Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly, Roscoe Karns

This is the first film to win in all the 'Big Five' categories at the Oscars. It is ironic, however, because this film almost didn't get made. Director and Oscar winner, the great Frank Capra, wanted to make a travel film based on the short story, Night Bus. The studio balked at his idea, and none of the stars Capra wanted were willing or able to be in the film. Claudette Colbert was brought in only when the studio agreed to double her pay and Gable was loaned to Columbia by MGM for this film- he was being punished by Louis B. Mayer at the time. Even though production went smoothly, Colbert told people after the film wrapped that she had just finished the worst movie ever. How wrong she was.

It Happened One Night follows Colbert as spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews who has become engaged to a wealthy man against her father's wishes, and then flees when her father tries to put a stop to the marriage. While on the run, she encounters newspaper reporter Peter Warne (Gable) on a bus to New York and he agrees to help her reunite with her fiance in exchange for an exclusive on her story. If she refuses, he will take her back to her father and collect the sizable reward for her return. As they make their way to New York, they begin to fall in love. I won't ruin the ending, but there's a chance that these two lovebirds won't get together.

This film has some of the wittiest and most iconic scenes in film history. Frank Capra does a masterful job at keeping the interplay between his two stars lively and fun. Colbert was very unhappy working with Capra, but fortunately she had excellent chemistry with Gable, so much so that the two would work together again after this film. Like all Capra films, the supporting cast here is sterling, and adds a layer of realism and depth to the story that I think is one of his signatures. Particularly notable is Roscoe Karns as a bus passenger who tries to romance Ellie.

Only three films have won Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Screenplay- this was the first and arguably the best of the three. (The others were pretty good too- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Silence of the Lambs). On Oscar Sunday it is good to look back and see what great filmmaking is all about and It Happened One Night is a prime example.

Things to watch for-

Ellie hitches a ride
Clark Gable puts an end to the men's undershirt
Blankets make good walls of Jericho
King Westley

"Now, don't tell me you've fallen in love with a bus driver."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The 11th Annual Conor Awards

Drum roll please as we announce our winners for 2010's Conor Awards. Unlike the Oscars, I have a good host. Please welcome Mr. Billy Crystal!

He's already better than Anne Hathaway and James Franco. Let's get to the awards...

BEST PICTURE- The King's Speech

Toy Story 3
The Social Network
The Fighter

BEST ACTOR- Colin Firth- The King's Speech

Mark Whalberg- The Fighter
Jesse Eisenberg- The Social Network

BEST ACTRESS- Hailee Steinfeld- True Grit

Natalie Portman- Black Swan
Amy Adams- The Fighter

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR- Christian Bale- The Fighter

Tom Hardy- Inception
Geoffery Rush- The King's Speech


Helena Bonham Carter- The King's Speech
Rooney Mara- The Social Network

BEST DIRECTOR- Christopher Nolan- Inception

David O. Russell- The Fighter
Tom Hooper- The King's Speech

For me, The King's Speech really distinguished itself as a great story that was engaging, uplifting and compelling without any explosions, sex or gimmicks. At the core of our Best Picture was a sterling performance by Colin Firth. He was helped by a fabulous supporting cast, but his tremendous skills as an actor made you feel the king's paralyzing stammer. It wasn't hard to pick any of these awards this year because each of the winners truly stood out from the rest. Hailee Steinfeld carried the Coen Brothers' True Grit as the plucky Maddie Ross among some solid veteran company. Christian Bale and Melissa Leo turned in the two best performances in The Fighter, as the two most dysfunctional members of boxer Micky Ward's family. It is hard to believe that the Christian Bale in The Fighter is the same man that I reviewed a few weeks ago in The Dark Knight. As far as the directors, I felt it necessary to recognize a true auteur, Christopher Nolan.

Until next year, kids.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book of the Month

This month,


By David Sedaris

In his latest book, humorist David Sedaris tackles many of the odd, quirky subjects that he always does, but this time he uses animals to address them. The book contains 16 separate stories that are based on a book of fables that Sedaris found in South African mythology. Along with illustrations by Ian Falconer, each story contains the usual mix of satire, hilarity and awkwardness that one usually can count on from Sedaris. It is as if Aesop has been biding his time for a twisted 21st Century comeback.

I have to say that this is not as enjoyable or laugh out loud funny as some of Sedaris' other work, but after getting through the first few stories, the book picked up and I did find myself chuckling. The Cow and the Turkey, where the barnyard animals pick names for Secret Santa, is one of the high points. It is no surprise that this story was featured on This American Life because it has the best punchline of any vignette in the book. Another of the better fables is The Vigilant Rabbit, which focuses on the need for protection in the forest. It falls to the rabbit to be the guard, and in true Sedaris fashion the story takes an unexpected and bitingly humorous turn.

