Saturday, January 12, 2013

A few words on Hitchcock and The Impossible

Hitchcock (2012 - Sacha Gervasi)

Hitchcock tries to be part character study and part filmmaking docudrama, and never really comes together as either. Attempts are made to probe Hitchcock's psychology by showing him as a man haunted by visions of Ed Gein. In another scene, we see him eavesdropping on Vera Miles (a very unconvincing Jessica Biel) in her dressing room--a scene clearly intended to evoke Norman Bates spying on Marion Crane in Psycho. It's indicative of the movie's psychological insight that the Vera Miles character actually says outright, "The Jimmy Stewart character in Vertigo--THAT'S Hitch." Perhaps most ridiculous is the scene where he gets frustrated at the stabbing motions in the shower scene, takes the knife, and begins showing how it should really be done. At other times, the movie gives us Hitchcock The Character, with all of the traditional personality quirks on display, and still, at others, we get Hitchcock as one of those over-the-hill athletes trying to make one last comeback. We also get a look at his marriage: he obviously loved his wife, but he also openly flirted with his female leads in front of his her, and then was unbelievably jealous when she when left the house to work with a screenwriter to improve his script. (It's indicated that Hitchcock doesn't like her leaving the house, or doing anything, unless it's to serve a purpose for him. It's also indicated that she more or less accepts this and is okay with it.) It's not that a movie couldn't incorporate all of these things, but Hitchcock never incorporates them into any coherent vision of Alfred Hitchcock. They all feel like a bunch of separate character traits, instead of parts that make up the whole man. Hitchcock isn't really any better when it focuses on filmmaking. It doesn't offer anything beyond a bunch of in-jokes, and while Sacha Gervasi tries at times to imitate Hitchcock's style (something that could make for a fun approach), he doesn't do it consistently, so it never amounts to anything beyond a few meaningless visual flairs in an otherwise indifferently-shot film. You get a few moments here and there in the performances (mainly Mirren and D'Arcy) that may not make the movie worth watching, exactly, but at least deserve a bit of credit. Overall, though, Hitchcock is a waste.

The Impossible (2012 - Juan Antonio Bayona)

There's been a good bit of discussion about it, but I will say that I'm not mortally offended that a film about the 2004 tsunami has wealthy white tourists as its protagonists without any real minority "representation". I don't think anyone could argue against the fact that The Impossible only offers a very small perspective on the tsunami, but I do think a good movie could be made from the story of how this family--or any family--was affected by the tsunami. The problem here is that The Impossible just isn't a good movie. Too much of it is in poor taste: For example, Bayona's deicision to end the film with the protagonists flying away on an otherwise empty private jet. His buildup to the tsunami is in even worse taste, with its sense of impending doom laid on way too thickly, like something out of a cheap horror movie. Bayona establishes a sense of family dynamics early, and the opening scenes are not bad, but Bayona ultimately skips on any familial observations, because he is way too eager to get to The Good Stuff. Once the tsunami hits, it's clear that Bayona is a decent technician, but through these scenes it's clear that he's quick to fall into suspense and disaster genre traps. He also makes the unwise structural decision to tell the story from the point-of-view of the mother and one of the sons, then to go back and tell if from the point-of-view of the father and other two sons before bringing it together with after a series of near-misses and chance encounters. The performances are decent, but Tom Holland as the oldest son is the only character who gets anything close to a real dramatic arc. I don't get why everyone's going on about Watts, but then again (aside from Mulholland Drive), I never do.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

10 Points on Les Misérables

Les Miserables (2012 - Tom Hooper)

I couldn't really count this as any type of formal "review"--more a collection of thoughts I had during and after the film. It allows me to put the thoughts out there without trying to make them cohere into an actual review.

1. I like the musical. It's no masterpiece, and I recognize that, but I like it, and I can think of many worse ways to pass an evening than by seeing a production of Les Miserables. I really like a lot of the songs, and I find it easy to get swept up in the big emotions of the piece. I also liked The Kings Speech, although more in the framework of a BBC-type biopic than as any type of major film. (I also liked Hooper's TV work from the 2000's.)

2. The musical is not at all well-served by the film, which only seems to highlight the weaknesses of the musical. Trying to bring a sense of realism to the film adaptation only highlights how much the musical simplifies Hugo's novel. A lot of the complexities get reduced to more simple emotions, and you can really feel the emotional button-pushing here. The female characters, especially are weak links. They never really register as anything, really. They weren't strong in the musical (a lot of that due to compressing Hugo's novel) but I don't remember Lea Salonga's Eponine being such a non-entity in the 10th Anniversary Concert. 

