Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar 2012 Live-Blog

So, once again, here I am. In front of the computer and TV screen. I'm not looking forward to the Oscars this year. I mean, I'm looking forward to it. It's all I've talked about for the last month. However, the list of nominees are so mediocre, I know I'm going to be hugely disappointed. Also, I'm not exactly looking forward to Billy Crystal's hacky routine comedy.

But whatever. It's the biggest night of the year for Hollywood. As a movie nerd, I am compelled to watch. And apparently I'm compelled to bitch as well.

8:30 - And here we go.

Morgan Freeman's soulful narration gets us off to a start. 84th ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS BITCHES!

8:31 - Oh no, Crystal has been inserted into the Best Picture nominees. Sigh.

8:32 - It looks like Billy Crystal went back in time, skinned a younger version of himself, and is now wearing that face over his own face.

8:33 - Holy fuck, Justin Bieber. I think I predicted him showing up last year.

Must Crystal trot his ghoulish Sammi Davis Jr. impersonation out every year? Must he?

8:34 - I haven't seen "The Help." Because, fuck no, of course I haven't seen the fucking "Help." But apparently there is some non-intentional corpaphagia involved.

8:35 - And here's a really creepy "Tin-Tin" sketch. My God.

8:36 - It's going to be a long night.

Pun-based humor. Cutting-edge.

8:37 - There's apparently an inherent humor in the word "Baseball." And, at the millionaire jokes, OH SNAP!


If you didn't hear, the solitary two Best Song nominations aren't going to be performed at the show tonight. Clearly, Billy Crystal's singing is a better use of the show's time.

8:40 - Even Marty's kid (granddaughter?) thinks Crystal's jokes are lame. Scorsese's made movies without killing before, you know. Has nobody seen "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore?"

8:41 - Notice Terence Malick did not show up. As expected. Was that Tony Bennett? Or DeNiro? I can't tell anymore.

8:42 - And we're going right into the first category.

That was awkward. Seat-filler humor. Oy.

8:43 - Oh my blood's up now. Cinematography. Let' see how right I'll be tonight.

Really? I mean, "Hugo" sure looked pretty. But I thought the enormous sweeping vistas of "The Tree of Life" were sure to get the award. This doesn't bode well for it winning anything else tonight.

8:44 - That was very short. And were right into the next category. Production design. "The Artist?" Or "Hugo?" Which movie about movies will they go with?

8:45 - "Hugo," it is. I liked it too. But I'm surprised it's all ready being set up to sweep.

These people certainly took their time getting to the microphone.

8:46 - The lady looks nice. Reading your speech right off a cue-card is lazy though. I'm sorry, it just is. Nobody's taking much time at the podium tonight.

8:47 - And you fucking believe they went ahead and nominated Meryl Streep again? Speaking of lazy... She could be in a movie where she does nothing but sit on the john for three hours and she'd still get nominated.

8:50 - And we're back.

8:51 - And that was the second Kodak Theater joke. Do I smell a drinking game? YES I DO!

8:53 - Oscar is always talking about wanting to cut down the run-time of the show, to make sure people don't get bored and tune out early. (Or don't tune in at all.) Well, here's an idea: Why don't you just cut it out with the fucking montages? Do we really need an Tribute to Eyeglasses in Film or whatever? Is this a wise use of the Academy's time?

8:54 - "That's when movies where actually made on film." Was that a joke?

Jennifer Lopez is apparently wearing bathroom floor titling as a dress.

8:55 - Will "Hugo" continue to sweep? I never would have guessed. The fact that "Annoymous" and "W.E." actually got nomination is a bit of a joke. Fuckin' Madonna.

The first of many wins tonight for "The Artist?" Probably.

8:56 - Is it just me or is everyone really rushing through the show tonight? Not that I'm complaining too much. Everyone has been very short and concise.

Jennifer Lopez' boobs are fucking horrifying, by the way.

8:57 - Won't be surprised if "Albert Nobbs" wins Best Make-up, even if Glenn Close didn't look a fucking thing like a woman.

HEY WARWICK DAVIS! Thanks for showing up.

8:58 - Nice asses, ladies.

"The Iron Lady?" Okay, whatever. WHO CARES?

8:59 - Has "The Artist" and "Hugo" encouraged a lot of talking tonight about the MAGICS OF THE MOVIES??? As if the Oscars weren't bloated and self-congratulated enough.

9:00 - Random thoughts: Who the fuck invited Adam Sandler? Brad Pitt can't remember the name of "War of the Gargantuas." Hilary Swank literally looks like Gollum.

9:01 - "Diamonds are Forever" making such a strong impression on a young Adam Sandler might explained why so many of his movies suck.

9:02 - Sandra Bullock is coming up soon. Preparing my gag muscles.

9:03 - As for who is going to win Best Supporting Actress, I have no clue. The girl from "The Artist" was admittedly something of a random guess. Seemed like that was a big, important role. (The kind that should have gotten nominated for Best Actress but the For-Your-Consideration crowd thought she had a better shot in a smaller category.)

9:05 - Aw fuck, Sandra Bullock. DEMON PIG!

9:06 - She looks like she's wearing a curtain. What the fuck happened to her nose? Bad plastic surgery much?

9:07 - "A Separation" is admittedly my clueless guest for who will win in this category.


9:08 - Is this a political speech? I think that guy just avoided having the pay-off music step on his feet.

9:09 - Making fun of Christian Bale's Lighting Rant will never stop being funny. I'm sincere.

9:10 - Is that how you say that lady's name? Good to know. THANKS BATMAN! Jessica Chastain's performance in "The Help" seems to be on the same painful level of awfulness that Sandra Bullock's "Blind Side" performance was on.

9:11 - I haven't seen "Bridemaids" but it looks grotesque. Not an Apatow fan.

9:12 - The Other-Other Lady from "The Help" will probably win.


9:13 - I hope this doesn't mean Viola Davis will win Best Actress. It should really be Michele Williams. I'm going to rage if it isn't.

