it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2014 Oscar Wrap Up


Loose Thoughts

I'll start out by saying I'm in the pro-Ellen camp. A lot of internet murmuring during and after the Oscars was that the show was unexciting. Well then I guess unexciting is for me. I didn't need a big song-and-dance number which, let's face it, have historically flopped except when Neil Patrick Harris is involved. And did you want Ellen to insert herself into clips of movies? Come on, that's played out. She's a comedian and talk show host, so she told jokes and talked to celebrities. And that was good.

And good is great! Because, in my memory, it didn't go well the last time Ellen hosted. It was slow and boring and most of the bits fell flat. (Something involving a vacuum cleaner, I think. I don't know.) But this year, even when things weren't great, there was just an overall sense of fun.

Take for example the most talked about bit of the night: the Record-Setting Most-Retweeted Selfie. Staging a selfie -- hell, even using the word "selfie" -- is an eye-rolling, kind of desperate attempt to act young and current. And it took way too much screen time to get it organized. But once the nearby celebrities started getting into it, it was fun! And the picture is actually pretty nice. And they successfully crashed Twitter. It's tough to argue; that was a success. Even if it was nothing but product placement for Samsung.

In other news, I didn't really think the night's theme of "heroes" came together. Why do the Oscars need a theme anyway? The theme of the Oscars should be "movies = good." The montage was muddled, bouncing between different aspects of heroism. Jack Sparrow, Doc Brown, and Captain America are three different kinds of heroes, and I don't think the montage communicated that. I probably shouldn't care. But, as noted before, I love a good montage.

It was cool that they didn't cut off too many acceptance speeches this year. What was even cooler was that the speeches, by and large, were worth leaving on, even if sometimes a little too rehearsed.


Thumbs up on the song performances. The internet seems to be complaining about those as well. Are you kidding? Pharrell's performance was the single biggest infusion of energy the whole night. (If the producers had known that, I'm sure they would have scheduled him in the second half of the show to liven things up.) U2 did their usual U2 thing. The stripped-down performance of "The Moon Song" from Her was lovely. And for "Let It Go," you don't need anything more than Idina Menzel alone on a stage. What do you want, interpretive dancing?

As for the awards themselves, things basically went as predicted in the major categories; although I'll bet if we had access to the numbers we'd see how easily best picture could have gone to Gravity. What is surprising is the complete shutout of top nominees American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Nebraska, and Wolf of Wall Street.


Following up on last year: I definitely did not crack the Shorts code. I completely tanked on those predictions this year. I don't know what to say. I mean, obviously I'm not happy. I just… I don't know what happened.

And finally. I'm not gonna finish up here without joining everyone else in pointing a finger at John Travolta. This was just too good. There's not much I can add to the conversation that the internet hasn't already covered, but I just want it on the record here. My favorite part is how completely he committed to it. He doesn't seem confused or uncertain about what he's saying. He definitely intended to say the words "Adele Dazeem." Perfect.


My Score Sheet

I continue to improve year-over-year, despite completely tanking in the Shorts categories. (I mean, seriously, what the hell happened in those Shorts categories?) Of the 23 categories I placed guesses in, I got 16 right this year. That's a 69.5% accuracy rate. If this pattern holds, I'll be a B-average next year! Stay tuned.



In Summary

It was a good show this year. I feel like the people calling it boring were watching it too closely. The key to enjoying the Oscars is to only half-watch them. And these days, it's easier than ever to half-watch the Oscars. Back in the day, you used to have to go to a party or something. Today, you can just kick back with your favorite internet-enabled device and load up your favorite social media. My point? If you didn't like the Oscars this year, you were probably doing it wrong. Grade: solid A.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Official YDJ 2014 Oscar Ballot

Here it is: the best checklist for Oscar night 2014! This single sheet includes the complete list of nominees, checkboxes to track the winners, and special notations so you can see how well Your Daily Joe did at predicting the winners.