52 in 52

This is inspired by a thread at The Backstage. The idea is to pick 52 movies you haven't seen and watch them throughout the year. A few tweaks to the system for my own purposes: Yeah, I have more than 52 here. Some depend on availability issues, etc., and those that I don't get to this year might get rolled over into next year. Also, a few of these I've seen, but it's been awhile, so I just wanted a new look. 

Apart From You (Mikio Naruse)
Design For Living (Ernst Lubitsch)
History is Made at Night (Frank Borzage)
I Was Born But... (Yasijuro Ozu)
Judge Priest (John Ford)
M (Fritz Lang)
Mayerling (Anatole Litvak)
The Plough and the Stars (John Ford)
The Spy in Black (Michael Powell) 
The Story of a Cheat (Sacha Guitry)

21 Days (Basil Dean)
Beyond the Forest (King Vidor)
Crisis (Ingmar Bergman)
The Diary of a Chambermaid (Jean Renoir)
The Long Voyage Home (John Ford)
Major Barbara (Gabriel Pascal)
Monsieur Verdoux (Charlie Chaplin)
Paisan (Roberto Rossellini)
Remorques (Jean Gremillon)
The Southerner (Jean Renoir)
Swamp Water (Jean Renoir)
To Be or Not to Be (Ernst Lubitsch)
Tobacco Road (John Ford)
Women of the Night (Kenji Mizoguchi)

Along the Great Divide (Raoul Walsh)
Le Beau Serge (Claude Chabrol)
The Big Country (William Wyler)
Il Generale Della Rovere (Roberto Rosselini)
Gideon's Day (John Ford)
The Idiot (Akira Kurosawa)
India Matri Buhmi (Roberto Rosselini)
Kapo (Gillo Pontecorvo)
Letter Never Sent (Mikhail Kalatozov)
The Life of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
The Long Gray Line (John Ford)
M (Joseph Losey)
Story of a Love Affair (Michelangelo Antonioni)
Street of Shame (Kenji Mizoguchi)
War and Peace (King Vidor)
The Woman in Question (Anthony Asquith)

All My Good Countrymen (Voytech Jasny)
Before the Revolution (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Calcutta (Louis Malle)
Courage For Every Day (Evald Schorm)
Donovan's Reef (John Ford)
El Dorado (Howard Hawks)
Fists in the Pocket (Marco Bellocchio)
Leon Morin, Priest (Jean-Pierre Melville)
Phantom India (Louis Malle)
Rapture (Jean Guillermin)
Wings (Larisa Shepitko)
Woman in the Dunes (Shohei Imamura)

The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko)
The Birch Wood (Andrzej Wajda)
The Confession (Costa-Gavras)
The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci)
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri)
The Lacemaker (Claude Goretta)
Lacombe, Lucien (Louis Malle)
The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)
Man of Marble (Andrzej Wajda)
Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May)
Mon Oncle Antoine (Claude Jutra)
Silence (Masahiro Shinoda)
Tess (Roman Polanski)
Violette (Claude Chabrol)
Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff)

Another Way (Károly Makk, János Xantus)
Atlantic City (Louis Malle)
Blind Chance (Krzystof Kieslowski)
Blow Out (Brian De Palma) 
Enemies: A Love Story (Paul Mazursky)
Insignificance (Nicolas Roeg)
Love Streams (John Cassavetes)
La Nuit de Varennes (Ettore Scola)
Rendez-vous (Andre Techine) 
Shoot the Moon (Alan Parker)
Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pailat)

After Life
(Hirokazu Koreeda) 
An Angel At My Table (Jane Campion) 
The Best Intentions (Bille August) 
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang) 
The Double Life of Veronique (Krzystof Kieslowski) 
Lamerica (Gianni Amellio) 
La Promesse (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) 
Madadayo (Akira Kurosawa) 
Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami) 
What Happened Was... (Tom Noonan)

12:08 East of Bucharest (Corneliu Porumboiu)
About Elly
(Asghar Farhadi) 
Afterschool (Antonio Campos) 
All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai) 
Eureka (Shinji Aoyama)
Fireworks Wednesday
(Asghar Farhadi) 
Jaffa (Keren Yedaya) 
Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho) 
Sweet Rush (Andrzej Wajda)
Ushpizin (Giddi Dar)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Remembering 2012

This is inspired by Nick Davis's remembrances of his many trips to the movies through the 2000's. One thing I am going to do differently though, is to include some notable home-video viewings as well. Some of my most memorable movie moments this year were home-video viewings, and some of my theatre viewings weren't worth blogging. It wasn't my most active year of movie-watching (due to a full-time teaching position that I had for several months) but it was a fun one, and this gives a small representation of what I watched, and how I felt about it.