9:14 - This Octavius lady is having a fucking melt-down here. A crying, blubbering, melt-down.

Interesting music tonight.

9:15 - Over a half-hour in tonight and this shit is incredibly boring. Not really a surprise. As I said in my Nomination Write-Up, this is the year of mediocrity.

9:18 - Is Billy Crystal doing an intentional Christopher Walken impersonation tonight? Holy shit, why isn't Christopher Walken hosting?

9:19 - Is this "Focus Group" thing going to be a bad skit?


9:20 - What the fuck is this? Are these supposes to be jokes?

This is stifling. Holy shit. Who the fuck thought this was a good idea? My god.

9:21 - I am dumbfounded. As if Fred Willard hasn't gone enough to embarrass himself enough over the years.

9:22 - Aw, I was hoping they'd have Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. together again. They kill every year. Bradley Cooper looks really spooky with facial hair. What's the appeal of this guy?

9:23 - I honestly don't know who will win Best Editing. Could be anyone. Hoping for David Fincher's "Dragon Tattoo" team.

9:24 - Holy shit, I called it! Already I think I've beaten my own record. ARROOOO!

9:25 - That was an incredibly nervous acceptance speech. Loved it. Will "Drive" actually win the one category it's nominated in?

9:26 - Another win for "Hugo." This film is crushing all before it. I honestly didn't find its sound editing to be anything special.

Take a drink every time Martin Scorsese gets called "Marty?" Sure!

9:27 - You know things are bad when a Sound Editor is funnier then the host.

Is "Hugo" going to win Sound Mixing too? At this point nothing would surprise me.

9:28 - I'm shocked that this movie is sweeping so totally.

"Marty!" SHOT!

9:29 - It's like there's a stage-hand off-screen pointing a gun at the winners. "You better get through that acceptance speech REAL quick!"

9:30 - Cirque Soliel. Yeah, nobody cares about hearing the Best Original Song nominations in their entirety. But you know what people do care about? Fucking Cirque Soliel. Holy God. The people running this show are incredibly clueless.

9:33 - Just for the record, I'm officially changing my prediction for Best Actor from Brad Pitt to Jean Dujardin. Everyone loves that dude. I'm expecting "The Artist" to win all three of the Big Categories it's nominated for this year. Clearly this is the year for Oscar to honor Movies About Movies. (I guess this doesn't rule out "Hugo" winning Best Picture and Director. They sure do seem to like it a lot.)

9:34 - Muppets! Hoo-ray! Kermit and Piggy are great but they should have fuckin' Statler and Waldorf host the show.

9:35 - What are the odds of one circus clowns falling onto the audience?

9:36 - What the fuck does any of this ass-clownery have to do with the Oscar? GET BACK TO THE SHOW FOR EFF'S SAKE!

9:38 -

9:39 - That music was rather Elfman-esque.

Honestly, it wasn't as bad as the League of Extraordinary Dancers from a few years ago. But it's still an incredible waste of the show's time.

I'm shocked that Crystal is just now getting to his first Jewish joke.

9:40 - Crystal is right. There's an abundance of old farts here tonight.

Okay, Robert Downey Jr. did show up. And what exactly is he doing? Some sort of Terminator walk?

9:41 - Paltrow seems legitimately weirded out by all of this.

9:42 - Is Downey Jr. acting or is he back on the drugs? He's covered in flop-sweat.

I really have no guess for Best Doc winning. "Hell and Back Again" maybe? Didn't get a chance to see any of them.

9:44 - Defining all expectations, Oscar ignored the Important News documentaries in favor of a sports documentary. Maybe "Moneyball" will win Best Picture. I don't know, maybe "Undefeated" is the modern "Hoop Dreams." But I'm guessing it's not.

Did someone swear or did the mic just cut off?


9:45 - Chris Rock has a weird afro thing going tonight. He's kind of funny though.

I wanted to see "Chico and Rita" and "Cat in Paris" but, naturally, it's not playing anywhere near me. Shame, both looked good. "Rango" will still win but Oscar might throw a bone to one of the two foreign cartoons.

9:47 - Told you so. "Rango" was good, don't get me wrong. Frankly it was a bit too smart for its own good though.

I really would have preferred a nomination for "Winnie the Pooh." I liked that one a lot. Total lockout for that one.

9:48 - I never would have guessed Gore Verbinski looks like that. I figured he was some long-haired, facial haired hipster or something.

9:50 - My bet on Best Supporting Actor is still Christopher Plummer. Seems like nobody else has any hype behind them. Granted nobody has seen "Beginners" but that's never stopped Oscar before.

9:51 - So is Melissa McCarthey's how schtick in "Bridemaids" that she's a big fat ugly woman who's also really, really horny? Brilliant! Give that an Oscar!

9:52 - Emma Stone looks nice. Of course. Wow, she's taller then Ben Stiller.

Third laugh of the night. It's a crypt in here.

9:53 - Emma Stone is doing great. The shot of life this show really, really needed.

"You don't want to be the host that tries-to-hard." "Just ask Anne Hathaway!"

9:54 -"Harry Potter" will probably win Visual Effects. But Oscar's going ga-ga for "Hugo." "Planet of the Apes" sure was beloved though. "Real Steel" joins the long line of tradition of random-ass movies that got Oscar nominations.

9:56 - And again with the "Hugo." Jee-whiz, I can't believe this movie is winning all the technical awards it's up for. There were a lot of other movies with better Visual Effects in it then that one. Like "Thor." Or "Captain America." Or some other movie that didn't get nominated.

9:57 - There was a "Marty" in that acceptance speech, by the way. SHOT!

9:58 - Recently rewatched "True Grit." Hailee Steinfield was fucking robbed. Melissa Leo did not deserve to win. No fucking way. Her performance was an over-the-top caricature. With Hailee, you got to see a star being born.

9:59 - What's with the wolf whistle for Jonah Hill? Dude doesn't look that skinnier.