Click below to view, download (PDF format), and print out the ballot for Sunday night.


Click here to download


A very special thanks goes out to Helby's Hatch for designing this beautiful ballot! Visit Helby's Hatch for more original designs, patterns and crafts.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2014 Oscar Predictions

In the early months of awards season, 12 Years a Slave was perceived as the movie to beat. A strong January surge in popularity for American Hustle made that movie seem like a potential spoiler for 12 Years. But more recently, as various organizations have handed out their awards, Gravity has emerged from its early October release as the contender to keep an eye on.

My overall prediction for this year's Oscars is that 12 Years a Slave remains the Best Picture frontrunner, while Gravity will probably stage a mini-sweep. Let's go in for a closer look.

SOUND EDITING

  • All is Lost, Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns
  • Captain Phillips, Oliver Tarney
  • Gravity, Glenn Freemantle
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Brent Burge and Chris Ward
  • Lone Survivor, Wylie Stateman

SOUND MIXING

  • Captain Phillips, Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, and Chris Munro
  • Gravity, Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, and Chris Munro
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, and Tony Johnson
  • Lone Survivor, Andy Koyama, Beau Borders, and David Brownlow
  • Inside Llewyn Davis, Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland

Now for my annual recap of what exactly sound editing and sound mixing are. Sound Editing is the design aspect, the department responsible for gathering the audio recorded during production, as well as other elements that need to be created or re-recorded and then cut into the movie. Sound Mixing is the final blending and perfecting of all audio in the movie - dialogue, atmospheric sounds, sound effects, music - essentially the final soundtrack you hear.

Gravity is likely to win for sound editing. Captain Phillips should win for sound mixing.

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Gravity, Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, Dave Shirk, and Neil Corbould
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, and Eric Reynolds
  • Iron Man 3, Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Erik Nash, and Dan Sudick
  • The Lone Ranger, Tim Alexander, Gary Brozenich, Edson Williams, and John Frazier
  • Star Trek Into Darkness, Roger Guyett, Patrick Tubach, Ben Grossmann, and Burt Dalton

Gravity's success is due almost entirely to its visual grandiosity. Bonus points for being the standout nominee, offering something other than the monsters and mass destruction of the other contenders. The definite winner in this category.


COSTUME DESIGN

  • American Hustle, Michael Wilkinson
  • The Grandmaster, William Chang Suk Ping
  • The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin
  • The Invisible Woman, Michael O'Connor
  • 12 Years A Slave, Patricia Norris

I'm expecting the wild-yet-accessible style of American Hustle to win this award.

LIVE ACTION SHORT

  • "Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)"
  • "Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)"
  • "Helium"
  • "Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)"
  • "The Voorman Problem"

I have strong opinions, mostly negative, about this year's crop of Live Action Short nominees. The one that's, in my opinion, far-and-away the best, "Avant Que De Tout Perdre," will not win. This category's winners tend to be comedies, in contrast to the Best Picture winners which so rarely are.

In the comedy department are "The Voorman Problem," which has the advantage of being English-language (as the last three winners have been), and "Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?" which is the most straight-up comedic. I think the latter will win.


ANIMATED SHORT

  • "Feral"
  • "Get a Horse!"
  • "Mr. Hublot"
  • "Possessions"
  • "Room on the Broom"

"Get a Horse!" is going to win. You may have seen it play in front of Frozen. It's a huge crowd-pleaser, particularly when that crowd is the filmmaking community. This short pays homage to the aesthetics of early animation, then propels things forward to our modern 3-D CGI era. As the cherry on top, they repurposed original voice recordings from the 1930s, including Walt Disney himself as Mickey Mouse. Who could resist? It's not my personal favorite (that would be "Feral"), but it's clearly going to win.

FILM EDITING

  • American Hustle, Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten
  • Captain Phillips, Christopher Rouse
  • Dallas Buyers Club, John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa
  • Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger
  • 12 Years a Slave, Joe Walker

The dramatic edge of Captain Phillips will most likely beat out the humor of American Hustle.


