Welcome to the Dollhouse

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I’ve been writing in this blog a lot lately. I guess as the year comes to a close I have a lot of reflecting – shallow or not – to do. It’s funny that in my ‘real life’ blog, my entries are pretty short. I would call the entries here more entertainment essays, or manifestos than anything.

I won’t expound on the joys of a PVR too much other than to say, once you have one, you’ll never go back. Ever. It enables you to do things like keep several episodes of Dollhouse on your PVR at once to skip over Fox’s ultra-annoying giant gap for the MLB playoffs. Also sadly for the dearly departed (soon to be anyway) Dollhouse, it’s not really a show that warrants immediate watching, so you can kind of cruise through them whenever you want. Namely, I finished catching up as of this weekend, and I’m quite enjoying the two-packs the episodes have been coming in as we ramp up to the final three or four.

But alas, where have we gone wrong? Joss Whedon has groupies like few other TV producers – he’s kind of the quirky answer to JJ Abrams more polished, super-budget pedigree. I myself am a massive Buffy fan (I think the show has more tags than anything in this blog), and have been curious to watch Angel, and Firefly. Despite being hailed / being a name brand producer, Joss hasn’t really had a major hit since Buffy, and arguably Angel following on its coattails. I could argue for quite awhile that Buffy in itself is a singularly wonderful show that is quite unlike anything Joss or any producer has done in the way it mixed reality, fantasy, horror, humour, and heart.

With that in mind, what’s up with Dollhouse? Well Season 1 maybe would have worked a decade ago, much as Buffy’s Season 1 ‘Monster of the Week’ managed to hook audiences long enough to keep the show growing, but these days there was no motivation to continue onwards, no end game in sight.

Another major problem was the complicated feelings I still have towards the Dollhouse. The concept of the house is incredibly disturbing and perverse, and although the people in the LA house the show focuses on seem to have more of a moral compass / family-like care for the key dolls, you still can’t shake the feeling that you don’t really want to be on their side. Nor did I particularly want to be on Paul Ballard’s side last season – he wasn’t a sympathetic protagonist, and just seemed like a reckless vigilante. I still don’t know why he was so hell bent on finding Caroline.

On that note, Caroline / Echo is another big flaw of the show. A lot of people have argued Eliza Dushku is a one note actress and this show highlights that with the demanding number of roles they ask her to take on. I would disagree – I think Eliza has the potential to play other types of roles other than Faith redux, but on a more consistent basis. Playing a bunch of different party girl types and transforming into Echo, a mere shell of a person, does not a great actress make.

Which brings me to another problem – the lack of cast camaraderie which emerges from these previous two points. Because everyone has this deep layer of sinister motivation, it fails to make the core non-Doll cast connect (Dewitt, Boyd, and Topher – plus Dr. Saunders and Topher’s assistant). Beyond that you’ve also got these walking shells that are supposed to have this strong yet vacant friendship. The Victor / Sierra romance grew nicely in the last season but it was choppily done before that. Echo’s sudden “I need to find my friends” diatribe in the last couple of episodes felt unrealistic as the ‘grouping’ dolls seemed so much less aware of what they meant to her versus Echo’s fully realized persona.

And moving on from there – the unrealisticness of the show’s concept. The whole government taking down the Dollhouse scenario kind of brought up the “why didn’t this happen before?”. Or more obviously on two different levels – it seems pretty easy for all these Richie riches to find the Dollhouse, why couldn’t the government? And realistically, given the exorbitant cost we’re led to believe an engagement costs, how many of these scenarios are realistic on a continual basis to make the house so successful? Also the huge lack of moral relativity is pretty disturbing if it has any shred of accuracy to it.

Finally we’ve got the muddled mythology of the show. So many new elements are introduced all the time that it’s hard to keep them straight. I still have so many questions that will never be answered…or maybe they have been and I just forgot. Why is Ballard so determined to find (and eventually free) Caroline / Echo? Why did Echo end up in the Dollhouse in the first place? What happened to Dr. Saunders? What’s up with Echo and that crazy doctor (but well acted by Summer Glau) that made an appearance? What’s going on with Mellie? What happened to the government subplot? How did Boyd dispose of that crazy Sierra-rapist’s body? Why wasn’t Victor simply freed after his army chip was disengaged? How did Alpha evolve on his own? Where did Alpha disappear to after his last little Dollhouse excursion? Do the admin staff basically live at the Dollhouse? Do they have lives on the outside? Oh and I could go on…

That was a blast of negativity there, but necessary to examine why the show has failed. That being said, I’ve enjoyed the progression this season, even if it seems dramatic compared to last season’s lack of forward movement. Echo becoming an Alpha-esque person was a neat twist and smart way to evolve the character, although I still don’t quite get who she is or how she exists. Topher and Dewitt continue to bring solid, complex performances although it’s more likely the scripts favour their development over the more robotic Boyd and Ballard. There’s been more humour, more intrigue, more twists, more action the last few episodes than the entire series to date – although not every twist has worked (I still don’t get why Dewitt was so blatantly evil only to be developing a team to take down Rossum).

I am a little sad to see Dollhouse go, but at the same time I recognize that were Joss not forced to show his hand this season, we wouldn’t have gotten the rapid progression we’ve gotten over the last few weeks. Truthfully, the fact I could leave episodes on my PVR for so long probably speaks to the fact this is one show that was headed for the attic no matter what.

Till next time,

Britt’s On

The Best of the Best

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What does a best picture make? Believe it or not, since my last post I've knocked two more 'best picture' nominees off my list - Inglourious Basterds and Avatar. During the snoozy (but explosive) last quarter of Avatar, I found myself thinking about what makes a best picture. Namely, what made Titanic work over Avatar? In the blue war epic department, why would Braveheart win over Avatar?

I finally narrowed it down to the finally criterion that every Oscar voter out there should have on their bedside table while watching their screening copies - especially with this year's 10 best picture nominees for 2010.

A Great Story - if your movie has a one-of-a-kind story that captures a number of the other categories, you've got it made. This criteria does reflect strong showings in the other points I'm about to make.

A Wonderful Script - The best films have smart screenwriting and will often nab both awards (although lately smaller indie films will snag the screenwriting in lieu of the best picture nod. See: Juno).

