Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, February 24, 2013


8:18 - Tonight's the night. After a month and a half of anticipation, Oscar Sunday has arrived. (Oscar Sunday is like Superbowl Sunday for movie nerds.) In the time between, I managed to watch the majority of nominations in the major categories. I didn't make it to "Flight" or "The Impossible," due to a combination of lack of time and (mostly) lack of interest. I did see "The Sessions," which I liked. John Hawkes probably deserved an nomination and, in a year with less competition, he probably would have. I liked Helen Hunt, by the way. She won't win.

Also in the time between, the tides has turned in terms of predictions. When I did my write-up, "Lincoln" was the clear lock for Best Picture and Jessica Chastain was the favorite to win Best Actress. Now, the tides have turned in favor of Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Argo" for Best Picture. Lawrence will probably win, it's looking, but I'm sticking with "Lincoln" for the top prize. If the Academy liked "Argo" as much as everyone thinks they did, it would have gotten more nominations.

8:20 - "Les Mis" better not win Best Picture. I mean, it probably won't. But Oscar has shown a weakness for glitzy musicals before. This is the same Academy that gave Best Picture to fuckin' "Chicago" after all.
But if it does win, I'll have a seizure.

8:22 - I've got a bottle of Scotch next to me. I'M READY FOR YOU, OSCAR! ARE YOU READY FOR ME?

8:23 - I'm apprehensive about Seth MacFarlane hosting. I don't like him, to be kind, but his love of old Hollywood musicals probably makes him an okay choice for host. There will probably be a lot of singing tonight. Lots. Hence the Scotch.

8:25 - I dislike watching the Red Carpet show, by the way. These ladies are annoying.

8:27 - It's unreasonable how excited I get for the Oscars. I know it's not going to end well, that boredom and probable pain will follow. Yet, here I am, eagerly counting down the minutes to the start. Sigh.


Cue the sparkly set!

The first Tommy Lee Jones joke of the night?

8:31 - I doubt a billion people are watching, Seth.

Oh joy, a tribute to music on film. Told you there'd be lots of singing.

First Affleck joke of the night? (He was snubbed by the way.)

8:32 - Okay, that was funny. Hollywood accountants are evil.

I know he's being sarcastic but the post-Oscar slump is very common. Look at Halle Berry.

8:33 - Seth's nervousness is visible.

And, hey, the "Daniel Day Lewis in character as Lincoln" jokes aren't old yet.

8:34 - Oh, Jesus Christ, really? A Chris Brown / Rihanna joke? Seriously?

Oh my God, really? A Mel Gibson joke? In 2013? It's going to be a long night.

8:35 -  Holy shit, it's William Shatner! The first of many awkward pop culture references?

8:36 - Shatner is looking awfully bloated and red these days.

Tina Fey should host the show someday. I've been saying this for about three years now.

8:37 - Oh joy.  A song about boobs. Classy. Was that Reese Witherspoon reaction shot real?

It's a shame too because Jennifer Lawrence's boobs are quite nice.

8:38 - The lack of laughter in the audience seems genuine.

Really? They're committing to this, huh?

8:39 - Channing Tatum's dancing isn't as bad as you'd expect.

Between Theron and Hathway, it's the year of short haired woman at the Oscars. Not complaining.

8:40 - Okay I laughed.

They really are committing to this, aren't they?

8:41 - Aw man, now I wish I had watched "Flight."

We didn't think it would be possible but Seth MacFarlane has incorporated Manatee Gags into the Oscars.

8:42 - What the hell is wrong with Joesph Gordon-Levitt's face? Also, Harry Potter is short.

8:43 - This intro is really stretching on.

He's hardly the first host to ever get a bad review, Bill.

8:44 - Holy shit, he is totally doing a Manatee Gag! ON THE FUCKING OSCARS! And old TV references! ARRGGH!

Cut away. CUT AWAY!

8:45 - A "Smokey and the Bandits" reference. Fresh.

Amy Adams is pretty intense. She probably would bite someone.

8:46 - Seriously, start the goddamn show. MY PATIENCE HAS ALL READY BEEN TESTED!

Not a single laugh at the Joaquin crack.This is going to be a long ngiht.

8:47 - Seth's petty grudge against Entertainment Weekly is pathetic.

Okay, so the show is actually fucking starting now? Good.

Tommy Lee Jones is probably going to win, first choice. Christolph Waltz, second choice.

8:48 - Arkin was good, even if he was doing the same schtick he's done in countless films. DeNiro was good too, actually acting for the first time in a few years. He won't win.

8:49 - Seriously, why wasn't "The Master" nominated for Best Picture? Best film of 2012. Is that Seymour's kid? Cute kid.

Tommy Lee Jones found a good fit for his grouchy old man bit in "Lincoln." And Waltz is constantly awesome.

8:50 - And the winner is? 

Holy shit! Christolph Waltz won! Big surprise! Maybe "Django Unchained" will actually win some other stuff tonight!

8:51 - Waltz is as surprised as everyone else. His first speech was better. A little too much thanking for my taste. "Couldn't resist." He's still awesome.

8:52 - Once again, Oscar has found a way to subvert my expectations. I never get it right.

8:55 - So what is this year's drinking game for me? Take a looooong shot for every musical number? Every time Seth makes a stall, unfunny pop culture reference? Okay, I can agree to that.

8:56 - I'm sorry, Melissa McCarthey's "obnoxious fat lady" schtick isn't funny in the least. She was better on "Gilmore Girls." This voice gag thing isn't very good.

8:57 - Is this the year awkward comedy comes to the Oscars? I'm not exactly celebrating.

Oooh, Animated Shorts! "Adam and Dog" should win! 

8:58 -

"Paperman" was really good and I liked it a lot but "Adam and Dog" was the clear winner. A little bummed. Am I going to get anything right tonight?

8:59 - Going straight into Animated Feature. I'm still betting on "Brave" but any one of them could get it.

Okay, I got one right. Not too surprised. Pixar is always a good bet.

Good on that guy for actually wearing a kilt.

9:00 - No need to shout, Kilt Guy. We can hear you. Most of these acceptance speeches are going to be long thank yous, aren't they?

So what the hell happened to Reese Witherspoon? Haven't seen her in anything recently. And "Life of Pi" was hardly one of the most original films of the year.

9:01 - "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was actually a real independent film. Glad to see that term isn't being abused tonight. Not yet anyway.

9:02 - So are the Best Songs nominees going to be performed in full tonight? I can't see Oscar missing the chance to get Adele to perform on stage.

9:03 - "Beasts of the Southern Wild" was overrated. Good, but overrated. Not exactly shocked to see that Oscar loved it. It's feeds into a lot of their favored subjects.

9:04 - Is that how you pronounce that? The "Q" is silent.

Seth must really want to bang Jennifer Lawrence. He keeps talking to her.

9:05 - That's not all of "The Avengers," Seth.

9:06 - Jeremy Renner: Funniest man at the Oscars.

Didn't see "Anna Kerinawhatever."

"Life of Pi" is going to win this one.

9:07 - Hey, two for two! This guy has got a beautiful flock of silver hair.

9:08 - Fumble, fumble. It's okay to be nervous, Silver Mane. I would be too.

Dustin Hoffman is looking large.

9:09 - That's how you do awkward humor, guys. These five are aces.

I hope "The Avengers" win.

9:10 -  Lame. But I'm not surprised that "Life of Pi" is sweeping the technical categories, even if it hardly deserves them. The Academy wouldn't know quality special effects if they flung tiger piss into their faces.

9:11 - "You thought this tiger was real? Nooope, it's fake."

Oh man, first music play-off of the night! The "Jaws" overture has never been more foreboding. It's a shame too because I was actually enjoying that speech. Oscar is such a dick, playing people off like that.

9:12 - I'm taking a shot for that, by the way. My Drinking Game always evolves as the night goes on.
9:15 - Not a single laugh for the "Magic Mike" joke. The audience hates Seth almost as much as I do.

9:16 - Could Channing Tatum be more wooden? Eeessh.

9:17 - No idea who is going to win Costumes. "Les Mis?" "Lincoln?" So many costume dramas.

Yeah, thanks for telling us what movie she's nominated for. I didn't see that one.

9:18 - Short, sweet, and too the point. Good speech.

9:19 - The Make-Up nominations are pretty dull this year. Anthony Hopkins didn't look a thing like Hitchcock.

Really? I mean, I'm sure movie Make-up isn't a walk in a part but you've got a movie that makes normal people look like orcs and goblins and a movie that makes pretty people look like poor people in 1800s France. Seems unfair.

9:20 - And my TV just froze. Anybody else getting this?

Okay, it's back. I guess we just aren't going to hear that speech.

