Monday, February 25, 2013

Hollywood, We Saw Your Boobs at the Oscars

An Oscar is the ultimate participation trophy. Once you understand that, you don't have to get too angry when your favorite movie or favorite actor or actress misses out, and some mediocre offering worms its way in.

To demonstrate this stark fact, let's take a look at this past year's movies on the objective basis of total box office take worldwide:

# Movie Worldwide
Box Office
in Millions
1 Marvel's The Avengers $1,511.80
2 Skyfall $1,108.30
3 The Dark Knight Rises $1,081.00
4 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey $980.60
5 Ice Age: Continental Drift $875.30
6 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $829.00
7 The Amazing Spider-Man $752.20
8 Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted $742.10
9 The Hunger Games $686.50
10 MIB 3 (Men in Black 3) $624.00

Yes, that's $1.5 billion at the top of that list. I've seen The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Hunger Games, and Men in Black 3 and they were all great movies, as good or better than the Oscar winners.

The James Bond movie Skyfall is the only Oscar winner on that list, for Best Original Song and Best Sound Editing. I haven't seen it yet, but am sure that I will and that I will like it, because I've enjoyed every movie in the 007 franchise. The Hunger Games was quite novel and might have gotten a nomination or even an Oscar trophy, but they showed their hand by having two sequels already in the works.

That's the problem, these are all franchise movies and franchises don't win awards. The Hobbit got three nominations for technical awards and the Avengers got one. No wins. And that's it for the top 10 worldwide movies of 2012.

Now let's drop out the franchise and animated films and the foreign money, and just count the top 20 by domestic box office receipts:

# Movie Domestic
Box Office
in Millions
9 Ted $218.82
14 Lincoln $178.60
16 Django Unchained $158.78
17 Snow White and the Huntsman $155.33
19 Les Miserables (2012) $146.70
21 21 Jump Street $138.45
22 Argo $129.65
24 Safe House $126.37
25 The Vow $125.01
26 Magic Mike $113.72
27 Life of Pi $113.53
29 Silver Linings Playbook $107.18
32 Flight $93.77
33 Think Like a Man $91.55
34 Zero Dark Thirty $91.54
35 The Campaign $86.91
38 Dark Shadows $79.73
39 Jack Reacher $79.47
40 Parental Guidance $75.77
41 John Carter $30.18

Now we start to see some Oscar-nominated films. Lincoln at #14 got twelve nominations and Life of Pi at #27 got eleven. Ted at the top of this list got none, well it got a token nomination for Best Original Song.

Can you blame Oscar host Seth MacFarlane, who not coincidentally happens to be the writer, director, and producer of Ted, for making a big joke of the whole proceedings? My favorite was his We Saw Your Boobs sketch, introduced by William Shatner who himself has never received an Oscar nomination despite his great string of Star Trek movies:

You see, the fundamental formula for a good Oscar night show is to have all the great Hollywood stars who make the movies we want to see mocking the lesser lights who win all the awards. The New Yorker didn't see it that way:
Watching the Oscars last night meant sitting through a series of crudely sexist antics led by a scrubby, self-satisfied Seth MacFarlane. That would be tedious enough. But the evening’s misogyny involved a specific hostility to women in the workplace..."
What made it worse was that most of the movies mentioned, if not all (“Gia”), were pretty great—“Silkwood,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Monster’s Ball,” “Monster,” “The Accused,” “Iris”—and not exactly teen-exploitation pictures. The women were not showing their bodies to amuse Seth MacFarlane but, rather, to do their job. Or did they just think they were doing serious work? You girls think you’re making art, the Academy, through MacFarlane, seemed to say, but all we—and the “we” was resolutely male—really see is that we got you to undress. The joke’s on you.
Actually, most of those serious movies were pretty dull. Did you notice that Seth gave a thumb's up in his supposedly misogynistic sketch to Jennifer Lawrence, who did win an Oscar for her performance in #27 Silver Linings Playbook? Well, she was also in #9 The Hunger Games, which makes her an up-and-coming franchise player.

Another big performer on Oscar night was Channing Tatum, who did some dancing as well as introducing. Channing had the lead in three movies in the top 20 domestic, 21 Jump Street, The Vow, and Magic Mike. No awards for Channing, who just got to entertain the more deserving. Magic Mike is said to be loosely based on Channing's experience as an eighteen-year-old stripper in Tampa, Florida. Wow, that's powerful Oscar-worthy stuff, except that Channing is a man. Do you think Seth and Channing might have been chiding the Academy for its double standards?

That brings us to Argo, which won Best Picture. I saw Argo and I liked the 1970s feel and the tension of getting six U.S. diplomats out of Iran after more than 50 other U.S. diplomats and staff were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, but the plot was pure Hollywood BS. Somehow, in taking some very liberal dramatic liberties, the movie has managed to offend former President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor, and the nations of Canada, Britain, and New Zealand, as well as Iran.

The central conceit in Argo is that the U.S. diplomats were spirited out of Iran under the watchful but gullible eye of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard using a cover story that they were Canadians filmmakers scouting locations for a Hollywood movie. It's true that was the cover story if they were challenged at the Tehran airport. But in real-life they cleared the airport security checkpoints just using the passports Canada so kindly issued after secretly harboring them for several weeks.

