Saturday, February 24, 2007

(Long Overdue) Brief Life Update No. 11: My Own Big Scoop/Oscar

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - The over two-week gap between this entry and my last one may be the longest gap in the history of My Life, at 24 Frames Per Second. For all those faithful readers out there, I apologize for the long delay. If there are any of you out there who are actually fuming over the fact that "Kenji didn't update his friggin blog for over two weeks! He doesn't care about his readership!"---well, I guess the following will suffice as an explanation. (If it makes any of you feel any better, believe me when I say that I was genuinely intending to update this thing earlier in the week. For what that's worth.)

Over the past two weeks, I've been tied up not only with my usual classwork, but also with a rather exasperating---well, challenging, to put it more optimistically---reporting project for my Desktop Publishing class in which I basically had to try to track down as many Rutgers University alumni/journalism major grads as I could that were currently working at the Wall Street Journal, whether as reporters or editors, whether for the actual print publication or for either its online version or the Online Network, the latter of which includes such potentially useful Web sites such as and, among a few others. I had to find them and interview them---all of them---asking them questions about how they got to where they are now, how their Rutgers education helped them, what they like about working for the Journal, etc. The story, once it's all finished and laid out and such, is going to be published in the upcoming edition of AlumKnights, the Rutgers journalism department's alumni newsletter. (We lucky Desktop Publishing students, by the way, are in charge of laying out the whole thing.)

I ended up interviewing five people from the Journal, four of them people whose names were provided for me by one of my Desktop Publishing professors (we have two for this class). The fifth one was referred to by more than one of my interview subjects, and I was thankfully able to get the fifth one---the so-called Deputy Managing Editor of the online Journal---for a relatively short phone interview; apparently he's a very busy man---so busy that he's the one that called me for the interview, not the other way around.

I would think five people would be enough for any article; most of my Desktop Publishing peers only had to interview one or two for their stories. But I spent most of this past week fairly irritated when I found out indirectly that I was supposed to try to track down all the Rutgers journalism alums at the Journal. All? Are you kidding? Most of the people to whom I complained about this agreed that this was a bit much; heck, even one of my interview subjects, when I called her to ask a few follow-up questions, said the same thing. In the end, though, I wrote up an initial draft based on my five interviews...and I think that's where I'm going to draw the line. Besides, one name who was mentioned by one of my interview subjects turned out to not even be in the paper's employee database, and another hasn't gotten back to me after about three e-mails and a message left on her work number. I guess I should try to leave another message...but really, I'm for the most part done with this thing, man.

Besides...I have a goddamn thesis I actually have to start writing! Remember, that thing comparing Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino? The thing that's due in about, oh, a little over a month???

So actually, these past two days I've been taking it easy after handing in my first draft of my Desktop Publishing story. In fact, I've been taking it so easy that I've basically been sitting around in front of my computer either playing around with Windows Movie Maker---using Mozilla's handy Video Downloader 2.0, downloading various Youtube clips, converting them to .avi files and stitching them together in true stream-of-consciousness collage style---or delving deep into the world of Youtube vlogs. (Sidenote: I should probably devote a whole future entry to discussing Youtube and, I guess, trying to elucidate its appeal, especially when it comes to vlogs. Besides, I've discovered some pretty cool, interesting vlogs on Youtube, and I'd like to share some of them with you readers sometime soon.)

Of course, shouldn't I be doing, like, homework or something? Well, I think I deserve a bit of a break...just to brace myself for another fairly tough week coming up. I have a midterm in my Cinema Studies senior seminar coming up this Thursday, and of course I'm probably going to attempt to get started on thesis stuff. (A friend of mine is also working on a thesis this year; supposedly she set herself a goal this past week to try to get 25-30 pages of it written. When I talked to her online on Monday, she said she had already gotten 10 finished. My internal reaction to hearing this was, Damn! It probably takes me more than one day to get 10 pages finished; how do I expect myself to get 30 done in a week? Well, at least 30 pages might be my whole thesis right there; that friend of mine is working on something much longer. Perhaps I could take heart in the fact that I was actually able to get my entire five-plus page draft for my Desktop Publishing story done in one day---although that's probably because I had all the notes in front me from which to refer as I wrote it.)


In the meantime...tomorrow's Oscar night!