And "Warrior" is another random-ass movie that snagged a nom. I mean, who the fuck even saw that thing? It was "The Fighter" with MMA.

10:01 - I'm happy Christopher Plummer won and not just because it's mean I got another one right. He's a good actor and it seems like a good performance. I'm looking forward to seeing "Beginners."

10:02 - Plummer's speech is great. Very funny, grateful, sincere. Dude has the diction of a Shakespearean orator, of course.

10:03 - Wonderful speech, Mr. Plummer.

10:04 - Martin Scorsese might actually win Best Director at this point. The Academy is way crazier for "Hugo" then I thought.

10:07 - So what celeb death is going to be snubbed at the In Memorium tonight? Patrice O'Neil? Ken Russell? Charles Napier? You can bet your as Whitney Houston won't be, even though she didn't actually die last year and was a terrible actress. The outpouring of grief over someone who was a pop culture punchline weeks before is incredibly distasteful to me.

10:08 - More comedy mugging from Crystal. Was he really the only person available? The Freeman joke was a little funny.

"MARTY!" Shot. The drunker I am, the better.

10:09 - The Nolte grumbling admittedly made me laugh. He's really like that.

10:11 - Thanks for thanking me, Academy Director. I'm glad somebody did.

10:12 - What the hell is this? Giant thing rising out of the floor? How much money did that cost them?

10:13 - Seriously, what was the point of the giant score book rising out of the floor? What did that contribute? Owen Wilson seems so bored he's about to slash his wrists. (Too soon?)

"The Artist" score has got this one in the bag. No way it doesn't.

10:14 - Told you so. All this being right tonight is going to go to my head.

10:15 - This guy's speech was a bit rambling. He came very close to get played off.

10:16 - Yeah, that's how you pay tribute to great film music. Have Will Ferrial and Zach Galifa-use-to-be-a-really-funny-stand-up-comedian-but-now-stars-in-increasingly-weak-movies bang cymbals atonally.


"Real in Rio" was a fucking abortion put to music. How the fuck did that get a nomination but not the "Star-Spangled Man?"

10:18 - "Mildly Overweight Man Fall Down, Fail to Make Funny."

One of the "Flight of the Conchords" winning an Oscar is pretty friggin' cool. What's the odds of Jermaine winning one some day?

10:19 - Honestly, there was never any other shot of somebody else winning this award. "The Muppets" had it from day one.

10:20 - Holy shit, the audience members get snacks? No fair! I want snacks!

10:24 - Despite the show being pretty mediocre, it's going by surprisingly quickly. Can't complain.

10:25 - Even Crystal's gaffs aren't funny.

That slit in Angelina's dress is horrifying. What a fucking miserable dried-up old mummy. Who ever thought she was hot?

10:26 - I guess "Hugo" is going to win best Adapted Screenplay? I still want "Tinker Tailor Solider Spy" to win. That was such an elaborate story. The writer had to keep track of so much.

10:27 - Okay, that was unexpected. Dean Pelton is an Oscar-winner now. I guess "The Descendents" is the kind of sort-of-independent character-study that usually wins the writing awards.

10:29 - Hey, Jeremy Irons is in "Margin Call." Did anybody see that?

10:30 - Holy shit, Woody Allen won an Oscar tonight. That really surprises me. (He didn't even bother to show up.) I think he won by default. Not a lot of competition in that category.

10:31 - Werner Herzog immediately improves everything he shows up in. He should present an award. How fucking awesome would that be? Warren Beatty looks amazingly old.

Seriously, what the hell is Adam Sandler doing here? Why?

10:36 - Milla Jovovich? What? Who invited the star of "Resident Evil: Who Gives a Shit?" Talk about somebody who became a big star by completely random fucking chance.

Is she high right now? She looks high.

10: 38 -
"Sink poopers." That smells like Oscar to me.

"Handsome." Wow, no shit. Did they intentionally ugly these girls up?

10:39 - Dick jokes. At the Oscars.

Apparently "Raju" was winning the Oscar Shorts poll at their website. I really didn't like that one. I want "Tuba Atlantic" to win.

10:40 - "The Shore" wasn't bad. It wasn't the best of this selection. It was the most Oscar-friendly though, I think. Not too shocked it won.

10:41 - Wait, what was the point of that? Beyond the implication that we're all drinking our way through this show.

"God is the Bigger Elvis" was winning the poll at the Oscar Shorts website. I haven't seen any of these so I can't say.

10:43 - Seriously, what the fuck happened to Sandra Bullock's nose? Looks like it's been slit up the middle with a scalpel.

10: 44 - With the exception of "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," none of the Animated Shorts were that good. It really doesn't have any competition in this category.

10:45 - So I'm real glad it just won.

10:46 - I hope these guys go on to make a feature. I like them a lot. Good acceptance speech.

10:48 - Just the Big Four left. I think Oscar is actually running completely on time this year. When has that ever happened before?

10:50 - Oh, Michael Douglas. I thought for a minute they meant Oliver Stone.

A month ago I thought Best Director would go to Terence Malick. A day ago, I figured the French guy would get it. Now? I'm thinking Scorsese might go home with the gold. It's hard to tell.

10:53 - Okay, so my second guess was right. Best Picture (and "The Artist" is going to win Best Picture.) almost always get Best Director too. Malick probably should have gotten it. But he didn't show up anyway, Oscar's thinking, so fuck him.

10:54 - I think that fucking dog is the most famous person to come out of that movie.

10:55 - 17 nominations, Meryl? That's fucking shameful. You could haven't given that spot up for Elisabeth Olsen for "Martha Marcy May Marlene?" Shameful.

10:56 - Dick Smith looks incredibly old. (Because he is.) And he still looks better then Maria Schiver.