Standout Performances - Whether an ensemble showing or a runaway winner with a totally talked up performance (who will generally take home the trophy), the best stories and scripts only function when the casting is right, and the acting is great.

Social Relevance - An oft overlooked element, but a critical one. Whether it's a period piece or a modern day interpretation of real life, the silver screen needs to represent what the audience wants to see - whether they know it or not.

Visual Glory - Never forget the importance of strong visual appeal in a film that might be lacking in the actual acting / writing department. Movies that are simply too beautiful to turn away will still score some Oscar nods (like Memoirs of a Geisha), and the best films almost always have a beautiful element of cinematography, set design, and costume to them.

Emotional Appeal - Different than social relevance, today's movie-goer is looking for one of two things: to be braindead, or to be swept away. Movies with emotional appeal are often socially relevant so the two go hand in hand, but a movie with no soul will never walk away with the top honour.

True Adaptation - I hesitated putting this in, but I think it's pretty important. Whether adapting a real life event (Titanic), a piece of fiction (Lord of the Rings), or a life experience (Juno), we want movies to resonate as real and true to our hearts and minds, however much we also want a fantastical escape from the world.

Revolutionizing Moviemaking - This is where James Cameron happens to excel. He has singlehandedly changed the film industry in many more ways than your traditional, consistent filmmakers have - through merchandising, through music, through special effects, through changing the rules as to how long a movie can be for audiences to not only sit through it once, but multiple times.

I'm not saying every Best Picture winner actually has all of these things. But taking a quick sample of the last decade, let's examine! Note the years refer to the films that were the best in 'that year'. Technically speaking some of these films (o most notably Million Dollar Baby) were released in the year they were given away, but they're considered of the last 'film year'.

2008 - Slumdog Millionaire
This is an example of social relevance and emotional appeal reigning supreme. The little movie that could was very much a reflection of its actual storyline - Slumdog was an underdog going in, but it reflected what audiences wanted to see: dreams coming true, against all odds. It was a feel good story with a pop culture element (albeit a slightly outdated one in North America) and plenty of romance, tension, and adventure that seemed a world away, yet somehow relatable. Aside from that, it had a great script, and solid if slightly indistinguishable performances given the unknown cast (name me three stars of it if you can), plus the emotional story of the three children in the film and their real-life struggles also helped propel this movie to the win, if little else.

2007 - No Country For Old Men

The Coen brothers are masters of a great story, plain and simple. Great stories include great pacing, great tension (and an emotional appeal - who wasn't choking on their heart in this film?), and in this instance, a very true adaptation (however much it may piss people off in the final scene). Also at play here was a particularly solid breakout performance by Javier Bardem, and some powerful visual impact if understated next to a technological or period wonder.

2006 - The Departed
I'm personally of the belief that the performances of the wide, diverse cast (including Martin Scorsese at the helm) are what helped this movie win. Every single person was bang on, every single scene was incredibly tense and electric, and the story - although familiar - seemed impossibly spun, yet still shocked at every turn. This was a movie about story, emotions, and performances beyond anything else.

2005 - Crash
Now do you see why I put social relevance on here? America was still smarting from their endless bruises in Iraq, George W. had just been elected to a new term, and here was a movie that analyzed the widespread effects of terror in America that woke a few people up from their Conservative stupor. It's almost the mirror image of Slumdog in that they both relied on emotional appeal / social relevance / story to win - America was ready for the rebellious message at play here, but they wanted to settle in and be coddled a few years ago when things still weren't getting any better.

2004 - Million Dollar Baby
Another movie where performances really dominated the film - Hillary, Morgan, and Clint all turned in good peformances that nabbed them a few more trophies to go with best picture. The emotional appeal was also critical here, perhaps moreso than anything else that I've looked at so far - this wasn't a success story, it was a heartbreaking failure.

2003 - Lord of the Rings
An example of the type of epic film that Avatar is - these movies aren't about the story (granted LOTR is adapted from a story that has been oft retold since), they're about the visual appeal, the overall epicness, and revolutionizing filmmaking. The LOTR series represented huge leaps in special effects and are among the most successful at creating a wholly realized other world to delve into. Are they the fancy cousin to the popcorn action flick? Sure, but their true adaptation and revolutionary techniques make the series as a whole take home the win.

2002 - Chicago

I think performances, adaptation, and visual glory won Chicago the title in possibly the most disputed best picture of the 00's. Having seen the musical in person, the showstopping visual transformations in the film made this Broadway show reach its full potential. Add to that some major star turns for some already well-knowns (but never for this type of performing) and you've got a winner. Some people would argue Gangs of NY should have walked away with the win - but let's face it, The Departed was a better film, and it's better Scorsese be remembered for that over anything else.

2001 - A Beautiful Mind
Similar to Good Will Hunting, I think ABM won for, quite simply, a great story. The performances were good. The script was good. The film was socially relevant - wit before war. It may have not revolutionized things or changed the face of a genre (the way Million Dollar Baby challenged 'the sports film'), but it was quite simply, a good film without needing some of the more specific gimmicks that may have carried some of these other winners through.

2000 - Gladiator
More Russell! I'm not really of the same mind on this movie as others, namely the Academy. Visual glory of the historical epic really took this one to the top I guess, as the story was nothing new (I'm not a fan of the historical epic), the performances and script were pretty whatever (as with most HEpics), and well...why exactly would we have cared about Gladiators back then? The most logical explanation I've got for you is the historical epic was sort of brought up to the technological film advances we'd made by this point - Titanic revolutionized things at the end of the last decade, and other (many other) historical films were beginning to come out of the woodwork - this was one of the first.

1999 - American Beauty
Technically this movie falls in the 00's because it was given away at the 2000 ceremony, but I also wanted to include it because it's one of my fave movies of all time. Great story. Great script. Great performances. Extremely socially relevant. Stunning visual appeal. Huge emotional melodrama. And in terms of true adaptations and revolutionizing the film industry, few films have succeeded in pulling back the curtain of suburbia and making it as electric, dark, and interesting as this film does. A true best picture and a standout on this list in my opinion.

