Oscar Reivew: 3 Speeches, 2 Disappointments, 0 Surprises

This is probably way late to the game, but I just couldn’t stay up and write it after the Oscars last night and then couldn’t get to it till now today. Hopefull, you will still find some of this relevant…

So, awards season is over, thankfully. The noise level had gotten pretty high over the last few weeks.

For my part, I only missed 3 picks last night (foriegn, short animated/live action) but that doesn’t mean I was happy with all the selections. I think that Geoffrey Rush and Chris Nolan got overlooked for Best Supporting and Original Script respectively, but I expected, though dreaded, that. I also expected King’s Speech to win, though Social Network is a better film, and Hooper to win, though Fincher’s job was way more complex and artful. The reason I count that as only 2 disappointments is that I gave up on the last two long ago, despite my own feelings to the contrary and I can actually see the two-horse race in the directing case.

Speech-wise, Kirk Douglas’ presentation to Melissa Leo and her speech was, by far, the best moment of the evening for me. The other two worth seeing were David Seidler for The King’s Speech script (very amusing) and the young Luke Matheny, who was likewise entertaining and fresh. There were many other touching speeches and good ones, but these three stood out as genuine and fun. And, for the most part, Franco and Hathaway were pretty much non-entities, so the whole presentation aspect had a negligible impact.

Awards are highly political animals and their value as judge is ephemeral, even if their value as marketing is not. It is true in every field. But we still love to watch and wonder and try to pick the winners. It is a hardwire problem our species has–we love to compete and rate and order things. It is how we survive. Absent physical danger, we apply the same instincts to everything around us, including art, that may or may not be best served by the effort. I may rail against it, but I participate just the same and I’m betting anyone reading this does to some extent as well.

Megamind

Megamind was viewed in a double-feature with Sex and the City 2, and it came off the loser. Yeah, really. I had actually queued this up second to “wash the taste” of the first out of my mouth–though it turned out, there was no bitter after-taste to Sex and the City 2 for us. Why bring all of this up? Because I really expected and wanted to enjoy this latest flip-side hero animation film.

However, it is no more than a soft 3 stars as it really became derivative, predictable, and aimed at 10 year olds. It isn’t that this doesn’t have moments, but it just never really satisfies or feels more than a big-budget Saturday morning special. Why do we use such great technology for such junk purposes? Despicable Me had similar problems for me as a film. Again, enjoyable, but just not something that I’d ever need to see again.

Perhaps all of these films just never meet my expectations since The Incredibles, which was a great film, not just a cartoon. Pixar is about the only studio that really understands that aspect, though I don’t put the Toy Story series in that collection. But look at Up or Ratatouille, which are great stories and films, that they are animated is somewhat secondary, though Ratatouille is a better film, in my opinion even if the opening of Up is a outstanding. If you’re hearing a lot of love for Brad Bird here, you are not deaf.

To sum up, and to stop my diatribe, this is a perfectly fine film for older children, but not one I’d ever need to watch again nor could recommend strongly when there are so many better animations out there (one last pitch for Bird’s oeuvre: The Iron Giant).

Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City, as a show, was a guilty pleasure; a 22 min. bon-bon of silliness and fun with the occasional bit of gravitas and a whole lot of Kim Cattrall. Their first movie was entertaining, if over-the-top, and wrapped up the story lines that had been left swinging in the wind when the series wound down.

I agreed to watch this sequel, however, only for my wife, who is in the fashion business. I expected to really dislike it given all the reviews. I was surprised, and it had us examining why the reviews and box office were so bad, but more on that in in a minute.

The opening of this flick is worth seeing, just for the utterly outlandish and overblown wedding–self-consciously so and it even manages to keep topping itself. The story goes from there to life choices and real aspects of marriage. It is an enjoyable romp.. much more so than I expected.. despite its silliness and forced situations. And, of course, there is the fashion. One aspect of note: their make-up and lighting people should have been shot. Parker in particular, but all of the women generally, looked awful. The words “old hag” were used a couple times from our couch. They aren’t, but boy did the make-up and lighting not do them any favors.

So, if this movie was enjoyable, why did it fail so utterly at the box office? Three reasons I could identify:

  1. It’s a movie about opulence during one of the deepest parts of the recession. The Gold Diggers failed during the Great Depression for similar reasons. It was just too much of what people didn’t have.
  2. On a global front, it is a bit of a polemic against the middle-east and how it treats women. Frankly, it felt rather honest and, in its weird way, empowering, but definitely not favorable.
  3. It takes on the subject of couples who choose not to have children and doesn’t flinch. Frankly, it was probably this nail in the coffin that was the strongest and it says a great deal about our own society and its biases.

Overall, this is a solid 3 star movie, which I write with as much surprise as you read. The fact that we saw this as a double feature with Megamind… and the latter did not come across the better, shocked me, but there you have it.

For Colored Girls

This is one of those rare times where I will violate my own guidelines and rate something a 5 even though I probably wouldn’t buy it. The reason is that the performances and the direction of this play-turned-movie are extraordinary and should be seen.

