Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson redux, robots and Oscars

PhotobucketMichael Jackson, part 2: It's hard to explain, for those who weren't impressionable teens in the 1980s, how utterly everywhere MJ was there for a few years. "Thriller" was in the air, inescapable, in a way that pop music doesn't quite penetrate these multimedia days. I couldn't hum a Kanye West song today to save my life, but in 1983 my brother owned a red Jackson zipper jacket, the cassette of "Thriller" was played every time more than two people got together in a room, and everyone had to try to moonwalk at least once. Nobody these days has an album that stays at #1 for weeks, months. Even parents knew the songs. Even if I really liked Men At Work and Prince a bit more, MJ was in the air, always.

What was interesting was the reaction in the newsroom Friday – one journo, when I told him the first reports came over the wire that Jackson was hospitalized, reacted with "Good. I hope he's dead." A few people gasped when news of the death came out but they were all 30somethings like me. Another in his 20s couldn't see what the big deal was. Journos are a hard-bitten cynical lot so the jokes started circulating almost immediately too. The few folks who actually seemed shaken up by the news were kind of laughed off. Again, as I said Friday, I'm by no measure a huge Jackson fan, but I can't ignore the impact he made on my and everyone's lives, just through the strange and singular story of his existence. Of course we're all well and sick of the Jackson memorial coverage (this is why I get almost all my news from newspapers and online; I can't stand television's incessant need to babble and fill the airtime with vapor), but in the end, you can't deny the sudden death of the creator of the best-selling album of all time is news.

TEN nominees for Best Picture? No, I don't quite get what the Academy of Motion Pictures is thinking by doubling the nominees for best picture starting next year. Six, sure, maybe eight I could see, but this just seems like a shameless grab for ego, ratings and dollars rather than any sense of the Oscars actually failing to reward the finest in film. I don't think you're suddenly going to start seeing more obscure indie movies nominated. They saw "The Dark Knight" make zillions, realized they didn't nominate it and the Oscars had lousy viewers.

• No, I don't plan on seeing "Transformers 2" any time soon. I did see the first one and I guess I liked it OK at the time although I've never felt any need to watch it again. It's a shame to hear this one relies on a lot of crude and bawdy humor, as it'd be nice if they made a movie my Transformer-obsessed 5-year-old could watch. But it's great fun reading the eviscerating reviews this one is getting – the New York Times gets the word "cretinous" in the very first sentence, while Roger Ebert has a marvelous essay contrasting the "painful" movie to other far better robots in film. I agree one of the more irritating things about director Michael Bay's design is its sheer frenzy; I can barely tell where these robots' faces are supposed to be. Another reviewer's quote which perhaps is a wee bit over the top: "It represents every single vile, puny thing that's wrong with the United States." Worse than "Paul Blart: Mall Cop"?

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