 9:21 - Was that a bulemia joke? Halle Berry was a terrible Bond Girl. Halle Berry is terrible in general.

Nice shoulder pads, Jinx..

9:22 - SLIP. Wow, nearly an hour in and we're just now getting to the first montage. That's a good thing, I'm guessing.

9:23 - I'll use this oppretunity to announce that I just recently got the James Bond Blu-ray box set and a Series Report Card is forthcoming later in the year. Probably late summer. LOOK FORWARD TO THAT!

9:24 - This isn't bad, as far as Oscar montages go. You'd have to work hard to screw up Bond music and opening sequences.

Oh hai, Shirley Bassey. Didn't know you were a Dame.

9:25 - Her voice holds up pretty well. She can still hit those high notes.

9:27 - I approve of this performance. Let's see Adele top that. 

9:31 - We're back. 

Not the writers.

9:32 -  I keep forgetting Jaime Foxx is an Oscar-winner. "Ray" seems like a long time ago now. When Django tells you to pay attention, you pay attention, n____.

9:33 - I hope "Curfew" wins, even if it probably won't. "Henry' is my bet.

HOLY SHIT! The best film actually won for once! Awesome! Let's see a feature from this kid.

9:34 - Solid speech. The little girl in "Curfew" did give a great performance.

9:35 - I didn't see the Documentry Shorts. They aren't distributed with the rest of the shorts. They should work on fixing that in the future.

That speech came awfully close to getting political.

9:37 - The Harvey Weinstein joke means a SHOT! Last I checked, Liam Neeson wasn't a superhero. Or American.

9:40 - Remember when "Zero Dark Thirty" was the top picture of the year and going to sweep the Oscars? 

9:41 - Seth is tanking pretty hard. He can't even win them over with a John Wilkes Booth joke. 

9:42 - SHOT! A Kardashian joke? At the Oscars? Even Seth seems unsure of that one. 

9:43 -  Oh, that should have gotten a bigger laugh. Affleck is a funny guy. I legit like "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back."

"Searching for Sugar Man" is my official bet for Documentary, "The Invisible War" second choice. Unless one of the movies I didn't see wins.

9:44 - Yeah, that was pretty clear. "Searching for Sugar Man" was the doc of 2012. I guess Rodriguez isn't at the show tonight.

9:45 - Who is that guy in the back ground? The bouncer?

Holy shit, it is the bouncer! Are they going to play the "Jaws" music every time they kick someone off the stage? I'll admit, that's an affective tactic. SHOT, by the way.

9:48 - If you're curious by the way, my prediction are four against four at the moment.

9:49 - Oh shit, Seth's first real laugh of the night! Good for him.... Nah.

Holy shit, Jennifer Gardner is huge.

I don't see any other movie besides "Amour" winning Foregin Language Film.  

9:50 - That's how you pronounce Haneke's name? Go figure.

That was another easy one to call.

9:51 - Do you think Michael Haneke tortured rats as a kid? Just throwing that out there. "Shank you."

9:52 - The orchestra has been nice tonight, Seth. Listen to them just play right over him.

John Travoltra danced his way in. Nice toupee, Vincent Vega. It looks like it's made of plastic.

9:53 - Not that he needed anymore spring in his step. (Sorry, that was a little low.)

9:54 - Seriously, have you guys seen "Chicago" recently? It's kind of a piece of shit. A pretty piece of shit but never the less.

9:55 - Mrs. Michael Douglas looks good but she has looked better in the past.

9:56 - If they waste our time with stuff like this and don't perform the best song nomination, I'm going to be... You know, upset.

We get it, Oscar. You like musicals.

9:57 - Hey, here's homages to movies that aren't even a decade old. This is a valuable use of the ceremony's time.

9:58 - I've never seen "Dreamgirls." I bet I wouldn't like it.

9:59 -  I do say, that Jennifer Hudson madam has a propensity for striking high notes for extended periods of time.

10:00 - Serious, if "Les Mis" wins Best Picture, I'm just going to... Probably jump around in a rage. But I'll be thinking something much worse, I promise you that.

10:01 - Okay, while Wolverine warbles along, here's another bone I have to pick with "Les Miserables." The guy fell in love with that kid immedately. It's nice how the film so blatantly cuts around the awkward "new parent" stage. Just another reasons while that film is so fucking thin and weak. What a piece of shit.

10:02 - Oh fuck, can we please skip this? A celebration of recent musicals was not necesssary, guys.

10:03 - Hathaway is gorgeous, by the way. Then again, she could wear a hollowed-out sheep carcus and still glimmer like a star on the horizon.

10:05 - Thank goodness, a commerical break.

10:08 - Does that count as a pop culture reference? I'm taking it. SHOT!

10:09 - Zoe Saldana is wearing a bunch of old newspapers.

10:10 - Yeah, that's right, Seth, you fucking suck.

Oh Christ, here comes a CGI character. Cause that's never awkward or anything.

10:11 - Yeah, this is working out for them.

I don't have a horse in the Best Sound Editing category, by the way.

10:12 - I'm sure the Sound Editors for "Les Mis" appreciates having their name read out by a CGI, potty-mouthed teddy bear.

10:13 - Hugh Jackman looks a little awe.

Oh God, it's still there. KILL IT WITH FIRE!

10: 14 - They are really throwing down Jew jokes at the Oscars.

10: 15 - Once again, I'm not following this category.

Wait, a tie? Has this never happened before? That's kind of a big deal.

10:16 -  That was a good speech. Kid annedotes always work.

To see these two tie is a total surprise but it's worth noting both of these films were leading the polls earlier tonight.

10:17 - Do any of these sound editors own scissors?

10: 18 - Here comes the "Jaws" theme! SHOT!

I'm sorry, I looked away for a mnute. What the hell is going on?

10:19 - I'm counting that, by the way. SHOT.

10:20 - Yeah, that's right, Seth Macfarlane, Chris Plummer just got you.

10:21 - Christopher Plummer is awesome.

Hathaway is going to win, right?

I believe I predicted that very scene was going to be the Oscar clip for Fields.

I'm sorry, Hathaway sobbing her way through that shitty song wasn't impressive. Sorry.

10:22 - Called it. Me and a thousand other bloggers.

10:23 - And now Hathway is going to sob her way through her acceptance speech!

10:24 - She's so pretty it actually makes me kind of angry. Good for her for not crying like every other actress who wins.

10:26 - My predictions are six to four in my favor at the moment. This is not something I expected to happen.

10:28 - They are really beating the John Williams' scores to death tonight.

10:29 - He points at Seth. "Yeah, you got me, 'Family Guy' Guy."

10:30 - We now pause this Academy Award Presentation to promote our new theme park or something.

10:31 - Seth Macfarlane: "Hey, am I doing this offensive humor thing, right? Guys, am I doing this, right?"

10:32 - It wouldn't be an Oscar show without an apperance from the Demon Goat. She looks more and more like a wax figure every year.

10:33 - Man, those envelopes must be tricky.

10:34 - Thanks for that super boring, dull speech, guy.

Is Jennifer Lawrence trying to smuggle a meth lad in that dress?

10:35 - Is it just me or are Adele's cheeks freakishly rouged?

10:36 - Remember what I said earlier about Adele not topping Shirley Bassey? Yeah, sticking with that.

10:38 -  Is the sound mix off or is Adele just not good live? I like the song and all but the performance was definately off.

10:43 - It's a total bummer that Nicole Kidman, who was once a beautiful woman, has turned herself into a plastic-skinned android.

Hey, let's not throw the word "instant classic" around so willy-nilly.

10:44 - Tarrantino is apparantly trying to burn holes through Kidman's forehead with his laser vision.

10:45 - Roger Ebert was saying earlier he thinks "Silver Linings Playbook" could win Best Picture. Really? That would be a shock. I know Oscar is in love with it but it's not seriously Best Picture material, is it?

10:46 - That Django montage was surprisingly awesome. Good job condensing a lot of the cool stuff about that movie into a few minutes.

10:47 - Yeah, that one landed soft.

10:48 - Kirsten Stewert is just going to grunt her way through these annoucnments, hope that's okay.

10:49 - I know "Lincoln" hasn't won much up to this point but there's still several big categories coming for it. Wait on it. I'm fairly confident I'm right.

10:50 - There isn't a low bone Seth won't go for. Let's make fun of people's accent. Yeah, that's sensitive.

Selma makes that ridiculous dress look great.

10:51 - Though apparantly she can't read her teleprompter.

10:53 - Ususally they line up some better choices for the Honorary Awards.

10:56 - George Clooney alternates his facial hair every year.

10:57 - So who was left out of the dead people montage this year? Richard Lynch?

Yeah, Ernest Borgnine, that sucked. Really going to miss him.