So where are we at with some of the most likely contenders this year? Up In The Air has a ton of social relevance, a good script, and some standout performances. Precious is the same thing, perhaps with more of a focus on 'story' and 'performances' than anything, although it also packs a pretty big emotional power punch. Avatar has the market cornered on revolutionizing the industry and visual glory. The Hurt Locker is finally making the world sit up and acknowledge Iraq in a way no other film has managed to (much how Crash did with domestic terror and racism). Inglourious Basterds, in my humble opinion, may not revolutionize filmmaking but it certainly challenges it. There are so many beautiful, wonderful things about the way Quentin Tarantino makes films, and that movie is perhaps all of them wrapped up in one.

I won't get into all the 'maybes', but taking a look at my list of criteria vs. the maybes, I think Oscar has its work cut out to make a solid top 10.

Till the nods are released (or I watch another Oscar film),

Britt's On

Perfect 10

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Ah I'm updating more lately, whatever could that mean? Namely that I work in an office that doesn't let you close (too) early on Christmas Eve, and forces you to work the following week when all of the suppliers you need to work with are CLOSED. Awesome!

Anyway, I'm going to post about the Oscars 2010, because I am watching them closely, because I am attending them (really). At least, the bleachers / screaming fans portion, at which point I've heard we're escorted to a nearby theatre to watch the show go down on the big screen. Eek giddiness.

Hey I just realized, maybe they're doing the 10 best picture nods because it's 2010. Clever! 10 in 10! Unfortunately, Hollywood sucks balls and makes shitty shitty movies and virtually all of the big buzz movies are keeling over under the spotlight. I'm looking at you - Nine, Lovely Bones, Invictus et al.

I've made a solid effort at seeing some of the early nods to be tapped and I haven't been that moved. In fact the last two years have been lackluster in best picture nominees - it was back in the 'No Country For Old Men' / 'Atonement' / 'Juno' etc. era that I was last quite moved by the cream of the crop.

As for where I stand in the whole 5 movie vs 10 movie debate...I think it definitely had merit in past years. Unfortunately 2009 was a crappy year for movies because no movie houses were predicting the top 10 thing and were content to sit on their haunches and produce crap like 2012 or Transformers. If it goes horribly this year and people opt not to do it again when the studios have time to prepare for such an event, that'll be disappointing, but unsurprising.

I also read a compelling argument by James Cameron recently regarding the 1970s when Annie Hall won over Star Wars for Best Picture. He had a really solid point that Star Wars changed filmmaking, and Annie Hall was just a nice sweet movie. Opening up the awards to commercially-loved but critically-acclaimed films (Wall-e, Dark Knight being the most frequently cited examples) makes sense to me, for sure. It just sucks that they decided to do this on such a bad year for movies.

Interestingly, some of the highest ranking films on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment haven't been released yet - they'll be coming out in the next couple of weeks. I wonder if any of them can capture the buzz necessary to launch an Oscar nod?

With that in mind, let's review the Golden Globe nods, and other contenders that might yet make it into this year's top 10.

Avatar - is doing surprisingly well for all of the turkey taunting that led up to its release. It didn't have a mind-blowing opening weekend, but don't forget what a slow burning film Titanic was. I'm definitely interested in seeing it, for the visual technical elements alone.
Oscar Nod Chances: 95% - it's one of the few big buzz movies that seems to be holding up, if not overwhelmingly positive.

The Hurt Locker - I never got a chance to see this on the big screen but it's generated enough consistent buzz over the last year it'll definitely make it to the top 10. Unfortunately I think the fact it was released in the summer in such a limited run might hurt its chances unless it starts promoting "NOW ON DVD" in the very near future, additionally because this is exactly the kind of film that inspired the academy to go to 10 movies - it was little seen, loved by critics, and not a major commercial success.
Oscar Nod Chances: 100% - there's no way they'd leave the first good film about the hot mess that is Iraq out.

Inglorious Basterds - Another film that's done surprisingly well, IB is almost like the phoenix rising from the violent / commercial / Tarentino ashes to become a bit of a critical / commercial hybrid darling, exactly what the Top 10 is all about. In fact, were the top 10 thing scrapped this year, I doubt Inglorious would get any sort of glory. It's sitting in my DVD pile to watch PS.
Oscard Nod Chances: 80% - there's still a chance the Oscars will shy away from more commercial fare, although they tend to have a decent respect for Tarentino's form of entertainment.

Precious - This movie seemed to receive a huge publicity push (no pun intended) in November when it was first widely released, and although the theatre was still quite full when I saw it this past weekend, it seems that the unstoppable fire behind it (like that of Slumdog Millionaire) has tapered off a bit. Probably cause the whole film is such a freaking downer. That being said, the raw, harsh realities of this film are heart-wrenchingly different from most of the trite stuff released these days, and Hollywood loves a star born from a virtual unknown.
Oscar Nod Chances: 100% - you don't get Oprah and Tyler Perry on your side and NOT get an Oscar nod.

Up In The Air - What a funny film UITA is next to all of these other films. Jason Reitman makes these very interesting, relatable, funny films that take a dash of reality and mixes it up with some eccentricities and romance. I saw Up in the Air in its local premiere here and the audience generally enjoyed it - but just like Juno, the film is on the bubble of not being taken seriously enough to take home the win. That's what happens when you make films about real life I guess. I definitely liked it, but as my sister and I discussed, I'm not sure it necessarily warranted being seen on the big screen (visually) - and that sort of thing is not what you say about an Oscar sweeping film. Hm.
Oscar Nod Chances: 100% - The Oscars like Jason Reitman and this film along with Precious have received the most consistently positive buzz and feedback.

(500) Days of Summer - This movie would have a snowball's chance in hell of making it to the Best Picture level if it weren't for a Top 10 year. Why you ask? I loved this movie, honestly. I have a major love for both of the lead actors, and the storytelling was reminiscent of the amazing 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' while still capturing the real humour found in Jason Reitman's films. Plus who doesn't love a good dance sequence? The problemo we have though, is that unlike Inglorious Basterds or Up In The Air, this movie never scored major points commercially and may suffer a worse fate than The Hurt Locker because it's a less serious film with less long-term buzz. Did I love this movie? Yes! Did it reinvent the romantic comedy? Certainly! But it doesn't quite resonate the way a successful 'serious' romantic comedy does like Jason Reitman's stuff.
Oscar Nod Chances: 60% - At this point, (500)'s positive Tomatometer score is looking like a major plus for the film as endless other movies keep on turning up DOA. I'm still skeptical though.