Don't be fooled by the cutesy drawings of animals, this book is not for kids or the easily offended. It tackles subjects that are near and dear to fans of Sedaris- drugs, sex, relationships, disease, awkward encounters and self serving agendas. Perhaps these stories seem more horrifying because we don't expect animals to behave in such dark and callous ways. That's what humans are known for, and Sedaris adeptly gives our foibles and interactions over to the animal kingdom. I would not rank this as high as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but this collection proves that nobody- man or beast, is safe from the warped barbs of our modern day Aesop.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere

This was the most important comedy of my youth in which Mike Myers and Dana Carvey teamed up to give audiences the best movie ever made out of a Saturday Night Live sketch. It is hard to quantify how much this movie and the characters of Wayne and Garth meant to me. I was Wayne for Halloween more than once, I wrote a Wayne's World inspired sketch and performed it in high school, and I could (and still probably can) recite the film's first 15 minutes verbatim. I will now write down the intro from the movie from memory without any Google, IMDB or Wikipedia help. Scouts honor. Send me a note if I get it wrong.

Let me bring you up to speed. My name is Wayne Campbell, I live in Aurora, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago- excellent. I've had plenty of Joe jobs, nothing I'd call a career. Let me put it this way, I have an extensive collection of name tags and hairnets. I still live with my parents, which I admit, is both bogus and sad. But I have an amazing cable access show, and I still know how to party. But what I'd really love is to do Wayne's World for a living. It might happen, sha, and monkeys might fly out of my butt! Ah, the mirth-mobile. This is my best friend, Gath Algar. (You're welcome)

Wayne's World is chock full of funny moments, homages and lines. Also, there are cameos by the likes of Brian Doyle-Murray, Chris Farley, Meat Loaf, Ed O'Neil and Alice Cooper. When I first saw the movie in 1992 at the age of 9, much of the more adult humor escaped me, but as I matured, new jokes and references within the film made it a richer comedic tapestry. Some may call Wayne's World infantile and stupid, but beneath that veneer of ridiculousness lies a witty, sometimes philosophical melodrama that really makes you think on multiple levels about issues as diverse as women's rights and the perils of fame. NOT! How gullible are you? I really fished you in there. Anyway, for a good laugh and very little else, see Wayne's World- it'll make you laugh, cry and hurl.

Things to watch for-

Bohemian Rhapsody
The Scooby Doo ending
A gun rack
The Suck Cut
Milwaukee- which is Algonquin for 'The Good Land'

"If he were an ice cream flavor, he'd be Pralines and Dick."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Now that the smoke has cleared and I have had time to reflect, I am pleased to feature my team- Super Bowl XLV Champion Green Bay Packers on the blog. It was so much fun to see the Packers win the big game this year, especially in the wake of the last few mediocre years and the fact that the team suffered so many injuries to key players this season. It is a testament to the leaders and coaches of this team that they were able to overcome such huge obstacles to win football's biggest prize. At the heart of the Packers' triumphant group were quarterback Aaron Rodgers, cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews. These three men set a high standard, and instilled in their team a will to overcome any of the slew of obstacles that threatened their season.

The Packers became the first NFC six seed to win the Super Bowl, and only the second six seed in the history of the NFL. I am excited for the future of this team because they are the second youngest team in the league, and will hopefully be less injury prone next season (if there is one). The return of players like Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant will undoubtedly help the Packers get back to the Super Bowl in the years to come. The legacy of this incarnation of the team has been cemented, and allowed every cheesehead to forget that other quarterback- Brent something.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Top 5 Star Trek Episodes

Star Trek was a T.V. series ahead of its time. Creator Gene Roddenberry and his group of writers gave us an optimistic and exciting glimpse at what our future might hold, and they did it with compelling stories and memorable characters. While there were some cheesy 1960's elements within the show, Star Trek was groundbreaking. Here now are my picks for the best episodes- in no particular order.


Kirk, Scotty, McCoy and Uhura get accidentally transported into a savage mirror universe where Spock has a beard, the crew moves up in rank by assassination and everyone wears sparkly sashes. They have to get back to their own Enterprise before they are discovered to be frauds by the evil mirror people. This is the classic alternate universe episode that spawned many copycats in later Star Trek series. Best Moment- Kirk still manages to get some mirror universe poon while trying to escape.