10:59 - Oprah Winfrey won a goddamn Honorary Oscar? What the fuck has she ever done for film? Who the hell cares? Christ, I hate that Demon-Cunt so fucking much. Fuck her. She's not a good actress, producer, or anything. She's a self-satisfied, self-deified saint. Nobody else needs to suck Oprah's dick, Oscar. She's build an entire multi-media empire around making people sucking her dick, and then making those people praising her uncontrollably for taking one on the face. Stuff her.

11:03 - Who the hell is this? Nice afro though.

11:04 - Oh yeah, Jane Russell. What a great set of... Acting skills.


I glad Ken Russell wasn't left off.

11:05 - Loosing Peter Falk was a bummer.

What the hell did Steve Jobs have to do with movies?

11:06 - I had forgotten Jackie Cooper passed. That sucks. Who will eat all the cucumber sandwiches now?

11:07 - Charles Napier totally got the shaft. You can be such an asshole, Oscar.

11:11 - They sure are getting a lot of mileage out of that Edward Norton interview.

God, DeNiro looks like he's dying.

PATTON OSWALT! I some glad they made room for him. Great comedian, great film lover.

11:12 - I really believe Billy has no feelings. I think he's a Comedy Robot, forever programmed to 1986.

11:13 - Technically, Natalie Portman didn't play a murderous ballerina. It was all in her mind, you know.

Haven't seen "A Better Life." It won't win.

11:14 - It's coming down to that French dude who's last name starts with a J and Pitt. The Academy loves the Underdog, you know. Right? Surely Clooney won't get it. It was a good performance, but he's all ready won and the film was just shy of mediocre.

11:16 - The sound-filled dream in "The Artist" was such an overwrought moment. Not the best one they could have gone with.

Gary Oldman is the one who deserves to win. What a great performance. He won't win, because Oscar hates me, but he should.

11:18 - Yep, called it. Jean Dujardin gave a good performance, I guess. But it wasn't the best year or even the best of the nominees. I wish the person who actually earned the award would actually get it.


11:19 - Wow, a fifty minute Oscar show. I'm not sure if I would like to see that or not.

11:20 - He gave an okay speech.

Who's the drunken llama yodeling over the music?

11:23 - Things are winding down.

11:24 - I really sincerely hope that Michele Williams wins. She probably won't, because the Academy loves to pretend it cares about black people. But Williams should win.

11:25 - You know, between "The Help" and "Bridesmaids," there has been a lot of poop at the Oscars this year.

Ronny Mara has a really unflattering haircut. For the record, Noomi Rapace probably should have been nominated for the original film.

11:27 - Apparently, I'm not the only one noticing the awful metallic feedback on the microphones tonight. I thought it was just my TV.

And, hell, why I'm here, fuck Meryl Streep. She deserves nothing. STOP HOARDING NOMINATIONS, DRAGON-QUEEN!


11:30 -
Seriously, I just spent the last minute letting off a long cry of obscene gibberish.

11:31 -
Thanks for raising my blood pressure, Oscar. I'm going to drink this whole bottle.

11:32 -
I'm am both incredibly sad and incredibly angry.

11:33 - Tom Cruise? Whatever. Put the bullet in its head, Academy.

11: 35 - Of course.

So what were the pleasant surprises this year? I'm thinking real hard. "Midnight in Paris" winning Best Original Screenplay was a surprise and not a totally unpleasant one. I'm glad "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" won Best Editing. "Hugo" sweeping the technical awards was unexpected and maybe unearned, but it was a movie I enjoyed.

11:37 - I think "The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore" winning Best Animated Short was the only win this night that I'm proud of and think was completely deserved. Christopher Plummer maybe too, though it's not like I've seen the movie. Everything else that won was either unearned (Fucking Meryl fucking Streep), a good film that won in the wrong category ("Hugo"), a good film that was nominated for the wrong thing ("The Muppets"), or something we knew was going to win as a foregone conclusion to the point there was no excitement or interest in it. ("The Artist.")

11:40 - Aside from the bullshit, how was the show? Eh. It started out really bad. All of the pre-taped comedy skits were terrible. Crystal was completely uninteresting. But a surprising number of the presenters were funny or entertaining. They really did cut down on the number of stupid montages no body cared about and I actually liked the pre-taped interviews for the most part. The acceptance speeches were mostly pretty good. There were no hilarious gaffs, outside of Streep fucking winning. I guess it evens out. Big improvement over 2011. Probably on the same level as 2010, maybe slightly above it.

11:43 - All right guys, I'm done. Now that Award Season is over, I can go back to reviewing horror films. (Which I will do, I swear.) As always, thank you so much for reading and watching along with me.


Recent Watches: The Oscar-Nominated Short Films

It’s great that the short films nominated at the Academy Awards are more available to the public now then ever before. Last year, I was able to see the nominated shorts at my local Alamo Drafthouse. (No, I won’t stop talking about the fact that Bum-Fuck Nowhere, Virginia got an Alamo Drafthouse.) Sadly, this year, the Drafthouse didn’t play the shorts. However, the shorts are available through paid OnDemand through my cable. Frankly, I think the shorts should probably be available for free streaming on the Oscar Shorts website, but, whatever. I’m just happy to see them.

Let’s start with the Live Action Shorts:

Pentecost” (Ireland): Set in the 1970s, this short mostly revolves around the idea of contrasting soccer and Catholic mass. A young choir boy made a big mistake at his church and gets in deep trouble with his Dad. However, by luck, he still ends up on his Church’s team.

The whole short builds up to the final image, a visual punchline that brings the film’s two ideas together rather literally. While Andrew Bennet is quite good as the main little boy and Eamonn Hunt has a funny part as a very couch-like priest, the story mostly plays bit like a Shaggy Dog story. It’s cute enough but I’m not sure what was good enough about it to get a nomination. (6/10)

Raju” (India): The premise of this short revolves around a German couple going to India to adopt a little boy. I watch too many horror films, so my first thought was that there must be something sinister about the little boy. The short doesn’t go in that direction, so my second thought was that this must be about rich white folk pretending to care about the poor parts of the world in order to make themselves feel more important. When Dad looses little Raju in the streets of India seemingly minutes after taking him home, I began to wonder if this movie was just about there being a lot of lost kids in India.