BEST SONG

  • "Alone Yet Not Alone," Alone Yet Not Alone
  • "Happy," Despicable Me 2
  • "Let It Go," Frozen
  • "The Moon Song," Her
  • "Ordinary Love," Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

The top selling soundtrack from the top grossing animated movie of the year... hands down, this is an easy win for "Let It Go" from Frozen.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • John Williams, The Book Thief
  • Steven Price, Gravity
  • Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
  • Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
  • William Butler and Owen Pallett, Her

With no nomination for the 12 Years a Slave score, I've got to go with Steven Price for Gravity.

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • American Hustle, Judy Becker (Production Design) and Heather Loeffler (Set Decoration)
  • Gravity, Andy Nicholson (Production Design) and Rosie Goodwin & Joanne Woollard (Set Decoration)
  • The Great Gatsby, Catherine Martin (Production Design) and Beverley Dunn (Set Decoration)
  • Her, K. K. Barrett (Production Design) and Gene Serdena (Set Decoration)
  • 12 Years a Slave, Adam Stockhausen (Production Design) and Alice Baker (Set Decoration)

This is a tough call. Personally, I'd love to see Her win for being unique and subtle. But I have a feeling Academy voters won't feel as strongly as I do about that; they'll give it to either Gatsby or Gravity. I'm predicting Gravity to take this, as part of its mini-sweep.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Philippe Le Sourd, The Grandmaster
  • Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity
  • Bruno Delbonnel, Inside Llewyn Davis
  • Roger Deakins, Prisoners
  • Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska

Gravity, all the way. "But Gravity was all special effects. Why would it win for cinematography?" Shut up, you don't know what you're talking about. Emmanuel Lubezki had to create convincing lighting for an environment that he could never directly observe. He had to maneuver his camera around all the technical rigs used to make the actors look weightless. And he essentially had to learn a completely different discipline -- that of a special effects designer -- in order to create images that would integrate with the effects-heavy movie. Yes, this is the best cinematography of the year.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • The Wind Rises
  • Frozen
  • Despicable Me 2
  • The Croods
  • Ernest & Celestine

Although there's a slim possibility that Miyazaki's final movie, The Wind Rises, could win for sentimental reasons, Frozen was far too popular to ignore - both commercially and critically.

BEST FOREIGN FILM

  • Denmark, The Hunt
  • Belgium, The Broken Circle Breakdown
  • Italy, The Great Beauty
  • Palestine, Omar
  • Cambodia, The Missing Picture

Time for some honesty: I have absolutely no basis to predict the winner in this category. I haven't seen any of these movies (shamefully), and I don't recall hearing anything about any of them from any critics either. All I can do is Google it, same as everybody else. The L.A. Times thinks Italy's The Great Beauty will win. What can I say? Okay!

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

  • 20 Feet from Stardom
  • The Act of Killing
  • Dirty Wars 
  • The Square 
  • Cutie and the Boxer

Again, I have to cop to limited firsthand knowledge here. I've only seen one of these nominees. For this category, I'll defer to people who have presumably seen more. The Directors Guild gave the award to The Square, so I'm going to side with that.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave
  • Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke & Richard Linklater, Before Midnight
  • Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
  • Billy Ray, Captain Phillips
  • Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena

Although the Writers Guild gave this to Billy Ray for Captain Phillips, I'm pretty confident the Oscar voters will give this to 12 Years a Slave's John Ridley.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • David O. Russell and Eric Singer, American Hustle
  • Bob Nelson, Nebraska
  • Spike Jonze, Her
  • Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club
  • Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine

On the other hand, the WGA gave their original screenplay award to Spike Jonze, and it's my hope and expectation that the Academy will do the same.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips
  • Bradley Cooper, American Hustle
  • Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave
  • Jonah Hill, Wolf of Wall Street
  • Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club

In Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto gave what I consider to be his best performance since Requiem for a Dream. And just about everyone else seems to agree. This will be a well-earned win for him.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle
  • Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
  • Julia Roberts, August: Osage County
  • June Squibb, Nebraska
  • Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine

Though technically not her acting debut, Lupita Nyong'o made a strong introduction for herself in 12 Years a Slave. I'd be very surprised if the Oscars didn't recognize that.

