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February 2015 Archives

February 1, 2015

Three Weeks to Oscar Night

After the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild ceremonies, I don't really think there's much to deduce about the outcome of the 87th Academy Award ceremonies. Richard Linklater, Julianne Moore, Patricia Arquette and J.K. Simmons may as well as clear space on their mantelpieces right now. There's a bit of a race between Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne for Best Actor, but with his SAG win, Redmayne seems to hold the edge.

The real Oscar controversy this year surrounds the Best Picture award, particularly two of the nominees in that category: "Selma," because it received so few nominations, and "American Sniper," because it received so many. Some commentators argued that one film or the other deserved no nominations at all.. I have seen "Selma," and thought it one of the year's few masterpieces; I haven't seen "American Sniper," but plan to very soon. There is some buzz that the controversy may sway the Best Picture race away from "Boyhood," the otherwise presumptive winner, or "Birdman," the otherwise presumptive spoiler, toward either "Selma" or "American Sniper." We shall see, three weeks from tonight.

February 14, 2015

Two-and-a-Half Newsmen

I can't get over the irony of the sudden deaths of two renowned reporters--Bob Simon of CBS News and David Carr of The New York Times--so soon after the public embarrassment of NBC News anchorman Brian Williams. The passing of Simon on Feb. 11, and of Carr the following day, were ironic enough without Williams entering the equation. Simon famously courted danger throughout his 47-year career at CBS, including 40 days of imprisonment and torture by Saddam Hussein's troops, only to be killed when his driver lost control on the West Side Highway. Carr overcame dangers of a different sort--drug addiction, alcoholism, Hodgkin's lymphoma--to become the most important and insightful media columnist of his time. He probably lived longer than anyone might have predicted a quarter-century ago, but still was far too young when he dropped dead in the Times newsroom.

Simon and Carr were different sorts of men, but they were alike in their indomitable courage, their tireless quests for truth, and the forthrightness of their characters. With both Simon and Carr, what you saw was what you got. This is exactly the way it should be with a news reporter.

This is what makes Williams' predicament all the more incredible. By all appearances the most affable and decent of men, Williams crossed an invisible line when he chose to embellish his exploits in the field. It is a line that he cannot uncross. When a reporter's veracity, in any aspect of his or her life, becomes suspect, that reporter becomes useless. Period. From now on, any and all subjects of unflattering news stories can point to Williams and say, "How can you believe this about me, when HE's the reporter?"

The only question now is why Williams chose to do it. Did he really think that no one would find out, or bother to check the details? Did he see himself as untouchable? Or did he always see himself, or come to see himself, more as an entertainer than a reporter?

One thinks of James L. Brooks' film "Broadcast News," in which the news anchor played by William Hurt gains promotions by faking his reactions on camera. What Brian Williams did was just as bad, if not worse, and unfortunately the network news culture he inhabits may have encouraged him to do it. I don't entirely agree with Bill Maher's comment--"It's not that Williams lied, but that network news sucks"--but he has a point when he says that news programs on traditional broadcast networks are too often concerned with entertainment value, rather than giving viewers the truly important news. I liked Diane Sawyer on ABC News, and I like her successor, David Muir. But I also feel the need to listen to Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff on PBS, or Katty Kay and Laura Trevelyan on the BBC. On those networks is where I find the real, hard news.

It's difficult not to feel sympathy for Brian Williams, but it's equally difficult to see how he can continue as an anchorman, or even as a reporter. The passing of Bob Simon and David Carr--two reporters who always lived up to the highest standards of their profession--only adds to the pain of his fall.

February 28, 2015

A Disappointing Oscar Night

Is it over yet? It's been almost a week, yet I swear the broadcast of the 87th annual Academy Awards still seems to be ongoing, like a public TV pledge drive centered around a "Lawrence Welk Show" marathon.

I don't plan to write much about the show itself. Instead, I will refer you to the review by Gina Loukareas in the online magazine "Dame." She expresses virtually all my own thoughts about the broadcast, both good and bad, with a tart, succinct wit I could never hope to match. I will quote Loukareas on the host, Neil Patrick Harris: "Few people in history have been more simultaneously self-aware and oblivious as Patrick was last night." This is particularly disappointing, because everyone had high hopes for Harris, a sparkling song-and-dance man who has virtually succeeded Bob Hope as America's Toastmaster General. His performance as Oscar host, alas, called up memories of other previous hosts named Franco and McFarlane. One could blame the ineptitude of the scripted bits, except that the host's ad-libs were just as painful.