In the movie, however, the whole plan rests on real-life Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) and a washed up film producer (played by Alan Arkin in a role not based on anyone in the real life rescue). So Hollywood became the unsung hero of the story, and if you don't like it, you can "Argo f*ck yourself":

That has become the theme not only of Argo but of this year's Academy Awards. The screenwriter Chris Terrio claims that line is true, and he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay to prove it.

And what film should the Academy, that is the 6,000 Hollywood workers in various trades who get to vote, have picked instead? Of the movie I've seen, I would have picked The Hunger Games or possibly Flight but they were not in the running. Life of Pi in 3D was something else, but the author promised that his story would make me believe in god, and on those own terms it didn't deliver. Lincoln may be another Spielberg great, but with a 150 minute runtime, I'll watch it it at home so I can take bathroom breaks. Same for Zero Dark Thirty at 157 minutes, Les Misérables at 158 minutes, and Django Unchained at 165 minutes.

Sure, Argo director Ben Affleck played fast and lose with the facts. That would matter if Argo were a drama, but it is actually a comedy masquerading as a drama. Hollywood doesn't give Best Picture to comedies, this one snuck by the censors. Having Michelle Obama award the Oscar in a low-cut gown flanked by dressed out American soldiers was the final joke. The insulted mullahs in Iran were predictably outraged, unpredictably insisting that Lincoln was actually Best Picture. An Iranian news agency even photoshopped Michelle to add a higher neckline and sleeves. Yes, Hollywood tricked the Iranian zealots into showing us their boobs, again.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

If a Tree Falls ... Make a Honey Crick Splice

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

That's the philosophical question that many with nothing better to do have long pondered. A more practical question is this: Did the tree fall on a fence? If you've got cattle running up against that fence, you're going to have to fix the fence, even if you weren't there to hear the tree fall.

I had that assignment when I has back at the family farm in Iowa this past December.

There's a steel post you can barely see sticking up through the middle of a fallen tree branch that is being held up by by the remaining barb wire after breaking the top two strands.

Here are my tools. A hammer, a green-handled pair of pinchers, a yellow handle for tightening fence cheaters, and some wire.

After I tossed the fallen tree limb off the wires, you can see there is not much fence left. Even a small calf could step over this fence. What the old-timers say you are supposed to do now is take all these wires loose from all the posts down the fence line to the next corner post, splice the barb wire once at the break, use the wire stretchers to pull each strand tight, and then restaple or reclip the barb wire to each post. That's a lot of work.

Here you can see a fence cheater in action. The official name is fence tightener, but my grandfather always called them cheaters. The company website says they came out in 1971, and he was using them by the middle of the decade. I used one on the bottom strand which had been loosened by the tree limb to tighten it back up, using the long yellow handle as leverage to ratchet from hook to hook. As I look at this picture, I see that the wire didn't pull lose properly from the last hook. It should be wrapping straight around the inner prongs. The backside of these prongs form a U over which you put the slot in the handle (see picture above), which is what gives you leverage.

Next we come to my grandfather's favorite cobble to fix broken barb wires, what he called the Honey Crick splice. Honey Creek is a stream that flowed through part of his farm, and the brush and trees got a little wild along the crick. All the farmers with land along it he called Honey Crickers. It was understood that you were allowed to do things down on Honey Crick as a matter of course that might not be strictly up to accepted practice near the farmhouse.

To start the Honey Crick splice, I used the pinchers to make a loop at each end of the broken wire. Pinchers come in pairs, like pliers, scissors, and pants. This idea of brightly colored handles is a great innovation. I spent my my teenage years hunting up all-metal pinchers in the tall grass at the end of each fence repair job.

Pinchers are officially called a fencing tool, and you should buy one if you've never had one, as it's a very versatile multi-function tool.

Once I put in the first loop, the too ends will no longer reach, so next I tie in my new wire. Here, I've got a heavy gauge galvanized wire. My grandfather liked to use a lighter gauge No. 16 wire and double it. He sometimes used barb wire, but that's trickier in the next steps.

Now I run the other end of the new wire through the other loop, over the side of the hammer head, pull it tight, and anchor it in the claw of the hammer.

Then I can just use the hammer as a winch, and turn the handle to pull the wire through the loop, wrapping it around the hammer head. If I were using barb wire for the gap, the barbs would catch as they are pulled through the loop, but you have my pinchers to deal with that.

Once I've pulled the wire tight, I bend the wire around the hammer head back, being careful not to lose the tightness, and unroll it. Then I can pull the hammer out, and wrap the end of the wire back around itself to finish the splice.

Here's the finished Honey Crick splice. It's not pretty, but I was close enough to Honey Crick, as my grandfather would say.

My second Honey Crick splice may not look not that pretty either. But for an old Honey Cricker, it's a thing of beauty. And, of course, if after a while it gets a little lose, we'll just put a cheater on it too.

The fence is fixed and ready to turn cattle.

While we're on the subject of fences and turning cattle, here's a testament to one that got away.