Turns out my second thought was the closest one, though there is something vaguely sinister about the adoption, it turns out. The biggest problem with this movie, besides white subtitles appearing over an overly brightly lit flick, is that almost no time is spent on developing the bond between Raju and his new foster parents. Over the span of this 24 minute short, maybe 4 minutes are devoted to the parents' relationship with their new son. So the audience has no emotional connection to the eventually lost boy nor his final fate. Further hindering things is the turgid pacing and overly self-serious direction. This one feels a lot longer then it actually is. (4/10)

The Shore” (Eastern Ireland): The second Irish short tonight. This is also the longest of the films, by a few minutes. It’s a soft, lightly dramatic, somewhat comedic story about family and forgiveness. A lot of mileage is gotten out of the beautiful Irish countryside. The very Celtic score is quite nice as well.

What really sells the film is its capable cast. Ciaran Hinds, who I just saw in a radically different part in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” of all things, plays the main character. His old man features speak a lot and Hinds brings a soft melancholy to the role. Conleth Hill plays the old friend Hinds is considering getting back in touch with. After a bit of a protracted sequence, involving a horse chase over a beach, the two meet and talk for the first time in years. It’s a quietly touching sequence from a quietly touching film.

I’ll admit, this one was harder to get into because of all the very thick Irish accents on display. But once you get use to the broughs, it becomes a charming story of brotherhood lost and found again. (7/10)

Time Freak” (USA): Comprised of solely three cast members, this is a very funny sci-fi story. I do love me some time travel tales. This 11 minute short gets a lot of mileage out of its interesting take on the whole idea of time travel: That when you travel back in time, that one version of you is the only one that can visit in that timeline. This essentially means you can go back to the same place in time over and over again with no issues.

When placed in the hands of an incredibly neurotic scientist, played by Michael Nathanson, this means mostly going back to correct tiny mistakes over and over again. Oh, it’s a funny premise and the film sets it up fantastically. John Conner Brooke is very funny as the straight man in this scenario. “Time Freak” is mostly pretty light-weight but it is a clever, highly amusing slice of “what-if?” sci-fi. (7/10)

Tuba Atlantic” (Norway): At first, I was worried this one was going to lay the quirkiness on way too thick. On paper, it reads very wacky. It’s about an old man who suddenly discovers he only has six days left to live. This old man really, really hates seagulls and has a giant tuba overlooking the Norwegian coast in his backyard. That’s not even the crux of the story. The main point of the film revolves around the relationship between the old man and the teenage girl sent to his home by the local church, to be his personal “Angel of Death.” Got all of that? It’s pretty impressive how dense some of these shorts can be.

While that might all read like a bunch of trying-too-hard self-aware quirkery, the final result is surprisingly touching. Grumpy old man, Oskar, is quickly revealed to have some emotional trauma in his past and suddenly very little time to be at rest with it. His Angel of Death, Inger, actually isn’t very good at her job, since all of her previous cases lived. The two soon formed an odd friendship, as you’d expect. However, the performances by Edvard Haegstad and Ingrid Viken really make it works. The movie successfully creates its own, slightly strange little universe. The tuba ends up playing a really big part in the finale and the whole thing wraps up in a surprisingly touching way.

By the end, I think this ended up being my favorite of the nominees. (8/10)

So who will win? I really have no idea. There’s none of the politics involved with the shorts that are so heavily involved in all the other Academy categories. Furthermore, the majority of this year’s shorts are comedic, or at least light-hearted, in nature. The only one you can really rule out is “Pentecost,” which is just way too light-weight. Honestly, “The Shore” seems most like Oscar’s things, but I’m personally rooting for either “Tuba Atlantic” or “Time Freak.”

Now let’s talk about the animated shorts. Only four of the nominees where presented in the OnDemand package. Pixar’s “La Luna” is being packaged with “Brave” later this year, which is why I guess it’s not included here. :

Sunday” (Canada): This reminds me a little bit of the kind of animation you use to see on Cartoon Network’s “O Canada!” series. (In style anyway. Those cartoons were generally a lot more twisted.) It’s an odd little story about a little boy living in an odd town and the bad luck of the animals around him. There are a couple funny elements, like a mounted bear head who is actually just a bear sticking his head through the wall. But I’ll admit to not really getting the point of this one. Pretty animation though. (5/10)

A Morning Stroll” (UK): Set over three time periods, this is a funny little story about an unusual little chicken. What’s really interesting about this one is that each time period is done in a different animation style. The 1959 sequence is done in black-and-white traditional animation with simplistic, stick-figure style character designs. The 2009 sequence is done in CGI animation and full of vibrant, bright colors. The 2059-set scene takes place in a desolate zombie apocalypse.

This one seems to function under a simple joke set-up. Show a scenario twice through, with things going mostly the same way, while the third version of the scenario goes very differently. While it has a funny enough set-up and pay-off, there’s not too much more to this one. (6/10)

Wild Life” (Canada): Another Canadian short. The must striking one about this is its visual style. It’s animated with a paint-on glass style you see pop up every once in a while in indie animation. The effect makes the movie look like a constantly moving painting.

The story is an odd one though. It details a young British man with dreams of leaving his home country and becoming a cowboy. Where does he go to accomplish this goal? Canada. While that’s a funny enough set-up, and there’s some amusing interviews with the other people who live in the town, this one ends up not going much of anywhere. There are interstationals with scientific facts about comets throughout the film. This ties into the ending, but mostly comes off as unneeded. I wasn’t too impressed with this one. (5/10)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” (USA):
Definitely the stand-out short. The beautiful CGI story, which looks a lot like Pixar, is a surreal little parable about the beauty and magic of books. There’s a bit that plays like “The Wizard of Oz” in reverse: Someone starts out in a world of color, before getting swept up in a tornado and winding up in a black-and-white place. Eventually he winds up in a magical book store full of books that act like living, breathing creatures. I don’t want to spoil too much about the story and instead recommend seeking it out.