Charles Durning, that was another one that hit me hard.

10:59 - I was honestly sort of hoping that Herbert Lom would just live forever.

Tony Scott: Maybe the most shocking death of the previous year?

11:00 - Oh, Ray Bradbury. You'l always be missed.

11:01 - Hey, here comes Barbara Streisand to piss all over that sincere montage.

That segue was lame even by your standards, Babs.

11:03 - While Babs just goes on and on, I'll take this time to make a general assessment of the show thus far. It's not been a disaster like the Franco / Hathaway job two years ago. Seth is trying his hardest to ruin it, not totally succeeding. The show's pace has jumped back and forth between painfully slow and rolling along quickly.

11:05 -  I would say it is slightly better then last year, as I'm not sliding into a peaceful slumber just yet. Seth's head-shoving-up-ass moments at least keep it more interesting then Billy Crystal's washed up shenanigans.

11:07 - Oooh, a Rex Reed joke. Cutting edge.

11:08 - How was "Chicago" game-changing?

Renee Zellweger has aged horribly.

11:09 - Best score is going to come down to "Life of Pi" and "Lincoln," I'm fairly certain.

11:10 -  Called it. Also, what the hell was going on there? Could Renee and Gere not read the name through their squints?

11:11 - Can we stop sucking "Life of Pi's" tiger dick? The movie was not that good.

11:12 - Okay, so they are not going to sing all the Best Song nomination? I hate that. That's fucking bullshit.

11:13 - I really liked the song from "Chasing Ice," by the way.

I am unreasonably angry that they are just playing snippets of the song instead of actually performing it. Plenty of time for a fucking homage to "Chicago" and "Dreamgirls," for Christ's sake, but not enough time to sing the songs that are actually fucking nominated. Bullshit. Big heaping bullshit.

11:15 - Oscar, you did not need to validate MacFarlane's ego anymore then you all ready did by getting him to host.

11:16 - Yep.

I'm totally kicking this show's ass, by the way. Eight correct predictions out of seventeen, six of which I didn't have any choices for. That's like 73% correct, guys.

10:17 - Though several of them have been super-obvious.

11:18 - Why was Adele crying? Suck it up, woman. First off, you've won like a thousand awards this season. Secondly, you are a giantess and could crush all in your path with a single step. You've got nothing to cry about.

11:20 - For those of you getting the same commerical as me, "The Heat" looks absolutely dreadful and not just because it has Sandra Bullock pretending to be a real person.

11:22 - Seth, the correct answers are Woody Allen and Penelope Cruz. But thanks for playing.

11:23 - Hathaway works the short hair better then Charlize.

And Hoffman is just going to cough all over her.

11:24 - Best Adapted Screenplay? My guess is "Silver Linings Playbook," second choice "Argo" or 'Beasts of the Southern Wild."

Can't win 'em all. Also, good job bumping the mic stand, Charlie.

11:25 - This guy is about to explode into a puddle of flopsweat.

11:26 - I'm rooting for "Moonrise Kingdom" but have no idea if it will actually get it.

Okay, well that's cool and all.
11:27 - I'm sorry, Jaime Foxx's reaction face made me laugh for some reason.


11:28 - Second funny joke of the whole night from Seth. And, yeah, we might have figured out that Samsung sponsered the show from the constant ads.

11:30 - Commenting on the commercials: Sorry, Tim Burton is no longer qualified to comment on if something is "too weird" or not.

11:32 - Going into the final stretch of the night. For some reason, the crowd loved that cocaine tree joke.

Was he being sarcastic about the Hollywood Parents thing? I can't tell.

11:33 - "Lincoln" has been surprisingly weak this evening but... Does anybody have good odds of winning director besides Spielberg?

11:34 - What the fuck? Seriously? Ang Lee? Who gives a shit about "Life of Pi?" Was there some sort of wacky split between Spielberg and Russell and Lee snunk in there? Did they really like that fucking movie that much?

11:35 - I'm way more angry about this then I thought I would be. What a random ass pick.

11:36 - Okay, Ang, you're going on a little long now.

When you get around to thanking your lawyer, you've run out of valid people to thank.

11:38 - Okay, I officially have no fucking clue what's going to win Best Picture now. Everyone else is saying "Argo." My original and the most obvious choice was "Lincoln." And now fucking "Life of Pi" wins Best Director. No clue. This is shaping up to be an odd year.

11:40 - Kirsten Stewert is giving Jean D. a serious stink-eye.

11:41 - My official guess is Lawrence, unless Chastain wins, in which case I called it.

11:42 - This is an odd choice for Riva's high-light moment.

Okay, the little girl's reaction shot was precious.

11:43 - She should have won two years ago for "Winter's Bone."

Annnnnd trip.

11:44 - Robert DeNiro looks bored out of his skull. And I would have expected a better speech from Katnis then a list of thank yous.

11:45 - And the most elegent thing Seth has done all night is walk off the fucking stage.

Um, no. None of these performances were challenging.

11:46 - Wait, I take that back. Joaquin was challenging. The rest can fuck off.

11:47 - Joaquin is too busy chewing some cud to give a shit about if he wins or not.

11:48 - Well, okay, Streep just threw that out there. That was unexpected even if the win wasn't.

11:49 - Holy shit, Daniel Day Lewis just told a joke! That looks like it casued him physical pain.

11:50 - He's rolling along with the jokes. Holy crap! I didn't know Daniel Plainview could be this funny!

(All right, actually, Daniel Plainview has always been hilarious.)

11:51 - That's not Steven Spielberg.

Daniel Day has a total man-crush on Honest Abe.

11:52 - Let's prop Jack Nicholson up and roll him out on the stage.

11:53 - This is unexpected. Nice haircut, First Lady.

Well, since we all know "Lincoln" was actually about Obama, it's obviously going to win Best Picture now.

11:54 - Jack Nicholson sounds like he's doing a really bad Jack Nicholson impression.

He also mispronounced "Les Miserables." And then apologized for it?

11:55 - "Les Mis" better not win. I'll go through the roof.

Okay, whatever. You people think you're better then me? Think you know these things better then me? Whatever. I'm not bitter or anything.

11:56 - Alan Arkin doesn't know where to stand.

11:57 - He is.

11:58 - I guess this Best Picture win vindicates Affleck for not being nominated for Best Director.

One great film. Three pretty good ones.

11:59 - Affleck is shaking apart like the Starship Enterprise in a black hole.

12:00 - And the show almost ran on time.

Seth's "who's paying for this" quip landed like a lead balloon.

12:01 - Now he's just standing there, waiting to go home.

Oh my God, a fucking song? Really? You want to go out on a song?

SHOT, by the way.

12:03 - Well, I'm nowhere as drunk as I expected I would be at this point.

12:04 - Over all impressions of the show? Middling but not horrible. Seth MacFarlane was not a good host. He was a bad host. However, the show didn't drag too horribly.

12:05 - They thankfully cut down on stupid gags and montages. Really, the only thing that made me thump my head in frustration was the deeply unnecessary homage to "Chicago," "Dreamgirls," and "Les Mis," something nobody asked for, I'm certain.

12:06 - Well, that and Ted presenting an award.

12:07 - As far as winners go, there were a few pleasent surprises, several categories playing out exactly as expected, and only one really egregiously wrong choice. (Looking at you, Ang Lee.) I know I gave "Argo" some shit but I did like that movie so it winning doens't piss me off or anything.

12:09 - This is dragging on so I'll wrap it up. Not a terrible show, just kind of a subpar one. 5.5/10. That's it for me. I'm going to drink some more Scotch and drift into a pleasent sleep. Now that Oscar season is done, that 2012 can go on the books for good, I can get back to reviewing horror films again. Thank you and good night. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Recent Watches: Les Miserables (2012)

You could say I’ve got a love-hate relationship with musicals. As some one raised on Disney cartoons, I’ve got no built-in resentment against the genre. I’ve been open about my love for “Rocky Horror,” “Phantom of the Paradise,” or “Repo!” However, the appeal of Broadway musicals frequently escapes me. "Les Miserables" is one of those shows with a cultishly adoring fan-following. (To give you an idea, there's a fan-made "Les Mis" video game.) And now there's a movie.

From early on, it’s clear “Les Miserables” is one of those musicals where characters sing their lines with shouted enthusiasm, every other line of dialogue set to music. I’ve got problems with this. First off, dialogue rarely flows in any sort of musical or melodic fashion, especially when characters are spouting off exposition or bland information. Secondly, when practically the whole damn movie is sang, songs blunder into each other. It becomes impossible to pick stand-out numbers because there’s just so much damn music. Songs should be stand-out moments, not the entire show. Whenever the movie actually manages to find a decent melody or some genuine emotion, it is immediately trampled over by a change in tone, another character butting their head in, or one of the actors hitting an off-tune or overdubbed high note. 

