Monday, February 28, 2011

The American President #8: Martin Van Buren

I can't figure out how to delete my auto-emails for movie reviews for this post... just delete if not interested.

Please feel free to add anything you want about Martin Van Buren!

One term President: March 4th, 1837-March 4th, 1841 (lost re-election to in 1840 to William Henry Harrison)

-Vice-President Richard M. Johnson (1837-1841)

- Election of 1836: Electoral Vote Van Buren: 170; Harrison 73; Popular Vote Van Buren 765,483; Harrison 549, 508

- Born: Dec 5th, 1782, in Columbia, New York

-Died: July 24th, 1862, in Kinderhook, New York

-Nicknames: The Little Magician; Old Kinderhook; Martin Van Ruin

-Religion: Dutch Reformed

-Higher Education: None; studied law with an attorney; Profession: Lawyer; Senator

-Military Service: None

-New York State Senator (1812-1813); US Senator (1821-1828); Governor New York (1829); Secretary of State (1829-1831)

Van Buren is one of the lesser known Presidents, as many one-termers are, and his downfall can be attributed to his stance that states should be allowed more autonomy - a stance that never goes well during a bad economy when people look to the government to solve their problems. The Panic of 1837 saw banks call in their loans and people rioted as they grew hungry - a depression of 6 years was started with double digit unemployment and an eventual loss in the 1840 election for Van Buren.

Van Buren was the first American born President (the previous 7 having been born as British subjects) - strangely enough he is the only President who spoke a first language other than English (he spoke Dutch as a first language)

One of the few victories for Van Buren as President was the passage of his Independent Treasury bill, whick allowed the country's money to be put in its own banks, rather than trusting those owned privately. The economy would not recover quickly enough, however.

The slogan 'For Tippecanoe and Tyler, too" was started in during the defeat of Van Buren in re-election - it referred to a military vicotry for General William Henry Harrison over Indians in the Northwest Territory in 1811 and his running mate was John Tyler)

1838 saw the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee Indians, as the lands of North Carolina and Georgia saw their Indians, forced at gunpoint, to travel west. Of the 15,000 people who started the march, 4,000 died, thus the name the Trail of Tears.


- Jan, 1837 - Michigan becomes the 26th state

- March, 1837 - Congress adds two Supreme Court justices, bringing the total to 9

- July, 1837 - Queen Voctoria is first monarch to make Buckingham Palace the official residence

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

2011 Oscar Thoughts and Guide

The 83rd Academy Awards
Sunday, February 27th at 8pm e (ABC)
Hosts: James Franco and Anne Hathaway

The 2011 show will award Oscar statues in 24 categories. I am going to discuss 7 of these categories in this post.

First a note about the hosts - I HATE the choice to have 2 actors as hosts. The Oscars, for better and for worse throughout the years, are traditionally hosted by comedians. From 1939-1977 Bob Hope hosted the award show 17 times. Johnny Carson hosted 5 out of 6 years starting in 1978. Chevy Chase, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneneris, Jon Stewart are others who have hosted in recent memory. Hugh Jackman did take a turn in 2008 and I don't remember a single moment. Of course the greatest in recent memory is Billy Crystal, having hosted the show in 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2003. Who doesn't remember his great opening montages of the best picture nominees? It is pretty disappointing that the show has moved away from its' comedic roots.

And now on to the discussion. My prediction for the winner is in BOLD, but who I feel should win is underlined.

Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams for The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter for The King’s Speech
Melissa Leo for The Fighter
Hailee Steinfeld for True Grit
Jacki Weaver for Animal Kingdom

As can often be the case when two actors from the same film are nominated in the same category, votes are split, and someone else usually finds his or her way to the podium. Melissa Leo is riding success into the show with a win at the Golden Globes, but with countless more voters my feeling is that the win could go to Carter for her portrayal of the future queen who aids her husband in his battle against a stammer in the King's Speech. A nomination for Steinfeld, a young actress, for her role in True Grit is fine by me, but this is not for any real consideration of a win, rather a nod to a great one time performance by a young actress - she will have to do more in her career to get the gold. My personal pick is for Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom, but to be honest I am shocked she was even nominated. I don't know many people who even saw the film but it is wonderful and her performance as the very creepy matriarch of a crime family is outstanding. In the end I think Leo will get the statue as voters try not to give too many statues to The King's Speech.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale for The Fighter
John Hawkes for Winter’s Bone
Jeremy Renner for The Town
Mark Ruffalo for The Kids Are All Right
Geoffrey Rush for The King’s Speech