The Hangover - This is very much an example of commercial success taking up a throwaway spot in a lackluster year for the comedy/musical category. Then again, kudos to the Hangover for being such a runaway success despite some slightly hesitant affirmations from even the most boneheaded comedy fans (my boyfriend included).
Oscar Nod Chances: 0% - There's Wall-E and Dark Knight, and then there's the Hangover. Both of those other two films had amazing storytelling, filmmaking, and acting at play. The Hangover...was a funny dude film that did great. End of story, Oscars aren't THAT generous.

It's Complicated - This rom com for the just past their prime was hoping to garner the same kind of rolling buzz as 'Something's Gotta Give' or other empty nester romances, but so far it's getting quite lukewarm reviews for appealing more to the senses than the heart. I've got no plans to see it, sorry!
Oscar Nod Chances: 10% - Oscar rarely (if ever) brings a rotten scoring film (if you're going by the Tomatometer) into the fold, and I doubt this film will overcome its tepid reviews to get enough love from Oscar.

Julie & Julia - The main buzz behind this film comes from Meryl Streep, but overall it fared pretty favourably as a warm & fuzzy if slightly throwaway entry into the race. Definitely on my short list to watch in the near future along with Avatar & Inglorious Basterds.
Oscar Nod Chances: 75% - this movie is sort of in the bubble territory of (500) Days. It wasn't hugely released or a giant commercial success, but the fact it fared decently well critically when so many recent releases haven't might just keep it in the running so the Oscar Top 10 isn't a total critical mess.

Nine - This movie seemed dragged down from the get go, with nearly none of the long-running advance buzz and clamoring generated by past major musicals like Moulin Rouge or Chicago. Plus the more stars you have, the worse the movie tends to be (save for the Ocean's series!). This is one of those pre-buzz movies that seems to just be getting annihilated for crappy music (no wonder we've never heard of the show) and a boring storyline. Yawn, although I might see it as it'll probably generate some 'showy' Academy nods like best costumes / art direction.
Oscar Nod Chances: 40% This might be the film that rounds out the top 10 if nothing else manages to crop up, but again, it's getting poor reviews and I doubt Oscar will acknowledge it.

So based on the Golden Globes, we've got the following for sure & pretty good chance nominees:

10. Avatar
9. The Hurt Locker
8. Inglorious Basterds
7. Precious
6. Up In The Air
5. (500) Days of Summer
4. Julie & Julia

So we've got three spots up for grabs, potentially more if (500) Days and Julie & Julia don't make it. Incidentally had Oscar stuck with the top 5 that would be numbers 10-6 on my list, guaranteed. Maybe swap out Inglorious for something...

Here are the other contenders for those final three spots:

Invictus - I literally fell asleep towards the end of this film. Twenty-minute slow motion rugby sequences do not a compelling film make. Additionally I couldn't see past Morgan Freeman to embrace his portrayal of Nelson Mandela. The film tripped and hopped along but has done favourably enough (plus Clint Eastwood's involved) that it'll probably score one of those spots.
Oscar Nod Chances: 70%

The Lovely Bones - Another film that has an acclaimed director and cast attached to it that has failed to live up to the hype - mostly because Peter Jackson committed the cardinal, oft repeated sin of Hollywood these days: he watered down the original extremely powerful, disturbing story in Alice Sebold's book and overfantasized the in between (which in the book is not nearly the magical place the film seems to make it). I think this book adaptation will ultimately suffer the same fate of 'My Sister's Keeper' and 'Time Travellers Wife' of failing to live up to what thousands of readers are anticipating.
Oscar Nod Chances: 20% - I see it faring slightly better than Hangover or It's Complicated, but the Academy's audience (and members) read, and if they don't like the adaptation this movie has no shot.

An Education
- A movie mostly hailed for the starring performance of Carey Mulligan, this film has a shot based solely on the strong buzz surrounding her. I actually quite enjoyed the film, it was a solid effort, but definitely not winner potential. If Oscar wants to avoid public embarrassment with keeping low-rated films out of the top 10, they might include this one.
Oscar Nod Chances: 60% - Another example of the type of exclusive, indie film superiority I think the Academy is trying to avoid, but hey, it got good marks and Carey Mulligan and Peter Saarsgard both turned in fantastic performances (special shoutout to Alfred Molina!).

The Young Victoria - One of your typical classic English period pieces about a regal (see: The Duchess, Elizabeth, et al) that has earned Emily Blunt a few gold stars so far, although she stands tough BAFTA competition against Carey Mulligan. It's done alright, and again might slip in like 'An Education' if only so the Academy can save some face.
Oscar Nod Chances: 40% - The actual movie hasn't been as widely loved as 'An Education' and the two are similar in what they're getting buzz for (the lead actress' performance). Plus do they really want to send a slew of people to a snoozy film and get them up in arms about the top 10? Nay.

The Blindside - A solid example of what the Academy was probably hoping to accomplish with their top 10 movies. The Blindside looked to be one of those cheesy, throwaway inspirational sports stories - but wait! Sandra Bullock played an actual parent! Audiences loved the thing! The woman behind the real story is out there promoting it! It's been a commercial slow burn! The reviews aren't out of this world, but the word of mouth buzz for this movie is undeniable, which may equal Oscar throwing a bone to the fans (as the Globes did with the Hangover).
Oscar Nod Chances: 60% - It would be the lowest rated of the top 10, but also one of the most watched / loved, which might warm viewers to the Academy.

Crazy Heart - This little-known but relatively much-talked about film burst onto the scene in the last few weeks as a late, dark horse entry into the race. Jeff Bridges gives a Mickey Rourke-esque late in the game career-changing performance (apparently) and overall this movie is garnering fantastic critical praise and tantalizing viewers for a buzzy film that lives up to its hype.
Oscar Nod Chances: 75% - It's entering into things a little late compared to everything else, but it might emerge as a beacon that the Academy can point to as another very strong entry that could oust some of the other 'bubble' films like (500) Days, Julie, or Inglorious.