That’s the other big problem with “Les Mis.” There’s just so much overwhelming, reaching-for-the-heavens, emotion. The movie is dripping in tears, bellows of agony and sorrow, rage-filled yells, declarations of love, misery (obviously I guess), impassioned pleas, and overblown emotion. There’s not a single subtle bone in the entire thing. I suppose that’s the stuff Broadway musicals are built on but because there’s so much of it, you quickly got numb.

This overstuffed approach to drama is best exemplified in Anne Hathaway’s character. First, she’s fired from her job, cuts her hair off and gets her teeth yank out, before turning to prostitution, all to care for a child we don’t even meet, see, or learn anything about for twenty more minutes. We have no investment in the child, so have little investment in Fantine’s struggle. This is misery-porn set to bland, overblown music. When Hathaway sings her big number, “I Dreamed a Dream,” she weeps and strains her voice, going way over the top of respected acting. Hathaway then, spoiler’s alert, dies almost immediately afterwards, making any investment we had in her as a character for naught.

And just what the fuck is “Les Miserables” about anyway? It has about ten different subplots and skips forward in time on three occasions. Jean Valjean is a victim of the imbalanced French justice system and Javert, the cop assigned to his case, is an asshole. He gets out, skips parole, TIME JUMP, restarts his life under an assumed identity, starts a business, adopts the dead hooker’s kid away from the greedy, thieving landlords, pleads with the courts and Javert, makes a daring escape from a frankly ridiculous horse chase, before another TIME JUMP.

I always thought “Les Miserables” was about the French Revolution and, over an hour in, it finally sort of becomes about that kind of. There’s a group of young Revolutionaries ready to lay the smack-down on the bourgeoisie but that’s not really important. The hooker’s little girl has grown up into Amanda Seyfried, who sees one of the Revolutionary Boys, and the two immediately fall in love upon first sight, despite the guy having a female best friend totally devoted to and in love with him that contributes nothing to the plot before dying. (You can tell who she is because she wears a hat.) The guy is all conflicted about his love’s conflicts with the impending revolution. Jean Valjean is all conflicted n’ shit about his adopted daughter getting married to some dude she literally just met.

There’s other Revolutionaries too, of course, but they all die in one of the most underwhelming action sequences I’ve ever seen. In this moment, it’s really obvious the movie is based on a stage play since the entire battle takes place in one aisle way. Valjean has a few run-ins with Javert, who is still around by the way, before saving Love Interest Guy’s life. He’s okay with the wedding now, wallows in the sewers for a while, runs away for reasons that are unimportant, gets found by the girl and the guy, and then dies too. Somewhere in there, Javert remembers he’s a subplot and neatly revolves it himself for reasons that are stupid. Also, the greedy Landlords are still here despite doing nothing of interest or importance. Despite not a single fucking thing about the underclass being abused and repressed getting resolved, despite the mountains of deaths, the movie ends on a happy note. I think I got it all. Even if it’s all senseless, at least the movie fills it’s bloated, 157 minutes run time with a bunch of rambling subplots and a cast of thousands.

The cast is filled with actors who aren’t really singers. You’d think someone would have realized this is a problem, since almost the entire fucking movie is sung. Hugh Jackman has performed in musicals before and even his voice is strained by the constant over-singing. Russell Crowe, who I guess does sing in that band with the awful name, is out of his element and it's obvious at times his voice was pitch-corrected and stretched out in the studio. It helps that Javert is one of the more interesting characters in the film, a relatively grey villain even if his internal conflicts are as simplistic as everyone else’s.

Hathaway and Seyfried are woefully out of their element and push their limited singing voice way pass their limits. (Hathaway is still going to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, since overblown emotion and hype is what wins you Oscars.) I guess Tom Hooper really liked “Sweeney Todd,” since Helena Bohnam Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen are both in the movie, despite both proving in that film a lack of sustainable musical talent. Cohen gets points for being the only guy in the entire picture to attempt a French accent, slipping and exaggerated though it is. Eddie Redmayne, who I last saw sexually menacing Chloe Moretz in “Hick,” does okay, I guess. The rest of the supporting cast are filled out with actual singers, far as I can tell.

Tom Hooper’s direction is rather awkward. He tries to have it both ways. He indulges his chamber drama style during several of the musical numbers, by having the actors sing directly into the camera, looking the audience in the eyes. All this does is bring the film’s all ready maudlin pace to a screeching halt and drawl attention to the cast’s woefully under-qualified pipes. He does serve the rules of big budget musical adaptations with sweeping shots craning over the CGI cities. Jumping back and forth between the two styles leaves the audience with whiplash. Even then, this still can’t escape its stage roots at times, with extended sequences of British people talking in rooms.

I’m not the audience for “Les Miserables,” so I guess my opinion is forfeit. But, seriously Oscar, why do you always fall for this shit? The big costume drama musical shit? Haven’t we all outgrown this kind of thing? This deserved a Best Picture nomination and “The Masters” didn’t? I don’t know if fans of the stage show will like it. I’m sure they’re a fickle butch. And, honestly, the movie that has Wolverine, Catwoman, Borat, and Maximus in it. There’s no excuse for it to be this fucking droll. Other then the fact that Broadway musicals are just fucking droll, I guess. [4/10]

Now I have seen all the Best Picture nominations. I rank them thus so, from most favorite to least favorite:

Django Unchained: 9/10
Silver Linings Playbook: 7/10
Argo: 7/10
Lincoln: 7/10
Beasts of the Southern Wild: 6.5/10
Amour: 6/10
Life of Pi: 6/10
Zero Dark Thirty: 5/10
Les Miserables: 4/10

A full review of "Django Unchained" will come with my Tarrantino’s Director Report Card, which will happen eventually, I promise. As for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," the paragraph I wrote in my 2012 Retrospective will have to do. ONWARD TO THE OSCARS!

Recent Watches: 2013 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts

The Live-Action Short Films actually covers a very wide selection of films. This year is a multinational affair, with films from Germany, France, Afghanistan, and South Africa filling up the nominations, with only a single English language short. They cover a wide range of genres and tone, from fantasy, tragic, tragi-comic, slice-of-life, from downbeat to light-hearted. That’s more variety then you find in Best Picture. Anyway, let’s get on with it.

Death of a Shadow:
One of the perils of the short form is that you have very little time to establish characters. “Death of a Shadow” has a lot to unpack in its twenty minute run time. It follows a lost soul stuck in some sort of purgatory where he has to snatch people’s shadows away from them at the time of death, something he does with a wacky magic steampunk camera. The shadows are then plastered on canvas for the enjoyment of some vaguely sinister authorities figure. (You know this because he’s a creepy guy in a suit.) He has to do this for a thousand days until he is then freed back into the world of the living, somehow. Also, you can read people’s past by touching their shadow. And there this wacky machine where you can look up people by method of death and first name. Plus, the shadow-snatchers can explore all time and place, apparently.

Got all that? Cause the movie still has to get to the character’s main emotional motivation. There’s a girl, a lost love, a new love, personal sacrifices, not to mention World War I. Why the movie does a better job of putting this all together then I probably make it sound like, the concept is still overstuffed and convoluted, with thin characters without any audience investment. I suspect “Death of a Shadow” got nominated more for its moody production design then anything else. [6/10]

In the same year that brought us “Amour,” we also have this short, another film about old French people dying. From fairly early on, it’s easy to see where it’s going. When you’ve got an old man, looking for his wife and daughter, locked up in a mysterious institute, persecuted by a mysterious conspiracy, the inevitable twist ending is blatantly obvious.

The movie has decent production design. I especially like a sequence where a hallway goes dark around a character. However, other potentially effective sequences are undone by the movie putting too fine a point on it, like the elderly man remembering when he first met his wife. And what is it this year with movies that have a character directly explain to their audience in broad details? First, “Life of Pi” breaks down a its allegorical content bit by bit and now “Henry” has a young man telling us the details of the fairly obvious twist ending. “Henry” overall is gripped by melodrama, in scenes like husband and wife reunited or senile father breaking down in front of daughter. Apparently, the film is based off the director’s own experience with his ill father. I guess you can’t understand subtly when grieving. All this overblown emotion means “Henry” will probably win the Oscar. [5/10]

Now this is more like it! Hey, stodgy live-action short films, here’s some effortless energy and spunk. “Curfew” has a funny set-up, with a suicidal man deciding to postpone his suicide when his estranged sister calls to ask him to babysit his niece. It’s clear Richie is a fuck up, with a pretty clear drug problem the film doesn’t waste time focusing too much on. No, this film is about the relationship between Richie and Sophia, his smart, precocious, nine-year old niece. Over the course of the evening, the two discover a connection neither was aware of before.