BEST ACTOR

  • Christian Bale, American Hustle
  • Bruce Dern, Nebraska
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, Wolf of Wall Street
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave
  • Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club

This is tough. Chiwetel Ejiofor is long overdue for an Oscar. But Matthew McConaughey is a comeback kid of sorts, having shown a lot of promise early in his career, getting lost in cheap romantic comedies for years, and then making a decisive turnaround a few years ago. I have a feeling the Academy is going to want to encourage him for that. Not to mention, of course, that he gave a damn good performance in Dallas Buyers Club. I think he'll be the winner here.

BEST ACTRESS

  • Amy Adams, American Hustle
  • Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
  • Sandra Bullock, Gravity
  • Judi Dench, Philomena
  • Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Cate Blanchett has defined the term "winning streak" this year. It's impossible to ignore that she's been taking home every award. This is a field of strong contenders, but the record speaks for itself.

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street
  • David O. Russell, American Hustle
  • Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity
  • Alexander Payne, Nebraska
  • Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Okay, personal opinion time. I think Alfonso Cuarón is great. I've seen everything of his since A Little Princess (excluding Great Expectations which, of course, didn't live up to critical expectations). I think he deserves awards. But Gravity is my least favorite of his movies. Incredible technical achievement, yes. But, to me, the relentless pace of it betrays a lack of confidence in the script, and a lack of trust in the actors (who are big award winners in their own rights). I don't know. Seems like Steve McQueen ought to win it. But its looking like Alfonso Cuarón will. I just wish it had been for any of his other movies.


BEST PICTURE

  • 12 Years a Slave
  • American Hustle
  • Captain Phillips
  • Dallas Buyers Club
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Nebraska
  • Philomena
  • The Wolf of Wall Street

This thing that used to be really uncommon -- Best Director and Best Picture going to two different movies -- seems to have been on the increase over the past couple decades. If Alfonso Cuarón wins Best Director, it looks like we'll have another split this year. While Gravity has had a strong awards showing over the past few weeks, 12 Years a Slave remains the frontrunner for Best Picture. You should place your bets there.


Or at least that's how I see it! What are your predictions? Leave your comments below.

On Oscar night, I'm sure I'll have a thing or two to say during the ceremony, so be sure to follow me on Twitter. The 86th Academy Awards ceremony will air on March 2, 2014 at 8:30 eastern/5:30 pacific on ABC.

Friday, January 31, 2014

My Favorite New TV Show of 2013

I know what I'm supposed to say my favorite new show of 2013 was. The critical community has spoken. I'm supposed to say "Orange Is the New Black" or "Masters of Sex." And yes, those are two excellent shows that everybody should watch. (Side question: how did two of the best new shows of the year -- both named after the books that inspired them -- end up with such terrible titles?) But at the end of the year, it wasn't "Orange" but an earlier Netflix series that impressed me the most.

My favorite new show of 2013 was...


House of Cards

"House of Cards" follows fictional South Carolina congressman Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey with all his Oscar-winning charm, menace and vulnerability. The series opens on the inauguration of a new president, a president Frank helped get elected and who's due to reward Frank with an appointment to secretary of state. When the president reneges on this promise, Frank begins plotting an alternative ascent to power.

Not to be outdone, Frank's wife Claire plays the role of mild-mannered non-profit head in the daylight, but in the shadows is every bit the political schemer Frank is. Their marriage is more of mutual respect than outright love, with the understanding that they're more powerful as a couple than they are independently. Claire is played by Robin Wright in what I consider to be a career-best role.