With momentum from every award show including a Golden Globe win, it wouldn't be smart to bet against Bale as the winner in this category for his portrayal of a real life fighter turned drug abuser who trains his younger brother in the Fighter, a tale of a Boston born family struggling in the fighting world. I thought the film was just ok, and Bale does a great job, but before I would select him I would cast my vote for Rush as the speech therapist for the future king. Not much more for me to say other than I think the film is great in every department.

Best Actress

Annette Bening for The Kids Are All Right
Nicole Kidman for Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence for Winter’s Bone
Natalie Portman for Black Swan
Michelle Williams for Blue Valentine

Rabbit Hole is the only film in all the major categories that I have not seen, so I cannot comment on Nicole Kidman's performance, though I have not heard much that would lead me to believe she will win. Poor Annette Bening has lost 3 Oscar nominations in her career, twice when she was well favored if not for a few roles by Hilary Swank (Boy's Don't Cry; Million Dollar Baby.) I think she would be an academy favorite again this year if not for a role that is almost certain to win, that of the Black Swan lead by Natalie Portman. Portman has taken nearly every major award this season and I see no reason why she will not win here. These are all great nominations as I absolutely love Michelle Williams in her role as your average woman struggling to make a relationship work in Blue Valentine, and though she has little chance I am thrilled that Jennifer Lawrence received some nomination love in her small film Winter's Bone, which also received credit with a Best Picture nomination. But in the end this is the year for Portman, who really nails her role in the noir thriller Black Swan.

Best Actor

Javier Bardem for Biutiful
Jeff Bridges for True Grit
Jesse Eisenberg for The Social Network
Colin Firth for The King’s Speech
James Franco for 127 Hours

As much as I think Portman is a lock in the actress category, I would put 10x the money on Colin Firth to take home the Best Actor award for his stuttering king role. It simply is a wonderfully acted role in an amazing film, and having picked up multiple awards already I don't expect much of a surprise. Javier Bardem is a great surprise since it is quite rare for a major category to give a nomination to a foreign film, but Bardem's role as a low level criminal and entrepreneur trying to fend for his kids is truly marvelous. The 3 other nominated roles are all very good, but I don't expect any of them to compete here.

Best Original Screenplay

Mike Leigh for Another Year
Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, and Keith Dorrington for The Fighter
Christopher Nolan for Inception
Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg for The Kids Are All Right
David Seidler for The King’s Speech

This is an interesting category for me as I find it very difficult to separate who I think will win and who I think should win. The Kids Are All Right was a very good film, but I don't think it wins here. The Fighter just didn't do it enough for me to really feel it belongs here. The King's Speech is fabulous, but I don't see it pulling off screenplay honors. I guess my heart is with Mike Leigh's small British Film, Another Year, which is light on plot and heavy on human interaction and emotion. I suppose it could be said that the screenplay may be light in general and it took some marvelous performances to bring it to fruition, but I am certain that without the correct written dialogue the movie could not succeed. I think it is great that Inception is nominated because it really is one of the best summer blockbuster movies in a long time, smart and entertaining with chase scenes and gun fire and a thought provoking plot. I believe the voters will may actually reward a mainstream film here.

Best Director

Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan
David O. Russell for The Fighter
Tom Hooper for The King’s Speech
David Fincher for The Social Network
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for True Grit

I suppose it is not so much who will win this category as it is who was not even nominated - Christoper Nolan - director of Inception, who seems to have been snubbed. As the cards lie it was recently apparent that David Fincher would take this award for The Social Network, and I'm not sure I see any other outcome, although it should be noted that 59 out of the 80 best picture winners also won for best director, and this is a year in which I think you can add a number to the separate list of winners in those categories. I am simply too big a fan of Aronofsky's work in Black Swan to pick anyone else for my personal choice.