January 14, Rave Valley Bend 18, Huntsville, AL
Who gets up, leaves home by 9:00 AM on a Saturday morning, and drives to a movie theatre almost forty miles from home just to see The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? That would be me. I was teaching full time then and I didn't have time for weeknight movies, so this was pretty much my only bet. I caught a 10:30 showing of The Artist, and maybe it was because of the early showtime, but I was shocked that there were less than ten people in the theatre. I was also shocked that the audience really didn't seem to fall in love with the movie the way I had thought they would. I myself liked it, okay, but it was nothing like the full-on coup of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at 1:30. Even though I had read the book, I went into Tinker Tailor..., fully expecting to be confused and frustrated, but it turned out to be as good of an adaptation of a novel as one could hope for. From the perfectly moody atmosphere to the tricks it plays on us--especially by making us wonder when the "plot" is going to really kick in, only for us to realize that it kicked in from the minute it started--I totally, completely fell for it, and to my surprise, the audience did as well.

Best of 2011

Based on US Release Date

Best Film: 

1- The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick) 
2- A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) 
3- Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami) 
4- Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois) 
5- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson) 
6- Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols) 
7- Like Crazy (Drake Doremus)  
8- City of Life and Death (Lu Chuan) 
9- Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog) 
10- War Horse (Steven Spielberg) 

Runners-Up: J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood), Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga), How I Ended This Summer (Aleksey Popogrebsky) 


1- Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life 
2- Asghar Farhadi, A Separation 
3- Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy 
4- Xavier Beauvious, Of Gods and Men 
5- Tomas Alfredson, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 


1- Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- Michael Shannon, Take Shelter 
3- Michael Fassbender, Shame 
4- Grigoriy Dobrygin, How I Ended This Summer 
5- Michael Sheen, Beautiful Boy 


1- Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy 
2- Maria Bello, Beautiful Boy 
3- Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground 
4- Yun Jeong-hee, Poetry 
5- Olivia Colman, Tyrannosaur 

Supporting Actor: 

1- Armie Hammer, J. Edgar 
2- Shahab Hosseini, A Separation 
3- Norbert Leo Butz, Higher Ground 
4- Jeremy Irons, Margin Call 
5- Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Ides of March 

Supporting Actress: 

1- Jessica Chastiain, Take Shelter (and The Debt, The Help, Coriolanus, and The Tree of Life) 
2- Vanessa Redgrave, Coriolanus 
3- Sareh Bayet, A Separation 
4- Carey Mulligan, Shame 
5- Jeannie Berlin, Margaret 


1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- A Separation 
3- Higher Ground 
4- Margaret 
5- Crazy Stupid Love 

Adapted Screenplay: 

1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- Higher Ground 
3- Moneyball 
4- One Day 
5- Incendies 

Original Screenplay: 

1- A Separation 
2- Certified Copy 
3- Take Shelter 
4- J. Edgar 
5- Margin Call 


1- The Tree of Life 
2- City of Life and Death 
3- Mysteries of Lisbon 
4- Like Crazy 
5- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 


1- The Tree of Life 
2- Certified Copy 
3- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
4- Moneyball 
5- A Separation 


1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 
3- Take Shelter 
4- City of Life and Death 
5- War Horse 

Production Design: 

1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- City of Life and Death 
3- War Horse 
4- Shame 
5- The Tree of Life 

Costume Design: 

1- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy 
2- J. Edgar 
3- Mysteries of Lisbon 
4- Crazy Stupid Love 
5- Higher Ground 


1- Girl With the Dragon Tattoo 
2- City of Life and Death 
3- Contagion 
4- The Ides of March 
5- Higher Ground 


1- The Tree of Life 
2- How I Ended This Summer 
3- City of Life and Death 
4- War Horse 
5- Drive 

Sound Effects: 

1- War Horse 
2- Drive 
3- City of Life and Death 
4- How I Ended This Summer 
5- The Robber 

Visual Effects: 

1- The Tree of Life 
2- Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 
3- Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Live-Blogging the 84th Annual Academy Awards

6:51 PM (CST):
Not watching Red Carpet coverage yet. The past eight years with Crystal not hosting have been nice, even when the hosts were terrible. I’m sure we’ll get the same old song-and-dance routine he always does, like a summer entertainer at the Catskills. Not looking forward to it. I could go with no host, personally.

7:12 PM: George Clooney, bringing the smug as usual, with his flavor of the month.

