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December 2008
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Chandni Chowk to China

3.5 stars out of 5

Has director Nikhil Advani combined with Warner Brothers to finally achieve the American breakthrough so long predicted for Bollywood? Chandni Chowk has a lot going for it: music, comedy (including a lot of slapstick) and kung fu. It has a few things going against it: it is more than two hours long and contains only about a dozen words of English. Has America grown up enough to get past the whole "I don't do subtitles" thing that has cursed foreign films here since the invention of... well, subtitles? The answer to that is above my pay grade. All I know for sure is that it is an entertaining film with attractive stars and a love-to-hate-him villain. And, of course, the film is a cynical hybrid, attempting to appeal to both the vast Indian market and the vast Chinese market (the characters speak Hindi, Cantonese and Mandarin, salted with the occasional English word or phrase). This mash-up/homage/pastiche will make you laugh and smile, no matter what your feelings about its component genres. Clean family fun--for families whose children are old enough to read.

Neal Vitale's 2008 Oscar Picks

[Why no Paul picks? Because after seeing Neal's, I concur, right down the line]

Film has been one exception in an otherwise dispiriting year, and there are many excellent award candidates. The Oscar nominations will be announced this week, and the following are what I think will be included in the major categories. [Note - while there is a lot of overlap with what I feel are the most deserving, these picks are what I expect to be selected, not necessarily my choices for the best. A good example is David Kross in The Reader - a terrific performance, but an unlikely nominee.]

Best Picture
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director
Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight
Danny Boyle Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Gus Van Sant Milk
Ron Howard Frost/Nixon
Best Actor
Brad Pitt The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Frank Langella Frost/Nixon
Mickey Rourke The Wrestler
Richard Jenkins The Visitor
Sean Penn Milk
Best Actress
Angelina Jolie Changeling
Anne Hathaway Rachel Getting Married
Kate Winslet Revolutionary Road
Meryl Streep Doubt
Sally Hawkins Happy-Go-Lucky
Best Supporting Actor
Dev Patel Slumdog Millionaire
Heath Ledger The Dark Knight
Josh Brolin Milk
Philip Seymour Hoffman Doubt
Robert Downey, Jr. Tropic Thunder
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams Doubt
Kate Winslet The Reader
Marisa Tomei The Wrestler
Penelope Cruz Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis Doubt
Best Original Screnplay
Burn After Reading
The Wrestler
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Adapted Screenplay
Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Best Animated Feature
Kung Fu Panda
Best Song
"Down To Earth" Wall-E
"Gran Torino" Gran Torino
"Jai Ho" Slumdog Millionaire
"Once In A Lifetime" Cadillac Records
"The Wrestler" The Wrestler

Neal Vitale's Top Records Of 2008

The year just ended, in music as in many other ways, was undistinguished and disappointing. That said, there were still standouts (presented alphabetically):

Beck Modern Guilt
David Byrne And Brian Eno  Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Death Cab For Cutie Narrow Stairs
Emiliana Torrini Me And Armini
Lucinda Williams Little Honey
MGMT Oracular Spectacular
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals Cardinology
The Kills Midnight Boom
The Subways All Or Nothing
TV On The Radio Dear Science
Vampire Weekend Vampire Weekend

Reissues/ Archival Performances/ Rerecordings
Loudon Wainwright III Recovery
Neil Young Sugar Mountain:Live At Canterbury House 1968

Culture Reject Inside The Cinema
Duffy Mercy
Elbow Grounds For Divorce
Emiliana Torrini Me And Armini [Manasseh Mix]
Hot Chip & Peter Gabriel Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Kaiser Chiefs Never Miss A Beat
Kanye West Love Lockdown
Madonna 4 Minutes (feat. Justin Timberlake & Timbaland)
Santogold L.E.S. Artistes
The Black Keys Strange Times
The Raconteurs Old Enough (feat. Ricky Skaggs & Ashley Monroe)
The Raveonettes Aly, Walk With Me


by Craig Reynolds

The Crime of Reason: I attended a great talk by Stanford Professor Robert B. Laughlin, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physics, on the subject of his new book The Crime of Reason: And the Closing of the Scientific Mind. Prof. Laughlin laments the loss of public domain knowledge as more and more critical information is sequestered as a threat to security and commerce. If you research or innovate, you are increasingly seen as a thief or a terrorist. Watch the video, listen to a radio interview or read the book, its an important perspective on our world.