The film has a deft balance of tone. Its settings and visual are grimy, dirty, and gritty, with the cast’s misery visible on the walls. Aside from the suicide and drug abuse, we’ve got a shady apartment and a battered wife. However, “Curfew” never overdoes, balancing the pathos with the humorous. A child’s tears are quickly defused by a light-hearted action. A moving, direct monologue from Richie at the end goes in hand with an early hilarious moment, where he winds up yelling out to clueless women. The movie possess real energy too, most obvious in the awesome, infectious, inexplicable dance sequence midway through.

Perhaps the short wouldn’t work so well without its two lead performances. Fatima Ptacek, who is apparently the voice of Dora the Explorer, is a talent to watch, with a natural energy and charm. Shawn Christensen is never a helpless sad sack, instead masking his bitterness behind some sarcastic humor. Of all the shorts, “Curfew” is the only one that could easily be expanded into a feature. It’s also easily the best of an overly maudlin lot. [8/10]

Buzkashi Boys:
“Buzkashi Boys” at least has a decent start. Set in Afghanistan during the winter, something you don’t see a lot, the film follows two different boys living in the slums. One is the son of a blacksmith who has a strained relationship with his dad. The other is an orphan and a street urchin who spends his days panhandling for cash. As you’d expect, dad doesn’t approve of the friendship. The blacksmith’s son manages to sneak away for a day and the two friends spend the after watching a buzkashi game, some wacky Middle Eastern sport where guys on horses toss a dead goat around.

This is another short with strong young actors. Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz both give good performances and the film gets some mileage out of watching two young boys dream about their uncertain futures. The movie seems to wrap up with a speech from the Blacksmith that shows he’s not a total asshole. But then the film continues on to the next, dragging on for another unnecessary ten minutes before crawling to a downer, needlessly bleak ending. At twenty-eight minutes, it’s only the longest short by a whole minute but it feels much longer. Despite a decent start, “Buzkashi Boys” reveals itself to be a real downer. [5/10]

While it has the same maudlin tone as the rest of the shorts, “Asad” also has a few moments of humor to keep it from being a total drag. Set in one of the slums of Somalia, it follows a young boy who is deciding wither he wants to be a pirate like his older friends or earn an honest life as a fisherman, like the old man he respects. The movie treats the crime, violence, and starvation of the Somalian Mogadishu as an everyday fact of life.

Despite the dark subject matter, there’s quite a bit of humor in the interaction between Asad and his best friend. The ending features several dead bodies let pays off with a funny reversal of an earlier scene. So while it might look like “Asad” has the same sad sack tone as the majority of the other nominees, it actually displays some light, young-hearted humor. [7/10]

The nominations are hosted by Luke Matheny, the director of 2010’s winner “God of Love.” Matheny shares some funny stories about what it’s like to be both a nominee and a winner. It doesn’t have much to do with any of the shorts presented but it is amusing. Out of the shorts, I’m hoping “Curfew” wins though I doubt its odds are all that good. Either way, it is nice to be able to see all of them in one easy stop.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Recent Watches: 2013 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

For a long time, if you weren’t a member of the Academy, you didn’t get to see the Oscar Nominated Short Films. Now, thanks to, the shorts have become available through pay-per-view on-demand and select theatrical bookings. (Back in 2010, I was lucky to catch the shorts at my near-by Alamo Drafthouse. While my small town is apparently cool enough to get an Alamo, we apparently aren’t cool enough to get the Oscar shorts for more then one year.) I especially like this since it means I can now have some investment in a category were I formally had none. Let’s start with the cartoons, shall we?

Adam and Dog
It takes a bit for this one to fully reveal its premise and explain its title. The short immediately caught my eye with its lush visuals, with painterly backgrounds and character designs right out of 1990’s era Disney. Starting with a dog wandering alone through some sort of prehistoric jungle, the short imagines a previously unknown chapter of Genesis. Before Adam met Eve, Adam met Dog.

Aside from looking gorgeous, this one is incredibly charming. It’s not like a filmmaker has to work hard to make dogs any more charming then they are in real life. The animators here perfectly capture the natural curiosity of dogs, as he sticks his head in places and ruffles his ears and snout. As the Ken-doll anatomy Adam and the dog bond, it shows the beginning of some common dog behavior. Lo, and the first stick was tossed, then returned, followed by the first belly rub. We feel for the little critter as he slowly gets to know his human and, after Adam meets up with Eve, is abandoned. The film has a perfect bitter sweet ending. The lovers are expelled from Eden, as they always are. Despite frightened by their new appearance, Dog reluctantly follows Man out of the garden, as love and loyalty trump even the fruits of Paradise.

This is easily the best of the nominated shorts and the one to beat, in my opinion. [9/10]

Fresh Guacamole:
This is the shortest of the films, at only two minutes long. With that limited run time, it doesn’t have much time to tell a story and is instead not much more then a cute visual joke. The stop-motion animation has a nice home-made quality, as the natural ingredients for guacamole are substituted with everyday objects. The presence of a grenade and gambling pieces makes me tempted to say this is some sort of commentary on something, but I think the short is nothing but a creative set-up and chuckle-inducing punch line. I liked it but I’m not sure why it deserved a nomination. [6.5/10]

Head Over Heels:
Another stop motion short and one of the funnier nominations. The short visualizes the metaphor of men and women living in different worlds quite literally, following an old marry couple, functioning in opposite gravities in a floating home. When the two argue, the gravity of their happy house is thrown out of balance.

There’s a little bit of fun-poking at gender roles in the middle, with the man stuck inside of the house with the woman being the only one that can leave. The central gravity-gimmick looses its humor pretty quickly though. Luckily, “Head Over Heels” doesn’t linger around too much and resolves itself in a sweet, funny manor. [7/10]

Being a Disney production that was attached to “Wreck-It Ralph” last fall, this one wasn’t included in the OnDemand Shorts packet. However, it’s easily found online and should be looked up. There’s a lot to like.

First off, the visual presentation is wonderful, in lovely grayscale with fantastic, immediately likable hand-drawn characters in the classic Disney style on CGI backgrounds. The story is an elegantly simple tale of a young man having to choose between the bureaucracy of work and love at first sight. The central gag of flying a paper airplane between two skyscrapers works well and leads to several laughs. The paper airplane bit is possible overdone near the end, even if that nicely pushes the short into the realm of magic realism. Over all, “Paperman” is lovely and probably my second favorite of the nominees. [8/10]

The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare:
There’s a certain novelty in a Simpsons theatrical short, though it probably would have meant more back during the show’s mid-nineties golden run. (This one wasn’t a part of the OnDemand packet either, by the way, and will presumably be released on DVD in the near future.)

As is typical of modern day Simpsons, this one overdoes several gags, such as the evilness of Baby Gerald, a paste lapping baby, and the general abuse the kids undergo. Despite that, there are still several funny background gags, such as a line of dolls that combine Raggedy Ann and Ayn Rand, or the opening titles which perfectly capture classic cartoon openings. The film isn’t just told from the youngest Simpson’s perspective, but actually mimics the toddler’s skewered perception of the world. The plot, which has Maggie protecting a budding butterfly from her arch-enemy, works well enough and actually got me to care about the cocoon’s eventual fate. It’s cute, perhaps nothing special, but nice enough. If nothing else, the theatrical animation budget boost makes it look way nicer then you’d expect. [7/10]

It’s interesting to note that all of these films lack any sort of dialogue, allowing the music to take precedence. This is probably as much a finical choice as artistic, since no dialogue means no actors to record but I actually like the effect. I have to say the score is quite strong with all four of these.

Aside from the nominated short, the package also includes a number of highly commended shorts. “Abiogenesis” is a silent, sci-fi tale of alien probes terraforming a planet. It’s full of elaborate detail, showing full-on robotic evolution, and ends on a nice note, despite the self-serious musical score. “Dripped” is a funny exploration of art appreciation, about an art thief who takes on the attributes of the paintings he thieves. It winds up being a homage to a specific artist and has some nice visual, despite an unappreciated stopover into pure abstraction.

Kubla Khan” and “Lost and Found,” neither of which have IMDb pages as of now, are pure abstraction. Both have a similar visual aesethic of images appearing out of swirling colors. The first is overwhelming, with its pounding musical score, hard to follow narration, and constantly changing images. The second is a bore, with nothing to offer but body parts peering out of the sand.

Finally, attached with the shorts is “The Gruffalo’s Child,” the sequel to 2010’s “The Gruffalo.” I had actually seen this one before. It reserves the premise of the first while repeating the story structure beat-for-beat. Unlike the original, the story is stretched out even for a twenty-minute runtime. Still, I did like it, if just for the lovely visuals.