Just as with the show, the actual awards left me feeling slightly deflated. Of course this is just my personal taste, but though I thought "Birdman" was very good and in many ways brilliant, it was still my fifth favorite out of the eight nominated movies, behind "Boyhood," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "Selma," and "Whiplash," in both alphabetical order and order of preference. (I agreed with Jon Stewart's comment on "The Daily Show:" "They didn't even give Best Picture to the best picture!" he said beside a projected poster for "Boyhood.") I also don't understand how, in the general sweep for "Birdman," Michael Keaton did not win Best Actor. Eddie Redmayne was superb, to be sure, but it seems particularly sad that Keaton, in a role that represents a veritable retrospective of his career, did not take home the trophy. It was 1950 and Judy Holliday over Bette Davis, all over again.

On the other hand, as Loukareas points out in her review, there was a great deal of warmth and humanity in the speeches of the winners. Fox News may have been scandalized, but in 2015 I and almost everyone else can only cheer along with Meryl Streep at heartfelt pleas from the dais for women's rights, or civil rights, or immigrants' rights, or victims of Alzheimer's disease, or children at risk of suicide, or even--for crying out loud--just calling your mom.

Meanwhile, Gina Loukareas' article can be found at http://www.damemagazine.com/2015/02/23/dear-oscar-your-hosts-flipness-was-birds.
Enjoy.

He Lived Long and He Prospered

In both its TV and movie versions, "Star Trek" has been been part of almost everyone's mental landscape for the past fifty years. There have been many iterations of the franchise, depicting interplanetary life both before and after the crew of the USS Enterprise boldly went where no one had gone before.

Fans--whether they classify themselves as Trekkies, Trekkers, or just plain fans--discuss their favorite characters at length. My feeling is that, if someone asks you your favorite Star Trek character, from any of the Star Trek franchises, and you don't automatically say, "Mr. Spock," you're either lying or have a secret agenda.

Leonard Nimoy embodied Mr. Spock, the pointy-eared half-man, half-Vulcan who epitomized a reasonable, logical, but never cold approach to the many anomalies and perils faced by himself and his crewmates. Some critics over the years accused Nimoy of being wooden, but the vast majority realized that Nimoy gave an impeccable portrayal of a being ruled by his head. Everyone knew, as Captain Kirk did, that Spock was the strongest, kindest, most loyal friend you could ever have, even if he did look upon your strongest emotions as an interesting case study. And of course, as every Star Trek fan knows, there were the moments in which Mr. Spock became passionate himself. As Gene Roddenberry remarked, he deliberately made Spock half-human because no mere human could create a totally logical character.

Nimoy's passing seems impossible, so firmly planted is his image in our minds. He rebelled against his typecasting, but eventually made peace with it, The titles of his autobiographies--"I Am Not Spock" and "I Am Spock"--tell us as much. He assayed other roles; I have fond memories of the first Broadway play I ever saw--"Equus," with Nimoy ;starring as the tormented psychiatrist. He also directed plays and films, including--surprisingly enough--"3 Men and a Baby." But it was his fate to be Spock in the collective mind of his time, and he was forever welcome in that guise. In J.J. Abrams' two Star Trek films, the transcendent moments were always when the young Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, confronts Nimoy as his older, wiser self. It is sad to think that we will have no more moments like that in any other Star Trek movie.

Throughout his life Nimoy supported progressive causes, and also his fellow actors; his generosity to Symphony Space, a vibrant center on New York's Upper West Side for new theater, music and film, will be one of his permanent legacies. He was a superb raconteur; in one of his stories, he spoke of how the famous split-fingered Vulcan salute came from the benedictions given at his boyhood synagogue.

Although eighty-three is no longer considered a great age, Leonard Nimoy lived long enough that we can justifiably say he lived long and he prospered. That is a good thing to say of anyone, and in Nimoy's case we are all the richer for it.

About February 2015

This page contains all entries posted to MDM in February 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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