Sherlock Homes - I think this movie will go down more as a mid-level commercial success than anything. It doesn't have quite the level of prestige attached to it as 'Inglorious Basterds' which falls into the same 'caper' genre, but it might sneak away with a nod or two in the screenwriting or artsy departments.
Oscar Nod Chances: 40% - If they get desperate, this film might sneak in much as Nine might. I'm very doubtful though.

A Single Man - This movie seems to be getting good buzz despite of itself. It's almost like everyone is amazed a movie made by a fashion designer, starring Colin Firth in a non-Firth role, and set in the course of one small day, with a gay protagonist you're asked to be sympathetic to, could actually be any good! However this movie is mired by extremely limited release and extreme indie status - at least some of the other more indie films on this list are shown in at least one or two theatres in most major cities.
Oscar Nod Chances: 45% - More critically acclaimed than the 40%, but less accessible.

I could go on. I want to see "The Messenger" but it will be overshadowed by 'Hurt Locker' in the war movie department. 'The Last Station' has a few Globe acting nods but who knows anything about it at all? They could move 'Up' to best picture but it doesn't really live up to the level of buzz 'Wall-e' got. District 9 and Star Trek were both commercial / critical hits, but not to the level of Dark Knight. There are a couple of high-ranking movies (so far) sitting pretty on the release list - a dark & depressing war film called 'The White Ribbon', a Michael Cera coming-of-age (what else) film called 'Youth In Revolt', and curiously, Ethan Hawke's new vampire vehicle 'Daybreakers'. Overall though, none of these TBR movies have the level of buzz something like 'Crazy Heart' has.

For now I'll be hunkering down for some good ol' fashioned entertainment (or not) as I continue my road to the Oscars 2010.

Watch this space (and see if my predictions are right!)

- Britt's On

I'm A Survivor

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I'm a Survivor of the Survivor fans. I've watched every season, and nearly every episode. I still love the show, I still believe it's not staged (unlike 90% of most shows out there), and I still think it has plenty to offer the viewing public. I will be heartbroken the day it ends, even with some of the more lacklustre seasons the show has had. After this week's 'upset' of sorts between Natalie and Russell, I felt compelled to sit down and look at all the past seasons and see which ones ranked the highest in my memory. To be honest, many of them are a bit of a blur, particularly towards the end, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them back in the day.

I'm also eagerly anticipating Season 20 of Survivor - Heroes vs. Villains. Although the gimmick may not play out as I think the producers will anticipate, I am excited to see some very familiar faces (third time's the charm?) return to meet some less familiar ones, in particular Russell, who will be both evenly matched in gameplay (him vs. Boston Rob? Wow) but also have the advantage of no one knowing what he's capable of. Nice.

Without further ado, here is my in-depth, shallow analysis of every season of Survivor to date:

S1: Borneo
The original and in many people’s minds, the best. It’s funny to watch reruns of it now and see the less polished, tentative side of the show. In actuality, I disagree with the sentiment that it was the best – while it was definitely a strong introduction to what this show could do, it was actually pretty frustrating that no one clued into the whole alliance thing. Plus the fun tribe, Pagong, got voted off. There was definitely a strong mix of characters – the forced casting they do today couldn’t have done it better! Rudy, Rich, Sue, and sweethearts Colleen, Gervase, and Jenna. Plus the final tribal was pretty thrilling, and the fact all the spoilers in the world still didn’t reveal the true winner. Classic, if only for the pop culture factor.
Grade: A-

S2: Australia
A change of scenery and overall an amping up of the game, including pushing it to 42 days (unnecessarily as it turns out) instead of 39 and generally polishing things up a bit. The ending was disappointing as who honestly liked any of the final three – Keith, Colby, and Tina? That being said, there were lots of great happenings this season. The unfortunate ‘tiebreaker’ incident that ousted male cheerleader Jeff, Michael falling into the fire, Kel (go Canada) and the beef jerky, Jerri’s general bitchiness, Colby’s controversially questionable relationship with his mom and their slumber party in his new Aztec, the camp flood, and oh yeah, Elisabeth Filarski / Hasslebeck before she went crazo. TBQH, I was rooting for Elisabeth the whole time though, back when she was an innocent shoe designer. Ah how far she’s come. I’ve heard we look alike as a sidenote.
Grade: A-

S3: Africa
Many people would put this at the bottom of their list of best seasons, and I can’t say I disagree. The main plus for this season is the fact I was rooting for Ethan from day 1 and he walked away with the win – one of the few if only times that’s happened on any reality show that I watch. Tom was annoying, despite him being one of the more memorable characters this season, and Lex was also a big fave of mine. Kudos to Ethan for being the first one to pull off the nice guy takes the cake strategy. Too bad the rest of the season (owing to the lack of mobility by the tribes) was so snoozeworthy. Interesting sidenote on a topic Survivor has yet to come to a formal decision on: the tiebreaker. In the previous season, Jeff was automatically out because he’d collected the most votes previously. In this season, they did a nature quiz. More drama on tiebreakers to come!
Grade: C+

S4: Marquesas
For various reasons, I quite enjoyed this season. For one, it had one of the most stunning (dare I say, cushy) locations ever used on the show, including the gorgeous Oceanside tribal council beach hut. Boston Rob, reality TV’s most notorious star, also made his debut here, although his torch was snuffed out far too early (kudos to the producers for spotting what an interesting / strong player he is, although at the time I hated him. Other reasons why I loved this season? The destruction of the morally ‘good’ Kathy / Neleh / Pappy trio. All three of these people were nauseating and it was nice to see them crumble at the 11th hour, as mean as that sounds. Additionally we had the biggest upset in Survivor history that strikes fear in a Survivor’s heart to this day – the tiebreaker rock challenge, where the innocent bystander Paschal was blindsided by picking the wrong colour rock, just shy of practically winning the thing for being a nice, old man. Cue Neleh turning on Kathy, and presto, you have an electric final tribal that saw the well-deserving Vecepia take home the crown. Did I mention the merged tribe’s pink buffs were awesome?
Grade: B+