I liked this one a lot. It’s lyrical, sweet, poignant, funny, and, for a book-lover like myself, admittedly left me a little weepy eyed. Totally check it out. (9/10)

In addition to the four nominees shown, three Highly Commended shorts where shown as well. “Skylight” was light, funny, and a bit on the twisted side. “The Hybrid Union” was a odd little story that might be a metaphor about hybrid car technology, I think? It’s funny and cute but didn’t really impress me. “Amazonia” was a bit like classic “Looney Tunes” style slapstick. It’s fun enough but the extremely bright visuals and fluffy character design set you back some. I would have liked to have seen a nomination for “Skylight,” to tell the truth. But the other two definitely should have been passed over.

Something I noticed about the Animated Shorts is that common themes run throughout the films. Each one has a nostalgic component in them or deals with death in some way. Animals are featured in three of them. (And two of the Commended shorts.) Sort of funny how that happened.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the Live-Action Shorts but kind of disappointed by the Animated Shorts. Last year’s crop was superior.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recent Watches: My Week with Marilyn

No actress cast a bigger shadow in the American film industry then Marilyn Monroe. Which is, honestly, kind of strange when you think about it. She wasn’t the best actress of all time, even of her era. The definition of what is sexy in this country has change so much since then, you can’t even say she’s the ultimate American ideal of beauty. But Monroe did define what the modern sex symbol is. Her combination of sexuality, humor, and vulnerability is the standard hundreds of young starlets have tried to emulate ever since. Considering her iconic status, it’s no surprise there’s been many film takes on her life.

My Week with Marilyn” isn’t a bio-film of the legendary actress. Instead, appropriately, it’s about how someone else observed her. About the feelings other people see in her and apply to her. Well, that’s what an icon really is, isn’t? Nobody becomes famous unless it’s more about us, then them.

The film is based off of two different autobiographical books by the same author, Colin Clark, the protagonist of the movie. The first, “The Prince, The Showgirl, And Me: The Colin Clark Diaries,” was written in the moment as the young author lived it. It mostly consists of the author criticizing and complaining about the people around him while detailing his numerous sexual affairs. The second novel was written years after the fact and reimagines our narrator as, basically, a fan-fiction Mary Sue: Someone who has all the answers to everybody’s problems. The movie mostly does away with either interpretation in favor of its own: A smiling kid full of energy, willing to do just about anything to break into film. Colin Clark, as played by Eddie Redmayne, is immediately likable. He’s got a kind of infectious energy about him. The way he forces himself into the movie business, just by sheer wide-eyed determination, is sort of inspiring, in a way.

That energy translates to the direction of the film, too. The opening minutes really drawl you in. The movie starts out feeling like a highly nostalgic, light comedy. The cutting is quick without becoming distracting. If the intention was to put the audience in the mindset of a fresh-faced kid looking to get into the movie business, mission accomplished. Not even a wholly tacked-on, completely unnecessary voiceover can damage that.

Once Michele Williams as Marilyn Monroe enters the film, things take a turn. The movie immediately treats Marilyn as a magical presence. From the first scene of her walking off of a plane, the camera adores her. Michele Williams sells it fantastically with just her body language. She embodies the grace and humor associated with the iconic actress. Williams’ easily suggest Monroe’s natural grace and charisma. It’s hard not to take your eyes off of her. The boy is immediately smitten with her and so is the film. Despite lacking most of Monroe’s signature curves, Williams otherwise perfectly looks the part.

The film quickly establishes Monroe’s vulnerability. She seems unwilling to live up to her own glamorous legacy, though the film goes far out of its way to paint her as nothing but glamorous. She’s a bit chewed-up by the filmmaking process. After building her up into an icon, the film seems to enjoy humanizing her. She forgets her lines, is extremely nervous, uncertain of herself.
A montage of blinking camera flashes is a cheap but totally effective way to visually illustrate the constant attention on the actress. She is painted as someone in constant need of reassuring, a plastic bubble always threatening to break.

Colin quickly falls in love with Marilyn. The production is troubled almost immediately. Director Lawrence Oliver is part of the old school methods of acting, while Monroe is working hard on reinventing herself as a serious actress. Paula Strasberg is by her side everyday on the set and quickly becomes a wedge separating her from the rest of the cast and crew. Trouble boils over further when Monroe’s new husband Arthur Miller leaves town. Soon, young Colin becomes her confident. He feels like he’s the only one that understands her, which is, of course, how everyone feels when falling in love for the first time. Their flirtation reaches it peak during the titular week-long vacation. Colin and Marilyn tour an old castle and go skinny-dipping. More then once, when confronted with a crowd of star struck fans, Monroe slips into her public persona, flirting it up for cameramen or a group of schoolboys. The film certainly toys with the implication that Marilyn is intentionally manipulating Clark, simply using him as a disposable crutch she needed at the moment. There’s enough ambiguity in Williams’ performance that it might be true as well. It adds complexity to the final film, even if it’s mostly implied.

Despite the film’s mostly nostalgic and love-drunk tone, the spectre of Monroe’s inevitable death hangs over the whole thing. Her drug and alcohol abuse aren’t shied away from. She’s frequently late to set and her apartment is full of empty pill bottles. When, looking at old photographs, she says something akin to “I hope I never live to be 400,” it can’t help but be somewhat eerie. She can’t be saved.

Aside from Williams’ ace lead performance, the film’s supporting cast is full of wonderful players as well. Redmayne certainly makes for a likable, relatable lead. Fellow Oscar-nominee Kenneth Branagh lays it on a bit thick at times. However, as the film goes on, he gets better. A pissed-off Branagh is a more entertaining Branagh. His hammed-up moments are the best ones. Judi Dench is father wonderful in a brief role, effortlessly charming. She immediately jumps to defend Marilyn from the at-times overzealous Oliver. Emma Watson plays a role removed enough from her famous Hermione, though not removed from her overly frizzy eyebrows. Her girl next door cuteness is a direct contrast with Monroe’s unattainable beauty. Her role doesn’t serve much of a purpose beyond that one. Toby Jones shows up too, but that’s just because Toby Jones has to show up in fucking everything these days.