Best Picture

Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
127 Hours
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Once again the Academy has chosen 10 nominees for Best Picture and like it or not I think it is here to stay for the foreseeable future. You can argue it takes away from some of the prestige but you can also argue it allows recognition for smaller films on a greater stage. Of the 10 films nominated this year I feel that only 3 have a strong chance at winning: Black Swan, The King's Speech and The Social Network. I'm not sure that Black Swan will appeal enough to the voters to take this award but it is certainly deserving. My bet for the film that will win just happens to be my choice as the best film of the year, The King's Speech. Superb in every way I have seen it twice and look forward to seeing it again after some time. It is great to see Winter's Bone receive a nomination as well as Inception.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A super brief movie review: 127 Hours (2010)

127 Hours (2010)
Director - Danny Boyle
94 Min; R
James Franco - Aron Ralston
Kate Mara - Kristi
Amber Tamblyn - Megan

Danny Boyle, director of acclaimed films such as Trainspotting, 28 Days Later..., Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire, teams up with James Franco to tell the true story of adventurer Aron Ralston who, while hiking and climbing alone in a Utah canyon, finds himself in a life-threatening situation when his arm becomes lodged between the canyon wall and a large, heavy boulder. Having told nobody of his plans he is forced into 127 hours of survival which end in an unimaginable act of self-preservation.

This is a quintessential Boyle film, from the pacing to the cinematography to the ultra-fast-moving scenes of colors and it succeeds. Franco is very good as the loner hiker who films himself throughout his ordeal, often lamenting at his shortfalls in life but never fully giving up hope.

I am pleasantly surprised that the film was not as formulaic as I anticipated, using very brief flashbacks and thoughts in Ralston's mind, by the final climactic scene (which is done very very well but will undoubtedly be tough for some to watch) I found that Franco and Boyle were able to draw us just enough into Ralston's life to care about him, but not hammer us with the minute details of his life. I wouldn't say this is one of my favorite films of the year, but it is a very good one.

**** out of 5

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A brief movie review: Biutiful (2010)

Biutiful (2010)
Director - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
147 Min; R
Subtitled - Spanish
Javier Bardem - Uxbal
Maricel Alvarez - Marambra

It is rare for a foreign film to produce an Oscar nominated best acting role, but the voters got it right when they selected Javier Bardem for a Best Actor nomination this year for his role as Uxbal, a low level criminal doing what he has to so that his kids can survive, in the movie Biutiful, a film in Spanish with subtitles and shot in a dark style. Famous for his roles in No Country For Old Men and Vicki Cristina Barcelona, Bardem is the star here as he portrays a man who is clearly conflicted with many things, but is very clear in his desire to provide for his children. His bi-polar wife Marambra is ever present and provides constant struggles for Uxbal.

The film has more than a few story lines that all link back to Uxbal, and it even holds some subtle supernatural under and overt tones, which only add to the mystery and the enjoyment of the film. I am hesitant to give this the highest praise because the film does feel slightly long and I'm not sure we ever really feel the cathartic release it aims for, but that is mainly because Bardem does too good a job at making us empathize with him. This is a beautiful film for sure.

**** and 1/2 out of 5

A brief movie review: Another Year (2010)

Another Year (2010)
Director - Mike Leigh
129 Min; PG-13
Leslie Manville - Mary
Ruth Sheen - Gerri
Jim Broadbent - Tom

I feel as though there is a several thousand word review in me to discuss the new Mike Leigh film, Another Year, which is nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but I have to admit this is a film that, though I love for many reasons, I feel not many people I know will ever see it, and so I'm going to sum up my thoughts with a brief reflection.

Mary (Leslie Manville) gives one of the absolute best performances I have seen in film, as an aging alcoholic woman who is alone and depressed and desperate but cannot see what she needs to do to change anything. She frequently visits with a co-worker Gerri (Ruth Sheen) who is happily married to Tom (Jim Broadbent) and they seem to tolerate her because they are basically good people living a healthy life together.

This is a British film set in the London area with realistic people playing very realistic roles. The film is told through the 4 seasons and takes us through many emotions, but it is totally in the character of Mary that we lose ourselves as we contemplate her sadness, but as Mike Leigh does so well, we don't just see one side from the other characters around this central figure, we see the entire spectrum of good and bad.

I would not suggest this film for many people I know, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great movie about real life.

***** out of 5