S5: Thailand
This is one of the lowest ranking seasons in my mind. I remember next to none of the characters other than the fiery Shii Ann (who went through another tumultuous run in All Stars), the smarmy car dealer Brian (/winner), and the way old third place finisher Jan. The one interesting thing is this is the first time they pulled the old tribe leader / pick your own tribes thing, which made for a good start, but alas, things crumbled when a nasty final four emerged.
Grade: D

S6: Amazon
Another season I quite liked. There were a lot of egos coming into this game, which were only enhanced when the tribes were divided into men vs. women. This season did a fantastic job of battering the male egos (if by editing more than anything) between the guys losing the first challenge, ‘sports fans’ wunderkid Dave being blindsided, and the final four episode being totally intense. Jenna and Heidi stood nary a chance, and this is the one time the ‘give your immunity necklace to someone else’ rule totally paid off. Injured and weak, Heidi passed on her necklace to Jenna who completely dominated the final challenges and rightfully took home the crown. Plus you had that psychotic dude Matt hanging around, and another sporadic camp disaster (fire!) which made for some editing fun.
Grade: A

S7: Pearl Islands
This season made the show pretty fun again – admittedly Amazon and Marquesas had their ups and downs in the fun department and this season just brought back the crazy spirit of ‘anything can happen’ on the show. For one, the contestants had to wear the clothes on their back for the first time, which made for some fun stories throughout the season. For another, the pirate theme was used quite effectively – I’d go so far as to say this was the first time a season was properly themed beyond the location. Rupert, America’s Survivor sweetheart, was also amazing as the pirate master and generally made the show great (even if he was a bit aggravatingly nice at times). While America found a hero in Rupert, they also found a villain in Jonny Fairplay, who executed the most insane lie of all time with his ‘dead grandma’ routine that basically earned him the reward challenge win. The biggest downfall of the season was the way the final two were edited – they were both given pretty unlikable, forgettable edits (Sandra who? Lil the crazy Scoutmaster?) which made you not really care so much about the outcome. Overall a strong season though.
Grade: B

S8: All Stars
Hot off of filming Pearl Islands, the producers stuck around in the Pearl Islands and were even wise enough to recruit Rupert to come back and compete with some of the most memorable characters from past seasons. The decision to split them into four tribes at first was smart as it probably put a kibosh on many pre-show tentative alliances. The problem with most All Star seasons is people are so busy trying to take out the big guns, they often forget about the little people, who tend to take the title. That being said, Boston Rob and Amber made for an interesting pairing – the debate on the realness of their romance, their overall skills at manipulating everyone, and the fact they managed to dominate all the way to the final two made for a solid storyline (although a bit depressing towards the end as Rupert and Jenna both got the shaft). This season exemplified the ‘bitter jury’ problem, with Rob failing to take home the million – although really him and Amber have probably earned more than their keep by this point. I’m personally a Romber fan and was happy to see them on this show, TAR twice, and their wedding special (I skipped the poker show though).
Grade: A-

S9: Vanuatu
Another season of chicks vs dicks and this time it turned out pretty differently – the women were way more steadfast (perhaps owing to their older ages) than the last time around, and the men were even more pathetic. There was a good deal more of the man burliness and girl cattiness at play this season, and it was fun to see how far the firm as glue all-girl alliance would take things, but unfortunately this is another season marred by a horribly annoying final four. I’m looking at you Twila, Scout, and Eliza. Kudos to Chris for snatching the win back from the girls – had they listened to Ami they never would have been in that mess.
Grade: C-

S10: Palau
I didn’t particularly care for this season. Stephenie and Bobby Jon were definitely the most interesting people around and the fact they continually got beaten down was painful. I do give kudos to the producers in some ways for making it so dramatic and never allowing a merge / shift of players to rebalance the two tribes. Plain and simple, Ulong died, which is ultimately why this season failed. The other tribe didn’t have to be strategic at all, and all of the strategy on the Ulong side was rendered pointless by the time the season was over since all those folks were gone. I didn’t particularly like the winner Tom (smug) unlike some of the other ‘good guy’ winners like JT and Ethan. Additionally the fact that dolphin trainer Ian dropped out of the finals basically made for a stupid final two – there was no way Katie should have been there in one of the worst cases of riding coattails I’ve ever seen, she never had to fight, not once.
Grade: C

S11: Guatemala
Another season I didn’t love, mostly because it really destroyed the warm and fuzzy memories I had of Stephenie and Bobby Jon. BJ became a bumbling, boring fool and Stephenie was forced to be a ruthless, reckless competitor that cost her the win. It did prove that Stephenie had what it took to make it *to* the end (if not win) based on her strategy, social gameplay, and overall physical dominance, but she played the game with a vengeance which cost her a lot of fans. Additionally it was pretty heartbreaking to see former partners in crime turned distant enemies when it came to BJ & Steph. It was interesting to just bring back a handful of all stars (as they would again down the road) and see how they’d fare, but the overall cast dynamics this season were pretty lackluster. I do remember foul-mouthed Judd, obnoxious Rafe, the first ever hidden immunity idol, and forgettable winner Danni, and that it was really hot, but that’s about it. Snooze.
Grade: C

S12: Panama / Exile Island
Ah finally the slow boil of elements from the past few seasons came to a head with Exile Island – namely, the concept of hidden immunity idols, isolation from your tribe (as in past tribe members being temporarily captured), and general hellacious experiences in solitude. I’m not a big fan of Exile personally, although it tends to make for some interesting moves throughout the years its been used, especially with the hidden idols. With this being the first time it was experimented with, there were some hits and misses. Aside from that, to address another issue many people have with this season – are there seriously that limited of destinations out there? Why are we in the Pearl Islands AGAIN? Ah well, this is another example of the show theming itself on something other than destination. Now…notice I haven’t talked about the people this season yet? That’s because this was a brutal season for ‘characters’. It took me till the sentence about ‘hits and misses’ to even remember who won…homeless yoga instructor Aras after a relatively placid, boring run. The initial split of the tribes into four was an interesting twist again although I recall it didn’t have a huge impact on the game – young men, old men, young women, old women. I believe the final four ended up representing these four groups which was neat. Anyway I hated Terry, I had no feelings towards Aras, I wanted to be sympathetic to Danielle (girl spent a lot of time on Exile!) but found her annoying, and although I generally like Cirie, I’m not an avid fan of hers. Also this season marked the most painful tiebreaker of all time – the dreaded firemaking challenge in which the girls eventually had to be given MATCHES to make their freaking fires. Brutal!
Grade: C-