The entire presentation is hosted by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, the directors of last year’s winning short, “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.” I don’t know if the bumpers add anything but they are a nice touch. 2012’s crop of animated shorts is considerably stronger then last year’s. I’m rooting for “Adam and Dog.” What about you?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recent Watches: The Master (2012)

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the few filmmaker-novelist we have in the industry today. His best films, of which his last three are among, are deeply absorbing and unfold with a steady hand, drawling the viewer in more and more with every frame. “The Master” is as deeply involving and visually beautiful as “There Will Be Blood” or “Magnolia.”

It is not a film about Scientology, something I was a little disappointed about at first. While the film certainly discusses the politics and structure of the cult of personality, the film is more about a man deep in a crisis. “The Master” is probably one of the most honest depictions of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on-screen. We never see Joaquin Phoenix’s Freddie Quell in combat but are clear it left a deep affect on him. He has a dysfunctional obsession with sex, is prone to anti-social behavior, and is deeply alcoholic. For about the first forty minutes of the film, Freddie is so constantly sloshed you can barely understand the garbled words that come out of his mouth. He looses his job as a photographer in a department store after antagonizing a customer, in one of the film’s oddest, funniest moments. His life is in shambles and he wanders from location to location, in a constant state of drunkenness. (To give you an idea of how intense his alcoholism is one of his favorite mixed drinks involves paint thinner.) He doesn’t find any sort of focus until stumbling onto the yacht of Lancaster Dodd, an author and budding cult leader. In the film’s first really fantastic moment, Freddie undergoes Dodd’s Processing procedure, a series of piercing, psychological question, frequently repeated, breaking down the target’s resistance. Dodd doesn’t flinch when Freddie casually admits to committing incest. Soon, as the questioning goes deeper, Freddie’s voice clears up for the first time in the entire film. For the first time, he seems focused and concentrating. Anderson’s camera never pulls away, focusing on the pained, concentrated face of Phoenix. It’s a brilliant moment. When the film calmly transfers to a flashback of Phoenix meeting the love of his life, it plays out so smoothly, like a beautiful piece of music.

After that, “The Master” is nothing short of totally absorbing. The film is a series of terse conversations between people. The main component of the Cause, the cult religion at the story’s center, is the belief in past lives and hypnotic sessions were the patient can relive those past lives. There is a tense confrontation between Dodd and a skeptic. Quell’s devotion to the Cause is all ready deeply entrench by this point as he immediately hunts the dissenter down and beats him. Quell threatens a publisher who criticizes the Cause’s new tome and even Dodd’s own son. All the while, Quell has never really stopped drinking and he seems to chase his booze intake with fanatical devotion to Dodd. (It’s Dodd Freddie is devoted to since he never states an opinion about the past life or hypnotism practices.) After being imprisoned, Dodd and Quell have an intense shouting match, further throwing doubt on Dodd’s credibility. Dodd’s wife has an eerie power over the entire cult, oozing just as much control as her husband. Freddie undergoes more of the Cause’s procedures, such as marching back and forth across a room, touching the walls and windows with his eyes closed, being shouted down by fellow cult members, or being forced to listen to vulgar pornography, read totally deadpan by Mrs. Dodd. Further cracks in Dodd’s shell show when shouting out a fan who questions him about a change in the group’s beliefs. There’s indelible, odd, sometimes off-putting moments like Dodd performing a song and dance in a room full of naked women, or Dodd receiving a mournful handjob from his wife, with her barking orders at him. The entire second half of the film is filled with brilliant, beautiful moments. Quell snapping Dodd’s picture or racing a motorcycle across a wide, flat, desert, falling asleep in a movie theater, or visiting the childhood home of his long-since moved and married sweetheart.

The movie ends on an ambiguous note. Honestly, the film could have ramble on pleasantly for a little while more. It is a snapshot of a man’s life, tracking the period where he was involved with a strange cult, going nowhere before or after. That’s what I think anyway.

The film is edited and paced so gracefully. I’ve found this to be Anderson’s greatest strength. You never feel the run time of his films, even though they frequently amble over two hours in length. “The Master” looks quite beautiful and it’s no shock that the film was shot for 70 millimeter. It has a rich, deep scope and I can’t wait to watch the film on Blu-Ray. The camera often watches patiently, in long takes, as the character’s talk or discuss. By no means is his camera stationary, as he also employs several long tracking shots. Jonny Greenwood’s musical score is sparse and experimental, a powerful mood piece that is still oddly listenable. The lack of nominations for the film in the cinematography or score category is major oversights on the Academy’s part. (Not to mention the lack of director or best picture nominations. Is it too late to wonder about a Scientology conspiracy?)

The performances are brilliant. Joaquin Phoenix’s fully commits to a man torn apart. Considering Phoenix’s often intense method acting, I kind of wonder if he wasn’t really boozing during some of filming. It’s a brave, powerful performance. Philip Seymour Hoffman fits the part of cult leader well. He employs his calm but commanding voice to good work. It’s sort of odd to think of the same guy playing the anxiety ridden pervert from “Happiness” and someone with as much natural charisma and authority as Lancaster Dodd. Amy Adams maybe gives my favorite performance in the film, as a woman who has just as much authority as her husband but doles it out in different ways. She’s a chilling presence, gazing ahead steely-eyed with total command. These three actors form the backbone of the movie with other performers, such as Ambyr Childers as Dodd’s daughter or Madisen Beaty as Joaquin’s lost love, being someone forced to the side, despite doing fine jobs.

So “The Masters” is a masterpiece. It’s a tightly wound film of pouring emotional and mental dysfunction, beautifully illustrated by an artist in his prime. P.T. Anderson, just let us know when you’re going to make a movie that isn’t goddamn brilliant. [9/10]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Recent Watches: The Invisbile War

Look, I’m not an asshole. I’ve been around military professional for a large portion of my life. My Dad was in the Navy and my Mom is a nurse at a VA Center. I’m sure there are a lot of perfectly nice people in the Army and other military branches. But watching “The Invisible War” and discovering the Army is full of casual misogyny and heaps of oppressive, hateful, patriarchal bullshit isn’t even close to a surprise. To discover that innocent women are frequently brutalized, abused, and tortured by the men around them is horrifying but not surprising.

There isn’t a lot I can say about “The Invisible War” that wouldn’t be enraged, inarticulate screaming. The film starts by ironically contrasting women recruitment videos from the fifties up to the present. It’s a simple, talking heads documentary, interviewing the victimized women, their families, and military and mental health experts, occasionally presenting deeply troubling statistic factoids. The film follows a few specific cases, of a woman trying to get health care for a broken jaw injury and an another attempting to live among her new family with PTSD. The film is often heart-breaking and stomach-churning, especially when watching the women writing out their accounts in longhand with pen and paper.

The interview segments are deeply upsetting and enraging. Perhaps even more disturbing is the more and more facts revealed about how the military quickly, quiet, cover up the assaults. Brutal rapes are glossed over as “boys being boys.” The victims are frequently blamed. The number of assaulted women who were charged with adultery, because the rapist was married, makes me so angry that I can’t even really put it into words. The film makes it clear that only a shockingly small number of convicted rapists receive any sort of punishment. Military higher-ups do not give a shit about this happening and it keeps happening over and over again.

The film doesn’t ignore the institutions in place that allow this to keep happening. It openly acknowledges that the military encourages macho bullshit, reinforcing a mood of male entitlement and justification of violent masculine attitudes. The film doesn’t gloss over the men who are assaulted and rape in the military as well. The statistics reveal that the number of rapists and abusers in the military are higher then the number in the general populace. It’s an institutional problem. The military raises people up to be emotionless killing machine, to ignore their conscious and morality. Surprise, surprise: Encouraging that mindset attracts and creates sociopaths. The military promises brotherhood and comradely. To let this continually happen is to betray the trusts of the sane, honorable people who sign up for the service.

Many documentaries encourage activism. “The Invisible War” is likely to rise up quite a bit. However, I can’t help but wonder if the voices will reach the right places. This is such a built-in problem. I suppose, if some voices can be heard, an amount of good has been done. [8/10]

Recent Watches: Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

Documentaries can be both maddening and fascinating. By limiting themselves to one subject, they can provide a focused look into an individual’s life. However, by their very nature, they can’t expand past the footage they have. “Searching for Sugar Man” presents several fascinating topics. The story of an obscure American folk artist who became a superstar in South Africa, completely without his knowledge, could be a story about a scrappy artist finally finding artistic recognition. It could be about expectations of art and/or fame. Rewritten as a fictional screenplay, this could be a fascinating comedy about a normal person suddenly having enormous fame and fandom hoisted on them, examining the pros and cons of that situation.