Music: rationality belatedly comes to the music industry's approach to online commerce: The RIAA's About-Face on Lawsuits and Apple Drops Anticopying Measures in iTunes. A book about that long journey: When Labels Fought the Digital, and the Digital Won on Steve Knopper's Appetite for Self-Destruction.

Tech in the real world: applications in civil emergencies: Google search finds missing child and Police Study Way to Jam Cellphones in an Attack. On the MOBVIS system: Hyperlinking the Real World. A virtual world as microcosm: Sony's Home juggles free speech, hate speech. Diversification for a new world: Andy Grove urges Intel to build car batteries. The Submarine cables that tie continents together: The Internet's Undersea World.

Finding commerce in odd places: Firms Make a Killing on i-Phone Apps, YouTube Videos Pull In Real Money and Seeking Profit in the Need for a Bathroom Break.

Technobits: Obama considers linking Defense Dept. with NASA --- Blu-ray Format Struggles With Uncertain Prospects (previously in PSACOT: September, November) --- Google Hopes to Open a Trove of Little-Seen Books --- in case you are worried you are following consumer tech trends obsessively enough: 2009: Products I Can’t Live Without --- Scientists discover true love --- Fun with speed cameras, teen-style.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Reader

2.5 stars out of 5

Paul and I try not to review the same film unless we have significantly differing points of view, or one feels that some aspect of the work needs expansion or clarification. In the case of The Reader, it's simply a matter of my not liking the film nearly as much as Paul seems to have (reviewed in last week's column). Director Stephen Daldry's (The Hours) work has its moments - notably an award-worthy acting job by young German actor David Kross, strong performances in small roles by veterans Lena Olin (Havana, Chocolat) and Bruno Ganz (The Boys From Brazil, The Last Days Of Chez Nous), and a storyline covering nearly four decades that raises complex questions of shame, accountability, and atonement. But The Reader is much too long and, though the sex scenes are done well, they feel gratuitous after the first few. Ultimately, I found the film chilly and emotionally-muted, and was more frustrated than engaged by the ambiguity in the characters' motivations.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Wrestler

3.5 stars out of 5   

The Wrestler combines brave comeback performances by Mickey Rourke (Sin City) and Marisa Tomei (War, Inc., Grace Is Gone), strong work by Evan Rachel Wood (Across The Universe) in a small role, a surprisingly restrained and sensitive screenplay by Robert D. Siegel (former editor-in-chief of The Onion), and solid direction by Darren Aronofsky (Pi) into a powerful, moving film. Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler, struggling with many parts of his life - physical health, livelihood, emotions, relationships - and it is more than a little shocking to recall him in 1980s fare like Diner, Rumble Fish, and 9 1/2 Weeks. The Wrestler has several scenes that are difficult, if not painful, to watch but, as an unvarnished portrait of the "sport" and its participants, it feels realistic and honest.

GHD Kudo, Times Death Rattle, Meg Whitman for Governor? Dan Grobstein File

Groundhog Day, the movie, is one of the 10 best American Movies Ever, according to NY Times blogger Stanley Fish. But I already knew that.

The New York Times sells an ad on the front page. Hear that sound? It's a death rattle.

Ebay's Meg Whitman for California Governor? Actually makes more sense than Arnold. But she really registered Republican to vote for Romney? Already, I question her judgment.

Dan Grostein File

  • OPINION | January 05, 2009
    Paul Krugman: Is Obama relying too much on tax cuts?
    By Paul Krugman
    I don't know yet. But news reports this morning certainly raise questions. Let's lay out the basics here. Other things equal, public investment is a much better way to provide economic stimulus than tax cuts
  • Steve Jobs says he's losing weight because of a hormone imbalance. Really. That's what he says.
  • From The American Prospect:
    The fact that our health system specifically advantages stable jobs at large employers reduces entrepreneurship in all forms. Fewer people can start small businesses, move home to take over their family farm, or spend a couple years trying to make it as a rock band. Economic creativity is reduced across the board. Scraping by on low wages for a few years is one thing. Going without health care, particularly if you're older or have a family, is rather another. It's as true for the young innovator who wants to leave Bell Labs and start his own company as for the tired office worker who'd prefer to return to Nebraska and reinvigorate the farm he grew up on. We have decided to discourage them as a matter of national policy. We have decided to make it easier for ConAgra and harder for family farms. The question is why.