S13: Cook Islands
A surprisingly great season despite the dodgy premise of breaking up tribes based on ‘race’ there was so much at play and a ton of great characters. The most exciting thing is the way the underdogs (much like in this last season) of Ozzy, Sundra, Becky, and Yul managed to dominate all the way to the top of the game after Candice and Jonathan mutinied like idiots. Yul and Ozzy are possibly the greatest final two of all time as they represented two such different sides of the game – outwit and outplay respectively, which made for a great final tribal. The twist that it was a final three was a good one in this case – not because there was any point in Becky being there, but because it eliminated the possibility of Ozzy or Yul not taking the other one and completing running away with the win. I was quite in awe of Ozzy in particular this season but Yul was one of those likable strategists that I really respected. A welcome shift after several snoozy seasons. Oh but sidenote – how did Parvati ever make it onto Favourites?
Grade: A

S14: Fiji
Jeff Probst has gone on record to say that this is one of his least favourite seasons, and while it wasn’t as horrible as Thailand, it certainly had its weaknesses. Namely the whole haves vs. have nots thing was really lame and unfair – the underdogs had no chance in hell of breaking free from that cycle of horribleness. Ideally they should have made the teams swap conditions halfway through but that never happened. Another major problem was the fact nearly everyone this season (except ONE player) was recruited vs. actually applied for the show. That made for a lot of uninterested, unmotivated players – Earl, the valiant if slightly boring winner, hadn’t even seen the show! In the good news department we had Yau-Man to make things interesting, the controversial Dreams & Yau-Man bargain falling through, and there was good fun with the hidden immunity idols for the first time (rather than just holding onto them as in past seasons). I also particularly loved the destruction of the Four Horsemen alliance and poor Edgardo falling in the crosshairs.
Grade: B-

S15: China
Another welcome return to form for the show. For one, the change of scenery was very notable – I don’t think another season had quite the look and feel of China (maybe Amazon), plus the theming was totally different than what we’d seen previously. For another, there was tons of great drama and backstabbing this season – and also people who were there to play the game (most notably, winner Todd). The major blindside of James (swoon) and his two idols was fantastic, as was Jamie’s playing of the faux idol. The final three was a colourful and interesting group and the vote could have played out a bit differently – Todd was one of those players where even if you didn’t like him, you had to respect the sneaky little game he played being a tiny, weak guy. Poor Amanda though, twice that girl makes it to the end and twice she is shafted for being a nice snake of a player (how can one be ‘more honest’ about lying?). Also the removal of exile was a nice change in lieu of the kidnapping.
Grade: B+

S16: Micronesia / Fans vs. Favourites
I think I actually preferred this all star edition to the first one, as there was this element of mystery that didn’t exist previously – the favourites were probably expecting some people to be there that weren’t, and they had no clue how to deal with the fans. On the flip side, the fans were a totally wacky bunch for the most part – it was hilarious to see them fawn over the favourites but also have that hero complex where they felt like they’d be bigger if they could be responsible for getting rid of a certain favourite (see: Ozzy). That being said, I was definitely rooting for the favourites – the unfortunate part of bringing on superfans is that they were all a little weird, unlike the typically quite diverse and fun casts the show brings on to generate NEW favourites. Parvati played a solid if slightly irritating game, Amanda got told yet again, and Cirie again did a great job – but again I was secretly rooting for P & A to take it to the end. Also of course, the dumbest move in Survivor history – Erik giving up the necklace Natalie. Wow. Another perfect example of the big guns getting voted off because they’re all so busy worrying about each other that the sneaky, smart ones slip by and take the win (Parvati). Perhaps Candice will do the same in Heroes vs. Villains? PS Survivor – big marks off for not only returning to the same filming area (Pulau) but for actually putting the Survivors on the exact same beaches previously used. Are you kidding?
Grade: A-

S17: Gabon / Earth’s Last Eden
The first high-def season, and what a beautiful setting for it – sweeping vistas, tons of natural wildlife (that scene where the Survivors got up close and personal with an elephant was wicked), it was great. Unfortunately I wasn’t as big a fan as the characters this season. Technically speaking I was rooting for Matty, Krystal, and Kenny – but they all showed really obnoxious sides (like Matty’s teary proposal, Krystal’s psychotic rants, and Kenny’s general evilness). The other ‘good’ tribe was one of those nauseatingly happy ones that I wanted to see fall apart. I don’t get how Sugar was such a hero, I found her totally obnoxious and annoying. I did like Bob and thought he was very crafty in staying in the game when the chips were so brutally down, and while he outplayed and outwitted when he needed to, I felt he wasn’t really playing the game all that hard until that point. Plus the exile concept totally bombed, it was way too easy for Sugar to find the idol and with her returning there everytime and choosing the luxury option, it was pretty lame. There were a few choice moments that I can recall – Bob’s fake necklaces, Krystal’s hilarious vocal rant when she finally got to vote off Randy, and uh, did I mention the cool up close encounter with the elephants?
Grade: B

S18: Tocantins
Between the last two seasons, major props to the location scouts for finding such interesting vistas to set the show – the desert atmosphere of Tocantins was completely different than anything we’d seen (maybe a bit like Australia) to date which made for more great high-def action. I have mixed feelings about this season. On one hand, it was a very lame season strategically – the only person playing the game was Stephen but even HE wanted JT to win. Never before has a game been so readily handed over to a single player. Granted, JT was all kinds of awesome, I definitely had some love for him. Had the secret exile four alliance worked out better, that also would have been bonus points for this season. Beyond that, despite the total lack of strategy and interest this season, we did have a ton of interesting characters. I was a Sierra fan despite some of the nastiness directed at her, Tyson was a great villain and it was fun to watch him knocked down, Coach was one of those loose cannons that made for some fun, I generally enjoyed Taj, and how could you not love JT? No wonder they scooped several of these folks up for the next all star edition?
Grade: B