The ending of the film definitely puts too fine a point on the main theme, as does the movie overall. Additionally, that ending stretches on about ten minutes longer then it should. It’s never a good thing when you’re thinking, “If it ends now, that would be perfect,” and the thing keeps on going. The pre-credits “What happened next” subtitles were completely inessential. Overall, as is frequently the case with Oscar-bait, “My Week with Marilyn” is a pretty decent, pretty good, film that happens to feature an excellent performance. Michele Williams better win Best Actress.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Recent Watches: 2/16/12

Tomas Alfredson impressed me, and many other horror fans, with his debut picture, “Let the Right One In.” So I found myself excited for his next film, and English language debut, “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy,” even if straight-laced espionage flicks aren’t really my thing and it had a ridiculous title.

On a strictly visual level, Afredson impresses with this newest film. The snowy, freezing Swedish winter infused every frame of “Let the Right One In.” “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” is similarly chilly in a different way. A stone-cold atmosphere of paranoia, deceit, and discomfort hangs over the entire movie. Every person operates in a guarded manner. The film certainly puts the “cold” in “cold war.”

Moreover, there’s some wonderful shots in the movie. Twice, the camera pulls back between the frames of a window, disorienting the viewer. There’s the reoccurring shot of a file riding a dumbwaiter up through a building. This visual motif seems to pay off near the end when an elevator door opens behind a man, revealing another man standing behind him. Overall, this is a fantastically shot film. Just as the studied, stern men of the movie control every thing they do, every shot is similarly calculated and controlled.

The story is a bit hard to follow. The basic premise, of a veteran British intelligence officer trying to sniff out a deep-set Soviet double agent, seems simple enough. However, there’s a lot going on in the film. Spy lingo, like “Control,” “Circus,” “Witchcraft,” “Karla,” not to mention everyone’s names, are thrown around with little explanation. There’s a number of flashbacks woven throughout the story too, some of them popping up unexplained, to the point where it’s not always easy to figure out what’s happening in the present. The majority of the spying and investigating in this film has more to do with people sitting in rooms and talking to each other then it does with shoot-outs. All of this is excluding the fact that, by the nature of the story, there’s just a lot of back-story, investigating, dead ends, red herrings, and false fronts here. So this is definitely a movie that demands your attention. Even if you’re paying close attention, there’s still some stuff you’re likely to miss. Apparently, labyrinthine plots are trademarks of John le Carre’s source novels.

When you can see through the fog, the story is quite captivating. It’s easy to get involved in all the twists, turns, and reveals, even if you don’t always follow it. In particular, a climatic scene of a man with important information slowly cracking under the subtle, screw-turning pressure of hero George Smiley, is quite good. The resolution wrap-up montage are set to the original French version of “Beyond the Sea.”

Mark Strong’s character is vital but is only in about a third of the movie. The scenes of him working at a secluded British prep school are fascinating, while the short sequences of his brutal interrogation at Soviet hands is quite harrowing without showing much. In an interesting move, there are reoccurring flashbacks to a Christmas party at British Intelligence, showing George Smiley and his co-workers in more disarmed moments.

The cast really holds it together. It’s movies like this that make me wish the Oscars had a Best Ensemble category. This is an all-star list of British thespians. Gary Oldman, frequently so big, is mild-mannered, quiet, terse, controlled, even ordinary, as protagonist Smiley. He is a master observer, always watching his fellow man. For clues? Or is it just in his nature? In addition to Oldman and Strong, other great actors like John Hurt, Toby Jones, Colin Firth, future Batman villain Tom Hardy, and the man with the most British name in the world, Benedict Cumberbatch, round out the incredibly capable cast. This is a straight-up espionage thriller. It doesn’t take a lot of time to examine the morality of spying or the humanity of the men who do it. It’s up to the actors to suggest and hint at such things.

Considering all the award buzz it received, I was a bit surprised to find out “Tinker Tailor Solider Spy” is such a pure genre exercise, albeit an incredibly restrained one. It’s not light viewing but does provide plenty of thrills of a very cerebral nature. (7/10)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recent Watches: 2/12/12

George Clooney is an interesting A-List star actor. With his matinee idol looks and his incredible charm, he could have easily slummed into a series of lazy, cash-grabbing roles. (And occasionally does.) Instead, he’s mostly used his pull and talent to make smaller, quirkier films, occasionally winning awards along the way.

The latest thing he’s done is “The Descendents.” Based off a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, the film roots itself in the rich history of Hawaii. The first thing it does is remind viewers that Hawaii isn’t all beaches and vacation spots. There are cities, full of miserable people, in miserable nine-to-five jobs. From there, the story focuses on Matt King, a man with problems. His wife is in a coma and he just recently discovered that she was cheating on him at the time of her accident. He has a tumultuous relationship with both of his daughters, rebellious teenager Alex and quirky ten year old Scottie. On top of all of this, he finds himself the sole head of a family trustee group, stretching back to the very origins of the island as a part of the United States, deciding whither or not to sell a piece of untouched Hawaii land. All of this is sturdy ground to build a film on, dramatic, comedic, or otherwise.

It’s not new territory for director Alexander Payne. The film frequently plays like a less-funny version of Payne’s “About Schmit.” “Less-funny” is an important distinction, since “About Schmit” was a frequently hilarious but also deeply sad film all about regret and the fear that life is meaningless. Despite being advertised as a comedy, “The Descendents” is a bit of a drag. Clooney’s Matt King is a sad-sack, listless man, full of impotent rage, cracking under the weight of his responsibilities. His oldest daughter is a brat, swearing, drinking, challenging him constantly, and even dragging her clueless male friend along on family duties. Younger Scottie is undeniably weird. Honestly, the way little Amanda Miller plays it, you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the girl grows up to be a serial killer.