But, because this isn’t a fictional film, it can’t be any of those things. The film intentionally withholds revealing Rodriguez, the artist at the story’s center, for the first hour. During this half, his fans and the men who tracked him down expand on the legend. We learn a little about the guy, how his music came to be released and was subsequently ignored by the public. How, seemingly by chance, this obscure artist was seized on by a generation of young people, buckling against a tyrannical regime. My favorite bits involve the home-made myth-waiving his fandom participated in. Common knowledge soon has it that Rodriguez killed himself during a performance, in a myriad of ways for numerous different reasons. Of course, none of that ends up being true and a group of fans, after long searching, finally manage to track the man down, living a humble life in Detroit.

The film only briefly attempts to explain why Rodriquez’ music resonated so much with South Africans. Why there’s certainly nothing wrong with the guy’s hippy-folk music, it seems odd that the public of one place would latch onto him so much, when any other number of Dylan-esque acoustic strummers extended the same messages. Something the film suggests but never outright presents is the theory that fame is totally on a whim. There’s no predicting success. Once again, a fictional, scripted movie could have explored this concept more fully.

Rodriquez proves a fairly interesting character. The man seems to have no bitterness over his music failing to find an audience in his home country. He spent the twenty years between the failure of his musical career and his rediscovery mostly working odd jobs around the city, aside from a brief run at local politics. Watching the guy discover the massive fan base he has on the other side of the world proves to be a fairly satisfying emotional conclusion. When faced with a stadium full of cheering, screaming fans, the look of pure joy on Rodriquez’ face makes the whole film worth seeing. Oddly, even after discovering his stardom, the guy willingly returns to Detroit, to a simple, unenchanted life. So, why would anyone choose one over the other? To stay humble? To appreciate his fanbase more? The film doesn’t elaborate, choosing to portray Rodriquez as a mysterious, shaman-like figure. This is a bit of a shame since it would have provided some prime meat for what is otherwise a rather thin, if highly charming, documentary. [7/10]

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Recent Watches: Amour (2012)

Has any filmmaker summed up the image of European directors as inscrutably, uncomfortably arty then Michael Haneke? (Gaspar Noe, probably.) I don’t like the guy. I’ve never forgiven him for “Funny Games,” an obnoxious film that criticizes the audience for enjoying it (not that they ever would) and takes a particularly brain-dead approach to on-screen violence. It seems the majority of his movies are acts in cinematic sadism, belittling and torturous to viewers in the name of confronting them with some heavy-handed philosophy. More didactic speeches then actual stories. Movies needn’t always be entertaining but they should at least be interesting. To confirm his air as a stuffy, pretentious, thickly European filmmaker, the guy has two Palme D’ors to his name.

Amour” is a little nicer then the director’s usual fair. The film, with its complete lack of a musical score, stark direction, and rigid cuts, doesn’t lack bluntness. However, instead of choking the audience on brutality or hardcore misery, he is instead confronting us with the unavoidable ravages of age, a far more relatable, if no less painful truth. “Amour’ revolves around a Parisian couple dealing with the wife’s slow degeneration from a stroke. George takes care of her as a devoted husband, his own flaws and past mistakes coming into even sharper focus. Eva is bitter about her ill health, cursing her dilapidated body, stubborn in recognizing the irreversible changes, deeply unsatisfied and depressed about her situation. She’s not ready to go, but then again who is? When so many Hollywood films only focus on love in the early, giddy, sunshine and flowers mode, leave it to a Frenchman to focus on resigned love. People at the end of their life, who don’t have much, have even less with each advancing day, but are devoted to one another, perhaps more out of force of habit then anything else.

Haneke only occasionally steps outside of the film’s stage-like direction. The whole story is set in the couple’s apartment and his “point at stuff and let it go” style of direction seems to go hand-in-hand with his overall coldness. Only during an oddly chilling nightmare sequence does the camera move in any recognizable style. While its easy to criticize the stiffness, it does lend a stark frankness to the material, that feels practically voyeuristic at times, peeping in own very normal people’s very normal lives. Haneke watches George and Eva go about their day-to-day lives, as they eat dinner or try and pass the time, sometimes hopeless at the ever advancing end, sometimes grateful for the beauty life hands out from time to time. I suspect, very much, that this is a deeply accurate take on how your grandparents, parents, or elderly neighbors live each day.

With a director this scientific in his approach, it’s up to the actors to lend the story the emotional resonance it desperately needs. That’s where “Amour” succeeds. Jean-Louis Trintignant plays George as a totally devoted man. At first, he almost takes the everyday work in stride, just seeing it as an extension of his husbandly duties. However, as Eva gets sicker, the strain starts to show. His eyes convey a quiet, ragged desperation. However, Trintignant keeps a tight lid on his emotions. Never cries, never yells, never overacts, instead letting subtle, quiet emotions speak for him. (This almost definitely explains why the Academy passed him over.) He carries himself with constant dignity. Of course he does because his wife has so little left. Emmanuelle Riva at first makes Riva as lively a woman as possible. The storm of feelings passing through her as displayed so clearly on her face. Haneke is smart enough to give both actors several spot-light moments. Trintignant describes the funeral of a friend, the awkward moments that prevent serenity, how it feels when nothing quite goes right. Later, Riva quietly looks through a photo album. “It’s beautiful,” she says, “Life.” The almost stifling understated quality to the entire film prevents it from ever appearing overdone. These emotional moments are honest and fully earned.

Disappointedly, Haneke can’t keep his sadistic fangs out of the material. In the second half of the film, Eva suffers another stroke and her health deteriorates steeply. At this point, the film’s two-hour and seven minute runtime begins to feel punishing. We watch, feeling the humiliation, as a nurse changes her dapper, bathes her while she cries, how her language degrades into unintelliable fragments. George begins to crack under the demands. This, I suppose, is logical for both the film and real life. Yet Haneke has no emotional investment in these characters. His viewpoint is totally detached and emotionless. Once again, he’s rubbing the audience’s nose in misery in service of some master thesis. This is the most obvious at what I guess functions as the story’s climax, with a character making a very drastic decision. It doesn’t feel organic and nothing before it suggests such an outcome.

“Amour” comes close to making up for its torturous second half with a pitch-perfect ending. The film certainly succeeds in making me feel something and the two lead performances are extremely good. It’s just a shame that the director has to be such an asshole. The story progresses as sad but honestly so. When those emotions become manipulative and purposely hurtful is when the film starts to falter. (And here’s a good example of a film that never would have earned a Best Picture nomination before the category opened up to nine/ten choices.) [6/10]

Recent Watches: Lincoln (2012)

Steven Spielberg has a reputation for making films that go for the heart in the sloppiest, most overhanded ways. He makes tear-jerkers and crowd pleasers. This is somewhat unfair, since some of his earlier, best films are actually rather emotionally subtle. “Jaws” uses visual subtly to convey big thrills. “The Sugarland Express” is a muted, light comedy. Not “Lincoln.” “Lincoln” is a Big Movie, about Big History, starring Big Actors, giving Big Emotional Speeches about Big Subjects, while in Big Sets, accompanied by Big Musical Scores, winning Big Awards.

Despite this, I liked the movie. I’m angry I liked the movie. It would have been easy to burst the movie’s bubble, deflate its Oscar-season pretensions. But, then again, how could the film be anything but compelling with the cast and crew it has? Criticized Spielberg all you want for his naked ambitions, his movies are never anything less then watchable. It’s certainly not a great film but it’s a solidly entertaining, one hundred percent professional one. If there was any doubt before about the movie sweeping the Academy Awards, there certainly isn’t any now.

“Zero Dark Thirty” conceptualized recent history into easily digestible movie cliché language. “Lincoln” does something similar by presenting a character steadfastly devoted to one goal. Abraham Lincoln is obsessed with ending slavery. He is convinced that getting slavery outlawed will end the Civil War. He knows he’s facing an uphill battle, against the social opinions of the time and, primarily, against a senate soundly against the bill. Lincoln makes some unlikely allies, including a radical abolitionist and a pair of shysters that more-or-less bribe the opposition into agreeing with him. The Civil War provides the context for the story but its backbone is provided by the president’s undying desire to abolish the most odious of institutions. The climax takes place in the stone walls of Washington, not the bloody battlefields of the south. The film blatantly makes it a personal goal, as his wife and oldest son challenge his obsession.

(Going by my theory that Academy nominated films are just as much about the present as they are about their subjects, would it be going too far to say “Lincoln” mirrors our current president’s attempt to push change forward despite a political climate fighting him every step of the way? Maybe.)