I haven’t seen the play in a very long time, but still recalled a couple of the poems with utter clarity. But even with those distant echoes, the performers owned their moments and lived them believably and painfully. It is an amazingly relevant story, even today, making it as difficult and as joyful as ever to behold; and also why I don’t know if I’d want to own it and travel that road with these women again. Their raw emotion and honesty is utterly compelling and damaging all at once.

From an adaptation perspective, the way Perry slides in and out of the action to the poetry and weaves together the community of women is beautiful. If he was less hated in the industry for his attitude and union busting, he’d probably have had several nominations for his and his cast’s efforts.

Get Low

This is Indie film making at its near best. A story no studio would know how to market, loaded with talent and made with passion.

This quiet, powerful tale of a man at the end of his life follows no simple trope, though aspects of many. Duvall is all but unrecognizable, he sinks into his character so well and Spacek is, as always, engaging and believable. Even Bill Murray, who is a fish out of water in this town, is supposed to be a fish out of water. It just works. Slowly, inexorably, with humor, and with a little pathos. It just works.

Piranah

This is just a stoopid, silly, fun distraction. Done as a black comedy and unapologetically over-the-top, and filled with more enhanced upper female torsos than I’ve ever seen outside of a blue film, you just laugh till you cringe. Is it great? No. Is it entertaining? If you like this kind of bad monster flick, sure. As a re-imagining of the original, it does a pretty good job. There are some rather creative deaths (one in particular had me shouting at the set… it involves an outboard motor). With some great talent on board, especially the mom, surprisingly, and not so much Jerry O’Connell, who did what he was told, but it was too unbelievable a death scene that went on forever. With other fun cameos, and yes, lots of tail, it is what it is. And whether you’d like that, you probably know already…

Before Night Falls

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Unfortunately, while this movie in an interesting insight into the culture of Cuba beginning around the time of Castro’s rise, it is a fractured story that is often hard to follow. Part of this is the scope of time that it covers, but it is also that the editing of the scenes is often very confusing. There are, however, a couple of performances and cameos that really are worth seeing, just for their uniqueness. I’ll leave it to you to peek at the cast list or not if you intend to watch. It is these performances and the historical aspect that raise this to a soft 3 stars for me.

Schnabel clearly has a fascination with tragic artists. While this attempt is far more a story than his Basquiat, it fails to help me appreciate the writing of the main character, Reinaldo Arenas. When watching a biopic, I want to either be informed about someone I already admire or, as is the case with most of Schnabel’s early subjects, learn enough to become interested the artist’s work. I’m not sure he succeeded here and I’m still left doubting his ability to control an epic story at this point in his career. Perhaps his later films improve… there is a glimmer of ability that shows a great eye and the control to elicit good performances, but it just doesn’t come together in a satisfying way.

Clearly there is something that keeps me coming back to Schnabel’s work and he is able to convince major talent in several disciplines to work with him. Perhaps it is his hypnotic visuals or simply the strong performances. I honestly can’t put my finger on it yet, but I’ll probably given him a chance with a more recent film to see if the aspects of his efforts that don’t work for me now improved. Which says something about his talent …

Tipping the Velvet

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A wicked and wonderful sense of humor saves this fairly ordinary, albeit not ordinary subject matter, story from being just another well-produced, 19th Century, BBC drama that would bore me. Oh, and lots of sex; though honestly, that’s not the primary draw… but, in the vaudeville spirit of the series, “It couldn’t hoit!”

The series, told in 3 acts/episodes, is a very entertaining coming-of-age/finding oneself/finding love/rags to riches story. Think Voltaire meets Dickens. I watched the entire 3 hours series in one sitting and suspect you would too.



The American

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A slow, quiet, intense performance and story drive this movie from moments in until the denoument. A strong three stars here, but don’t expect a Bourne-like chase across Euorpe. This is more like Dark Star, which may be a low-budget genre flick, but set out to show us the boredom of long space travel and succeeded well. In this case, the waiting is pressurized by ever-present danger. I never felt bored by the film, despite its length and its general lack of dialogue and action.

Far from glamorizing Clooney’s nefarious job, it is one of the most honest depictions I’ve seen in a long time. OK, perhaps they riff a bit too much on the “prostitute with a heart of gold” type of theme (and, I’m not talking about this literally) but without that dram of conscience, we wouldn’t have a character to hang our hat on.

If you like slow-burn character studies and a peek behind what you think you know about how a hit man must live to succeed and survive, check this out. If you want action and explosions and reparte, this isn’t the movie for you.

Devil

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A perfectly fun and serviceable Twilight Zone or Night Gallery type story. Well executed and produced, but with only a few surprises, mostly of the shock type. Having just seen a live show that employed pitch black and noise to surprise, this wasn’t as effective for me. And, while it tries to rise above by having additional plots and twists, it is only marginally successful as the twists and surprises just weren’t to me.

This was the first of the new Night Chronicles series that M. Night Shyamalan is producing and providing the story for, but not the scripts. I’m looking forward to the next, but they need to become better movies rather than 90 min TV specials if they’re going to be a success, IMO. However, as a rental if you like horror/suspense, you probably won’t be wasting your time.

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…