All of this is established even before we find out that his comatose, dying wife was screwing around on them. At this point, a deeply suppressed, barely contained anger works its way into the film. The movie attempts to sum up all the grief, hurt, and betrayal such a scenario would create. While it does occasionally succeed, these heavy themes end up dragging the film down. Far too much of the film’s run time is composed of very sad people not being allowed to be very sad. “The Descendents” probably should have been about that emotional repression. Instead, it just lets that stuff slide off its back, not wanting to distract from the real story of a father getting back in touch with his estranged daughters, an idea no other screenwriter has ever had in the history of Hollywood, ever.

It’s really not until the end of the movie, when Clooney finally meets up with the man responsible for cuckolding him, that things pick up some. The man in question has a family himself, a very happy one, and a hugely successful business. (One that ties into the mostly tenuous land-deal subplot.) Here the movie finally addresses the messed-up storm of emotions its story has raised, answering some of it with a satisfying, mature ambiguity. There’s a hint of romance between Clooney and the man’s wife, played by an underutilized Judy Greer. Ultimately, it’s Greer who sets up the deeply needed, much appreciated catharsis that drives this middling film to its far-better conclusion.

None of the faults lie with the cast. Clooney is, as always, excellent, really showing off the wrinkles in his face and happily cracking up his movie-star facade. Shailene Woodley is especially good as the oldest daughter. Despite the character being unlikable, Woodley plays her as a real firecracker, someone who doesn’t spare the words or emotions that everyone else in the film contains. I’m surprised she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. Robert Forster has a very funny supporting role as Clooney’s father-in-law. Like his granddaughter, he doesn’t suffers fools and let’s everybody known when he doesn’t like the cut of their jib. His interaction with clueless stoner Sid provides some of the film’s all-too-few laughs. You can’t even blame director Payne, who shoots the movie with an assured hand, letting the gorgeous Hawaiian landscape speak for itself. Similarly, the Hawaiian influenced score helpfully speaks to the emotional side of the movie, went it’s allowed.

Nope, it’s the script, written by Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim “Lean, Mean, Dean-ing Machine” Rash. The movie stuffs Clooney’s mouth with an unnecessary, exposition-heavy voiceover, which brings to mind Harrison Ford’s laconic narration in the theatrical cut of “Blade Runner.” Luckily, that’s dropped before the movie is over. What isn’t dropped is the land trust subplot which, generally, adds nothing to the film, other then giving Beau Bridges a reason to show up. The additional story further drags down an already drag-y film. Moreover, it provides an easy, loaded precursor to the story’s inner-thoughts. You know that Clooney’s decision on what to do with the land will tie in neatly with whither or not he forgives his wife for her indiscretions. So, “The Descendents” is mediocre material propped up by an excellent class and pretty direction. Something that can be sadly said for far too much of the Oscar bait out there. (6/10)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Recent Watches: 2/1/12

There’s no shortage of movies about movies. Wither you’re talking about films about actors, directors, writers, or even the occasional metatextual comment on the format itself, you can find plenty. Something else there’s no shortage of are rise-fall, and usually, rise again stories. I’ll go ahead and factor in stories about the Golden Age of filmmaking too. The point of this is, “The Artist” is not exactly exploring new territory here. It’s a film concerned with the past.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing, of course. The delight of a film doesn’t necessarily have much to do with its subject matter. And, no kidding, “The Artist” is rather delightful in spots. In its opening sequence, silent movie star George Valentine, after a successful screening of his latest adventure hit, does a tap dance across a stage before an adoring, applauding audience. He clowns around and mugs for the audience, doing tricks with his little dog, them loving it all along. Another joyous moment, involves the first encounter between Valentine and Peppy, an adoring fan and aspiring actress herself. The meeting is accidental and, after the two literally bump into each other, you wonder how Valentine will react. Will he be the egotistical actor cliché? It’s a genuine moment of mild suspense and when Valentine laughs it off and proceeds to mug with his new friend. Honestly, the relationship between Valentine and Peppy is the heart of the film and the scenes of the two interacting, such as a sweet moment when he finds her in his dressing room, are some of the film’s best moments. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo both have a lot of charm and chemistry.

However, it’s not hard to figure out where the story is going. Bejo is a star on the rise while Dujardin is all ready pass his prime. The film is set on at the end of the silent era and the beginning of talkies. Naturally, Dujardin’s Valentine is forgotten, washed-up, and falls on hard times while his once protégée surpasses him in fame and recognition. The film leans even harder on the death of silent film. George Valentine dismisses sound as a fad, sinks his own money into a destined-to-flop passion project silent epic. In a moment of exceedingly loaded visual symbolism, Dujardin has a dream where everyone can talk but him Later, he focuses on a cop’s flapping lips, apparently being unable to understand what he’s saying. The film falls into melodrama quickly. Considering this is a homage to golden age era melodramas, I guess I can’t really complain about that. Still, sequences of a drunken Valentine searching a burning building for a single film can or uncovering a room full of his old possessions lay it on a bit thick.

The movie does look fantastic. It perfectly captures the look and feel of silent cinema while convincingly looking the part. Since there’s (almost) no spoken dialogue, music is hugely important and Ludivic Bource’s score is fantastic. It evokes the era while filling in the missing emotions the lack of speech creates. The supporting cast is solid too, including a haggard John Goodman as your typical studio exec and James Cromwell as an overly loyal butler. The dog is adorable too.

I enjoyed “The Artist” a lot but it’s not a deep film. Visually fantastic, quite stirring, and leads up to a triumphant finale, it’s ultimately just dressing on a story we’ve seen and heard a thousand times before. It’s certainly very entertaining but the excessive amount of hype is misplaced. It’s still going to win best picture though. (7/10)