Considering history is innately a weighty, complicated subject full of lost, complex detail, maybe it makes sense to simplify things into easily grasped terms, even if it perhaps does a disservice to history. The movie attempts to humanize Lincoln while still keeping him a larger-then-life icon. As played by Daniel Day Lewis, Abe is fond of long-winded, meandering anecdotes. He blatantly placates his political aides and enemies with long-winded stories, sometimes only partially related to the topic at hand. When not doing this, the president makes a couple of from-the-heart, full of blood and vigor speeches. The humanizing attempts come from delving into the man’s personal life. His wife frequently disagrees with him, crying about the son they’ve already lost, and begging not to loose the ones they still have. (It shames me a bit to say this but Sally Field’s performance as the first lady is undeniably the heart and soul of the film. This is most evident in the powerful scene where Fields quite literally falls to her knees and begs her husband to reconsider.) Lincoln also has some problems with his oldest son, played by a mustached Joseph Gordon Levitt. Levitt budges against the path his parents have laid out for him, wanting to make a difference now, wanting to fight on the war fields. Dad is soundly against this but can’t make Son change his mind. (Another powerful moment comes when Levitt sees the cost of war firsthand, in the form of a pit full of amputated arms and legs.) Day Lewis, sticking with the breathy, high pitched, supposedly historically accurate voice, commits his usual method actor intensity to the part. Only some of this is visible on-screen though. I’m certain Lewis lived and breathed Abe during the months before, during, and after production, but the part doesn’t allow for the same reaching-for-the-heavens intensity of a Daniel Plainview. There’s still pretty much zero doubt in my mind that he’s going to win.

Spielberg pack the supporting roles with seasoned, solid character actors. Tommy Lee Jones rarely finds a character better suited for his established cantankerous old man bit then in the role of abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens. Unlike Lincoln, who has to hide away his most passionate beliefs for the sake of political grace, Stevens long ago gave up on winning anyone over. He believes full-heartedly in ending slavery and doesn’t give a shit if it offends a bunch of obnoxious racists. Perfectly cast, Jones goes for it, displaying all the comic snark and full-hearted grumpiness that has, occasionally, made him one of our best character actors. The film probably would have been more interesting if it had been about him. That also would have prevented the last-minute reveal that overly simplifies and maybe even trivializes his passionate beliefs. Also of note is a bloated James Spader, putting his slimy talents to good use, Lee Pace as the film’s defacto villain, and a very old Hal Holbrook.

Spielberg’s direction is as elegant as you’d expect, shooting through a polished wood and silver colored frame. He never impresses but, considering most of the movie is devoted to Old American Men Talking in Rooms, I guess it’s good work anyway. The ending, which shows the world morning for Lincoln's loss, is mostly unnecessary and doesn't provide much as far as resolution goes. “Lincoln” is far from a great film. While it reaches for the emotional gut-punching of the director’s most resonant films, it instead falls to the lesser, though maybe no less impressive goal, of being fully satisfying. If that doesn’t scream Best Picture, I don’t know what does. [7/10]

Bangers n' Mash: Frankenstein (1931) Commentary

We had a real episode planned, one about a topic that I've been wanting to get to for a while and is relevant to current entertainment news. However, neither of us were quite ready for that one so instead we threw something together quickly.

A lot of other podcast cover commentaries for films, some of them doing it exclusively. Watching and talking over one of our favorite films, one that's important to our show's history, I tried to get some decent information and observation in there. While we suceed some times, we frequently fell back and simply pointing out stuff on the screen we've never notice before and wandering wildly off-topic to subjects like Illuminati symbolism (sarcastically), X-Men, Sonic the Hedgehog, other classic Universal monster movies, and unrelated shit like that. Also, if you ever wondered what an almost totally unedited episode of the Bangers n' Mash Show would sound like, now you know. That is, mostly with a lot of silence, hmm-ing, haw-ing, aww-ing, umm-ing, uncompleted half-formed thoughts, and unrelated bullshit. So if you want to know what it's like to watch a movie with two lisping nerds, watch along with us! Real episode next time, promise.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Recent Watches: Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Do you think Kathryn Bigelow intentionally reinvented herself as a “serious” Oscar-caliber filmmaker? Before “The Hurt Locker” made her the first female Best Director winner, Bigelow was a genre worksmith, pumping out awesome action-fest like “Near Dark,” “Point Break,” and “Blue Steel,” not unlike a more prolific version of her famous ex-husband James Cameron. It’s not like “The Hurt Locker” was that far outside of her established wheelhouse anyway. Maybe her critical reevaluation truly was an accidental move. Either way, her career sure has changed now.

Despite “Zero Dark Thirty” obviously being a big important serious film with lots of awards-quality shine to it, Kathryn Bigelow is still largely operating as a genre filmmaker. She frames the squirmy, frequently uncomfortable real life subject matter in cinematic terms the audience is all ready familiar with. The first act finally ends well over an hour into the film when a defining event happens to the protagonist, Maya. An operation goes wrong, a cooperating informant reveals himself to be a suicide bomber, and a close friend dies. This time: It’s personal. The quest to find and assassinate Osama bin Laden becomes a quest of revenge.

Similarly, much of “Zero Dark Thirty” functions as a closed-room mystery. Jessica Chastain stares tersely at photographs, surveillance footage, following leads all the while. Like a renegade cop in an eighties action movie, she argues with her superiors who don’t appreciate her style to solving the case. Her frank language among the higher-ups cuts through the bureaucratic bullshit of the office. She is stuck on the bad guy, who is obviously the bad guy, even if her bosses insists that he’s unimportant. However, instead of the bad guy being an iron-clad crime boss with some sort of European accent, its Osama fucking bin Laden.

I can’t tell if re-framing real events in these terms is tasteful or not. (Though it certainly explains the movie’s success with the mainstream public.) Especially since “Zero Dark Thirty” never backs away from the harsh, uncomfortable truths. The movie begins with harrowing audio from September 11th that, played against a stark black screen, is incredibly disturbing. Perhaps the filmmaker is presenting this to us in order to justify the desperate measures the characters go too? A large percentage of the film’s early half deals openly with “advanced interrogation” techniques. The interrogee is water-boarded, strung up with ropes, forced into a box about the size of a large luggage trunk, and blasted with death metal for hours on in. Despite the best efforts of Jason Clarke, the man doing the torture still comes off as an unlikeable jock. (Are we even suppose to like the guy? I'm not sure.) To be perfectly honest, there aren’t really any likable characters in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Everyone is too severe, too consumed by their mission, to have much personality. The characters seem to be intentional ciphers, since the film directly avoids casting any recognizable movie stars. Aside from Chastain and small roles from Mark Strong and a heavily made-up James Gandolfini, the cast is filled with unfamiliar character actors. 

To also be perfectly honest, I found most of “Zero Dark Thirty” to be either boring or upsetting. When the movie actually threatens to make things personable, like when two people meet for dinner in a fancy hotel, it immediately offsets it with another terrorist attack, another bomb, another explosion. I guess this is obviously correct for what the film is about. Nobody would expect a movie about hunting terrorist to be cuddly. But what about the boredom? All that internal affairs stuff went pretty much over my head. There’s a lot of insular drama about whither they are tracking the right guy with a beard. Compelling scenes like a prisoner being taken out for a nice lunch or Chastain being attacked by machine-gun wielding terrorists in her driveway seem separated by a lot of long scenes of people sitting around in rooms and talking.

Finally, two hours into the film, things start to pick up. The team gets a bead on Osama and finally start to close in. At this point, “Zero Dark Thirty” becomes captivating. Watching the screws turn and pieces fall into place probably shouldn’t be the most satisfying part of a mystery but frequently is anyway. In the last half-hour when the SEALs team is thrown together on literal black helicopters (To throw even more bones to conspiracy theorists, the black helicopters are located in Area 51) and flown over to complete the mission is when the film suddenly becomes excellent. Bigelow seems especially talented at putting the audience in the place of soldiers in the heat of combat. The raid on bin Laden’s compound is intense, with soldiers in cramp quarters dodging machine gun fire, never knowing what’s right around the corner. When the big fat kill comes, it happens in a nicely anticlimactic fashion. I don’t know if the film is too long or drags its feet, since all that previous information ends up being pretty important. I think the case can be made for presenting it in a more likable, compelling fashion.

Jessica Chastain’s performance is good but she’s only truly impressive when allowing her vulnerable side to show, which happens maybe twice in the whole movie. (The last scene admittedly impressed me.) I think her Oscar chances are officially in peril. “Zero Dark Thirty” is certainly not as good a film as “The Hurt Locker” and I honestly have to question the motivation of making a historical film about a historical event still fresh in the public’s recent memory. After watching it, I do say it probably deserved to be nominated for Best Editing, which is the most notably well done aspect of the whole film. [5/10]