Actually, I'm not as excited about it as that exclamation mark may suggest; I'm fairly cynical about the Oscars, since I don't see it as much other than a self-important orgy of Hollywood self-congratulation, one that can hardly be said to be worth much as an indicator of actual quality. Maybe of "quality"---meaning what passes for "serious" prestige filmmaking in Hollywood (like this year's Best Picture frontrunner Babel---although again, I think Babel overall is preferable to last year's blunt-instrument-rather-than-movie Crash). But hey, in the right frame of mind, I suppose it can be fun as merely a pageant...and tomorrow night, I'm going to try to have some fun with it with a few good friends (one of whom takes the Oscars a bit more seriously than I do).

A few random thoughts about what multiple host Billy Crystal once sang "Oscar, Oscar":

I still believe Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is the best film of the nominated five. It's not the most aesthetically daring of the lot, but, in its fresh and serious contemplation of issues of honor and morality in war, I think it'll end up the most lasting and memorable of the lot.

It may well be Martin Scorsese's year to finally win the Best Director Oscar he has long craved, but if he wins, to me it'll clearly be one of those make-up wins (a la Paul Newman for an earlier Scorsese picture, The Color of Money), an acknowledgment of a distinguished body of work rather than an award for his work in The Departed. It really is about time---although I wish he'd have won it for a better movie.

I'm guessing Pan's Labyrinth (** out of ****) is the favorite to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. But I saw the film a couple of weekends ago and I'm not sure I get the immense positive hype for it. Yes, its fairy-tale fantasy sequences are enchanting, scary and memorable, and its ambition to try to blend childlike fantasy with brutal reality is laudable. But an "end-of-childhood [elegy]," as one critic wrote about it? Really? If anything, the movie, in all of its visually splendid triteness, is a confirmation of childlike naiveté---with clearly drawn good guys and bad guys (let's face it, there's not much nuance to speak of when it comes to the intensely fascist Capitán Vidal, who engages in ruthless murder and torture even though he perhaps realizes that his cause is nearing its end)---and an at best clumsy intermingling of fantasy and reality. The rather blank 12-year-old heroine doesn't really grow in wisdom about the real world throughout the movie, and by the end...

(spoiler alert for those who haven't seen the film)

...she's actually died and gone to some kind of heaven, confirming her belief in the weird (and admittedly wonderful) creatures she sees and interacts with. And political allegory? Where is it? Fascism was a terrible thing, no doubt, but the film's aura of political depth---accomplished simply by making the atmosphere violent and heavy, as well as by trafficking in black-and-white instead of dealing with any kind of complexity---struck me as disingenuous. In all, Pan's Labyrinth is not only purely escapist, but it's also a celebration of escapism as a way to get away from the rotten real world. (Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander might have seen things through a child's innocent eyes and imaginative mind, but at least it also seemed to recognize the emotional complexities of the adult world surrounding Alexander.) Maybe others don't mind seeing a movie like that as much as I do (or maybe I've just gotten so pretentious myself that I've lost touch with the common moviegoer or something).

It's fairly obvious that Jennifer Hudson is going to win for Dreamgirls, but aren't people going ga-ga over her powerhouse singing and forgetting that she's perhaps serviceable at best as a dramatic actress? Her best acting is in her singing---which, I suppose, is good enough for a musical, but I wonder if, down the road, she takes on a purely dramatic role and feels a lot of pressure to impress especially to justify that Oscar statuette sitting on her mantle.

And finally, one major snub: Laura Dern in Inland Empire, for basically anchoring David Lynch's richly fucked-up vision to some kind of human footing. (Did Academy voters even bother to see Lynch's movie---or, I guess more accurately, digital video? Probably not, I suspect.)

Oh, and as for the ceremony itself: I'm pretty immune to whatever charms people see in Ellen Degeneres---I've usually rolled my eyes at her comic blandness whenever I've chanced upon her daytime talk show---so I'm not expecting a whole lot of comic gold out of her tomorrow night as host, to be honest. Maybe she'll surprise me. Last year, Jon Stewart started off kinda rocky but managed to come up with a few good pieces of ribbing as the show went along.


One more thing: to make up for not even feeling the motivation to post this on Valentine's Day, here's a video for fans of one of Jean-Luc Godard's great muses, the eternally gorgeous Anna Karina, to drool over. Does anyone have any idea how to obtain a copy of Anna, the French TV-movie from which the following clip appears?

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