S19: Samoa
This is almost the exact inverse of the last season. Again we had a standout character that dominated the season, and his name is Russell. That man singlehandedly made this season exciting, and the overall show feel fresh again. He changed the game, much the way other players have been innovative (or tried to), Russell actually did it, although unfortunately it cost him in the end. The character of Russell also provided a moral dilemma for the viewers – he did some deliberately evil things at the beginning of the series (burning socks, pouring out water, etc.), made some extremely condescending and rude remarks (“my dumb girl alliance”), but he also dominated the game strategically and socially (through character analysis, not actual friendship) to take his Foa Foa Four nearly to the end. Unfortunately the jury, being made up of sensitive dumbasses, took their rage out on Russell and voted ‘against him’ rather than ‘for Natalie’. That being said, I actually thought Natalie played a pretty good game – it was her performance at final Tribal that pissed me off more than anything because she totally sold herself short and still won it. The reunion show, and her claim that her biggest move was orchestrating Eric’s departure, was exactly what I was screaming at the TV throughout the whole final tribal. It was like watching the show was a wake-up call for what a big role she played in that particular key point of the game – either that or she was deliberately keeping mum about it for the purposes of the jury not getting pissed at her as well. I don’t know. I would have been happy with Natalie winning a couple of episodes ago but her lackluster performance at selling herself to the jury has really soured most people against her win. Oh, and did I mention the rest of the people this season were pretty big idiots? Yeah, that kind of put a damper on super Russell’s super season.
Grade: B+

S20: Survivor Heroes vs. Villains
And here we are with another all-star edition on the horizon. Quite frankly, I wish they’d waited till Survivor 21 to do another all-star season and brought back all the winners (if they could spring Richard Hatch from prison) for a battle royale, but I also don’t mind the concept of this season. My only beef is that it’s only been a few seasons since our last all-star edition, so we’re seeing a lot of the same faces for the third time. Granted they are some of the ultimate favourites (James, Amanda, Parvati (?), Cirie) so it’s not all bad. I’m curious to see how Russell will fare amongst the All Stars that won’t have a clue about what he’s done in the past, but ALSO will be wondering why he’s on the villains tribe, and they’ll also be playing the game WAY harder than anyone in Samoa did. Also curious to see if Danielle and Candice, as the two WTF are you doing here? Contestants, will manage to fare well as past WTF contestants have (Amber, Parvati). This may very well be the best all-star edition ever and I’m eagerly anticipating it! Plus they had some sort of Tsunami / torrential storm while they were filming it. Fantastic!
Grade: TBD!

Till later,

Britt's On

Runway Ties

1:06 PM Posted In , , Edit This 0 Comments »

Well folks, up in Canada, for god knows why, we have Project Runway on delay. Meaning, if you want to watch it on the TV and not your computer, you must wait for about 2-3 weeks after the show has aired in the US of A. As a loyal Entertainment Weekly subscriber and general entertainment world explorer, this presents plenty of challenges. How does one avoid the news? Anytime I saw the words Project Runway I basically shut my eyes.

The good news is, maybe people have been bored with the last two seasons as I’ve managed to avoid finding out the winner and have been all tense and surprised with the finale. In fact I’ve heard a lot of negative things about season 6 that just wrapped up – to be fair, the show was mired by the whole network shenanigans going on and the tension of ‘this is happening now’ was lost. But also…I agree that Season 6 left something to be desired.

The challenges felt a bit flat (hi, thanks for stealing Project Runway Canada’s bride dress challenge), there was a lack of drama or personality for that matter in the work room, and the final collections failed to really wow me.

I mean last season, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Leanne but I appreciated the architecture of her clothing – it was clearly innovative, stylish, and new, and I was okay with her winning (despite the two-tone colour palette).

Before that we had PR wunderkind Christian Siriano. Although I was underwhelmed by the sparseness of his final collection, I got the buzz and the hype the show managed to create around him and he’s certainly done decently for himself since then. I was actually a fan of S3’s Jeffrey Sebelia, although his career hasn’t really gone anywhere (costume designer for Bratz?) notable since then. Ditto to S2’s Chloe Dao – Daniel Vosovic probably should have won that and paved the way for future boy wonders like Christian. And S1’s Jay McCarroll was a bit of a dark horse for the win in my opinion.

Regardless, there was nothing that made me particularly stand for any three of our top three in this year’s show. None of them had a particularly awe-inspiring outfit (I’m thinking of S3 Jeff’s stunning couture dress for example) throughout the competition, and while all 3 were consistently good and it was nice to see the blonde pretty girl actually do well for once, it still failed to excite my fashion senses when all was said and done.

Carol Hannah’s final collection was a little OTT in the satin department – I get that her clothing was supposed to represent fantasy but I felt like she was designing prom dresses more than fashion. Althea’s was definitely the most wearable and I see a great future for her designing for a hip commercial house like Club Monaco, but it was mostly nice, slightly special stylized versions of stuff I could go out and buy any day of the week. As for Irina’s, the all black thing was unappealing to me, and reminiscent of Christian Siriano’s S4 collection. Lame.

Here’s the big clue that most designers seem to pick up on though. The collections that win are typically the collections that use a cohesive element to tie them together. In particular, thinking of Irina’s helmets and Jay’s S1 headphones – the hat is the key! Even S3 Jeffrey was planning to use blonde wigs until he had to scrap them from his budget at the 11th hour. Leanne’s two-tone colour palette and Christian’s nearly all-black looks also cinched them the win. Chloe basically used four or five fabrics in every single piece, but I was a tad surprised she walked away with the win when you stack her collection up against the very tied together elements of the other winners. So future PR designers, take heed – be interesting, be daring, and find a gimmick to tie your collection together! Note: this is not always 100% successful. Korto’s paper fans from last season and Uli’s shark tooth closures failed to net the two ladies the win, but put them both in top contention for it at least. It’s the easiest way to claim cohesion should the judges get uppity!

Till next time,

Britt's On

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