If the series seems not especially true to the reality of Washington, D.C., that's because it's not - a fact confirmed by a friend of mine in government. (Oh yeah, Frank Underwood isn't the only one with connections.) But the show is successful in establishing and maintaining its own reality, and the fantasy is part of the appeal.

For me, the standout character of "House of Cards" is up-and-coming young journalist Zoe Barnes. Carefully written and strongly portrayed (by Kate Mara), Zoe is a character of seeming contradictions that could have easily fallen apart in lesser hands. At times, she's the brash young go-getter, gaming the system and confidently climbing the ranks. At other times, she's naive, in over her head and prone to mistakes. More often than not, characters like this are the result of lazy, sloppy writing. Zoe, instead, is a sign of just how skillful the writing on this series is.

A great cast across the board, intriguing characters, and twisting plots that unravel captivatingly make this my favorite show of 2013. Looking forward to more.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

My Favorite Movie of 2013

It's been 17 years since "The Year of the Indie," when the independent film movement of the '90s reached its peak and movies like Shine, Secrets & Lies, Sling Blade, The English Patient and Trainspotting took big money and big awards.

Possibly the most highly-regarded of the indie hits of that year was the Coen brothers' Fargo. The Coens had had a small but strong following since their 1984 debut, Blood Simple. But it was Fargo - the perfect movie at the perfect moment - that raised their profile for a mass audience. Ever since then, just about every Coen movie has been met with reflex praise by critics, film students, and people who are just trying to look smart when awards season rolls around.

Well, I apologize if it seems too obvious, but my favorite movie of 2013 is...


Inside Llewyn Davis

From the very first frame, with Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography immediately evoking (without ripping off) the iconic imagery of the '60s folk music scene, this movie had me. All the more so as that first song kicked in, produced by frequent Coen collaborator T-Bone Burnett. (Inside Llewyn Davis is, on one level, a spiritual sequel to the Coen/Burnett movie O Brother, Where Art Thou, which was set a couple decades prior.)

Admittedly, the 1960s Greenwich Village setting and American folk revival soundtrack gave this movie a huge head start with me. I dug into the Dylan catalogue in my teens, and haven't strayed too far from folk since. But the movie has far more to offer than simply a recreation of a time and place.

The Coens are once again operating at the top of their game. They are, at this point, technical, formal and artistic masters. Every turn of the story, every move of every character, the Coens make with confidence and self-assurance. They make it look easy.

As a character, Llewyn Davis can be difficult to relate to. His grief is legitimate, but his inability to process it only alienates him further. He's not looking for a free ride, but he expects favors. He has bad timing, but also a stubborn refusal to see beyond his own expectations. Oscar Isaac, a relative unknown, strikes a perfect balance between being the cause of his own misery and being a victim of circumstance. He delivers a nuanced performance disguised as morose and monotone. And he can sing too!

Inside Llewyn Davis is smart and insightful, visually and aurally beautiful - another grand achievement by Joel and Ethan Coen. How have these two been this good for this long?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Daddy's Handwriting - script and production notes

Here's a look at the script for the animated short I wrote called "Daddy's Handwriting":


Click here for script

And here's the finished video, in case you missed it.

As with any movie, you'll find that what works on the page isn't always what's best for the screen. I'd set the scene in a kitchen, probably imagining a plate of cookies and some milk (not mentioned in the script) left out for Santa Claus. Director Cam Leeburg wisely set the scene in the more visually interesting living room, with a nice fire going. This also meant animator Jason Oshman only had to design one location instead of two. That might sound minor, but it's a big time- and budget-saver.

Scripted details such as Santa's bag of toys and the wife's final reaction to the transformation were also left out. When you watch the finished video, it's easy to see why: they just weren't necessary after the way everything previous played out.

The final line of dialogue was also modified by Zeb Wells, who provided the voice. The way it's written, the father treats the horrific transformation as if it's no big deal. In the moment of recording, the actor found a different interpretation - a bit of annoyed hostility - which worked perfectly, and everyone agreed was the way to go.