The Enterprise comes upon a sleeper ship carrying a ripped, bronzed superman and his followers. That swarthy superman is Khan, a tyrant from the 1990's. When Khan isn't charming the ladies, he's trying to steal the Enterprise and murder Captain Kirk. Kirk eventually bests Khan and maroons him on Ceti Alpha V, but I have a strange feeling we'll see him again someday. Best Moment- Kirk and Khan's fist fight in engineering. Those aren't stuntmen, people. (Those are stuntmen.)


A young hottie named Joan Collins guest stars in this classic episode. McCoy goes insane and Kirk and Spock must use a talking portal named the Guardian of Forever to travel back in time to rescue him. In the process of rescuing McCoy and saving the space/time continuum, Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler (Collins). McCoy is eventually saved, but not before a tragic ending. This is one of the sadder, more moving episodes in the series. Best Moment- Spock builds a radio.


This episode introduces us to Spock's parents, Amanda and Sarek. The Enterprise is taking various diplomats to a conference on the planet Babel, but there is a murderer on board who targets Sarek and then Kirk. Both men are seriously injured and Spock is torn between his duty and saving his father via a transfusion. With the ship under attack things get messy, and Spock must make a sacrifice. What happens? Watch it and find out. Best Moment- Spock's daddy issues.


One of the funnier episodes, The Trouble With Tribbles follows the crew as they are carrying a cargo of grain to the K-7 station. Things go awry when the Klingons show up, and when fuzzy fur balls called tribbles take over the ship and the station and eat all the grain. Tribbles may be cute, but don't feed them, kids, you'll be sorry. Best Moment- The tribble hates the Klingon.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Last Game

I went to see my team, the Utah Jazz, play the Chicago Bulls last night. I don't get to that many games, so I was excited- especially to see my team take on former Jazz players, Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. The Jazz lost, and we left the arena simply thinking the team had lost another game. This afternoon I learned that the team had also lost its coach.

Jerry Sloan, the only man I have known as the coach of the Jazz, stepped down after 23 years with the team today. I am saddened by the sudden departure, and left to think about the fact that I just happened to be there on the night he coached his last game. The Jazz have had difficulties this year, but still had the cornerstones of a strong team- one of them being Coach Sloan. Now, the team must turn to an unproven, but determined coach, and the player and leader that many now blame for Sloan's abrupt exit. New coach Tyrone Corbin and point guard Deron Williams didn't know it was Sloan's last game, and now, ready or not they are the future of the Jazz. Williams and Sloan clashed in their time together, and perhaps there was something about that relationship that nudged Jerry out the door, but like many, I don't think anyone could push Jerry Sloan out, and I know that even if Williams is secretly happy- he couldn't foresee that last night was his coach's last game.

The last game of his career wasn't anything special, just another February NBA game, but it actually was a nice coda to Sloan's career. It was in Salt Lake, with a sellout crowd and against the team that has retired his number. Maybe Jerry was putting us on today when he stepped down, maybe he knew, unlike the rest of us that it would be the end. I doubt it, but whatever the truth behind it is we Jazz fans know that the last game came too soon, and that a coach like Jerry Sloan will not pass this way again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart

Batman was always my favorite comic book hero, and the Joker was the best villain in the Batman rogues gallery, so I was justifiably excited when I heard about the plans for The Dark Knight. My expectations were high and I could have been disappointed, but I walked out knowing that I had just seen the best comic book movie ever made. The caliber of the acting, the strength of the story and the realism in dealing with fantastical subject matter, all contributed to making this an Oscar nominated and Conor Award winning film.

Picking up where Batman Begins leaves off, The Dark Knight shows how Gotham City is still dominated by criminals, and is actually more corrupt and dangerous than before Batman began taking on the underworld. Leading the new breed of criminals is the mysterious Joker, a sadistic, crazed killer who delights in his deadly work a little too much. Hoping to make a difference in the war on crime is Gotham's new D.A. Harvey Dent (Eckhart) and police Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), who reluctantly team up with Batman to smoke out the mob. While combating the more conventional criminals, the Joker pops up sporadically and throws monkey wrenches into the plans of Dent, Batman and Gordon. It all ends up costing the three men dearly to take the Joker down, but as Dent says "the night is always darkest before the dawn."

Director Christopher Nolan is masterful in his development of the story. The main thread is about Bruce Wayne and his struggle to be Batman while still hoping to win the love of Rachel (Maggie 'Sad Turtle' Gyllenhall) who is in love with Dent. The love triangle is only one piece of the complex story, but throughout the entire film there is the constant threat of the Joker looming over the heroes. Nolan wisely restricts the Joker's screen time and makes his appearances random, so that when the Joker does show up it is surprising, suspenseful and unnerving. It is regrettable that Heath Ledger died shortly after this movie wrapped because he gave us one of the greatest screen villains of all time, and it would have been incredible to see he and Christian Bale square off again. Oldman, Caine, Eckhart and Morgan Freeman make strong contributions in their roles and prove that even the smaller roles can have a large impact on the film. The scenes where Caine and Freeman counsel Bruce Wayne bristle with charm and needed exposition.

It is rare that a movie from this genre gets accolades like The Dark Knight did, but the way Nolan treats the subject matter with a deep respect makes the film go far beyond others of this type. It will be hard to top this effort, but with his eye for casting and ability to tell rich, moving stories, Nolan has the ability to win himself some more Conor Awards, and maybe some Oscars as well.

Things to watch for-

Anthony Michael Hall as the News guy
The Bat Pod
Scotch can be deadly
A Cameo by the Scarecrow
Good Cop/Bad Cop
The most unsettling nurse ever

"Wanna know how I got these scars?"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Nominees Are...

Here are the Conor Award Nominees for 2010. Before we get to them, let me just say that this year in film seemed a little bit lean until the end. I saw a good deal of these movies recently, and can say that I was impressed that 2010 finished strong at the megaplex. The Fighter garnered a nomination in every category, while the notable snubs were Jeff Bridges' mumble mouth performance in True Grit and Justin Timberlake as the Napster guy in The Social Network. Maybe next year, boys. The nominees are...








Christopher Nolan- Inception
David O. Russell- The Fighter
Tom Hooper- The King’s Speech


Colin Firth- The King's Speech
Mark Whalberg- The Fighter
Jesse Eisenberg- The Social Network


Natalie Portman- Black Swan
Hailee Steinfeld- True Grit
Amy Adams- The Fighter


Tom Hardy- Inception
Geoffery Rush- The King's Speech
Christian Bale- The Fighter


Helena Bonham Carter- The King's Speech
Rooney Mara- The Social Network
Melissa Leo- The Fighter

You have until Oscar Sunday to lobby me for my picks. Let the campaigning begin!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Nazi Thesis- Part II

Here is part two of my undergraduate thesis on Nazi Germany. I got an A on it.

With the arrival of war in 1914, Hitler, a failed artist, could see himself finally making an impact on the world, as his mother had told him he would. Feeling nationalism in his bones, Hitler enlisted in the German Army, and thus began his path of destiny. The war was integral in molding Hitler into his future self, as Ian Kershaw wrote, “the First World War made Hitler possible.” During the war Hitler and Germany became one. Hitler felt all the highs of success and all the lows of defeat as if he were Germany personified. (Later in his life he would assume that role completely.) With the surrender in 1918, Hitler and Germany hit rock bottom together. His own emotions, so tied to his adopted nation, Hitler sank into a deep hate-filled depression. Having reveled in the god-like half of his personality during the war, Hitler now felt lost and insecure, as if Alois himself had voiced disappointment at his son’s actions.
Hitler (far left) with his fellow soldiers and a dog

So disgusted with the pain of defeat, Hitler began to indulge the bitter, insecure half of himself, and made strides to right the wrongs of the war. Like many at the time, Hitler blamed the Jews for the loss of the war. Fear and hatred consumed Hitler at this time, and he took a shine to a group that felt much the same way he did. Already, European society was rife with tension, and the war had only served to create a larger divide between Jews and Gentiles. In his early years Hitler was not an anti-Semite, but as he became exposed to racially driven prejudice, Hitler became obsessed with the Jews, and their betrayal in the war. The party had anti-Semitic overtones before Hitler’s arrival, but it was he that molded them into a rabidly anti-Jewish group. It was due to his post-war hatred that Hitler discovered his talent for speaking and laying blame at the feet of the Jews.

As a speaker in the beer halls on behalf of his party, Hitler was able to synthesize the two sides of his personality, the angry, bitter side, and the ambitious, successful side, into what he eventually used as the Nazi demagogue. While Hitler’s two sides were meeting, the party was undergoing its own synthesis, as two of its major cornerstones were laid, propaganda and racial prejudice. Initially, Hitler was using his speaking ability to pave the way for the next great German leader, but as he gained notoriety, Hitler began to think that perhaps he was the man who could lead Germany into a new era of prosperity. The god complex had taken over, and Hitler saw his destiny before him as the Fuhrer of the Nazi party.