7:18 PM: Robin Roberts is usually a good presence, but she’s stuck here. I miss Joan Rivers making a noisy shambles out of everything though. As soon as E! fired her, I quit watching anything Red Carpet.

7:23: Natalie Portman seems to have reverse-aged over the past year, although honestly, she looks too thin. Oh, no, not Tom Hanks! He radiates more smug than Clooney. He just knows he charms everybody as he gives this backstage tour at the Oscars.

7:25: Clooney and Hanks radiate smug, but Brian Grazer radiates gross. Still thankful to him for Friday Night Lights, though.

NOTE ABOUT MY PREDICTIONS: I’ve already made them out, and I promise I’m not going to change them, no matter how things go over the night.

7:31: Morgan Freeman gets the intro. Why is he not presenting Best Picture? Everybody knows him, everybody loves him, and he’s been a major presence in major blockbusters and major Oscar-contenders for years.

7:37: I expect this to be more tedious than normal since Crystal has nine movies to insert himself into. Random Justin Bieber appearance. Totally ruins the pie joke from The Help by giving it away, although the segue into Bridesmaids is amusing (but obvious) enough. Didn’t go on nearly as long as I had thought, which is a relief.

7:43: I really hope that isn’t how the stage is going to look all night, because, well, there’s tacky, and then there’s that. The good thing about nine Best Picture nominees is that Crystal is keeping the songs a little bit shorter than normal. Sound mixing is terrible though—I can barely understand anything he’s singing. Not a complaint, exactly.

MY PICK: The Tree of Life, and there’s no competition. Not just the best of the year, but one of the strongest achievements in Cinematography in a very long time.
MY PREDICTION: The Tree of Life, hesitantly. A win by any of the other four might turn me into a full-on hater. A win by The Artist might have me throwing things at the screen.

It’s Hugo. Ridiculous. Sheerly in terms of photography, Hugo is Scorsese’s least-interesting film in years. Robert Richardson is a great cinematographer, but his Oscar for JFK was the only one of his three Oscar wins that he deserved as much as a nomination for.

Art Direction
MY PICK: Hugo, I guess, although I really wish Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had been nominated.
MY PREDICTION: Hugo should easily take this. Don’t really see this one being close.

It’s Hugo. At least this one is deserved, because the Cinematography award is, once again, an embarrassment.

7:53: Okay, so Brian Grazer is obviously another Gil Cates in terms of pointless montages. I thought this was about romances, but it seems to have turned into just a bunch of random scenes, mostly from bad movies. A timewaster like this is what the show doesn’t need more of.

Costume Design
MY PICK: Haven’t seen Anonymous or W.E., but I’d go with Jane Eyre pretty easily out of the other three.
MY PREDICTION: I could see any of the five winning—W.E. as part of Academy randomness; Anonymous because of 1600’s opulence; Jane Eyre because those dresses are so pretty—but between Hugo and The Artist, I’ll go with The Artist on Best Picture momentum.

It’s The Artist. Not particularly deserved, but I thought those silent-era Hollywood costumes would register.

MY PICK: I can’t even fake caring here.
MY PREDICTION: I think it’ll definitely be Harry Potter or The Iron Lady but I don’t have any idea which. I don’t think Meryl Streep is winning Actress, and wouldn’t it be odd for THIS movie to win an Oscar without her winning one? I’ll put my money behind Harry Potter.

It’s The Iron Lady. Does this mean that Meryl’s winning Actress? Everyone seems to hate the movie, so it would be strange for it to win here if Streep didn’t also win. But with three nominees here vs.five for Actress, it’s not hard to imagine that plenty of voters might have picked The Iron Lady here and not picked Streep in actress.

Foreign Film
MY PICK: Haven’t seen any of these, but I really want to see In Darkness lose, not for any reason to do with the movie itself, but to shut up those people who always go on about how Holocaust movies always win.
MY PREDICTION: A Separation should take this easily, I think.

It’s A Separation! Haven’t seen it yet, but it seems to be the rare movie that everyone can agree on.

Supporting Actress
MY PICK: Jessica Chastain, although probably more for the body of work than for her individual performance in The Help. When the body of work is as impressive and has the range of hers, I don’t really have a problem voting for it.
MY PREDICTION: Somehow Octavia Spencer has turned into a tough-to-beat frontrunner here.

It’s Spencer. Standing O! Obviously a popular win—would be pretty shocked to see Davis lose after this. Decent speech, but Spencer was too overwhelmed to give the kind of memorable one I was hoping for. What’s with the musicians up in the box seats?

8:18: Now, about that new Ashley Judd show. You know that movie she kept making over and over a decade ago? That movie has been turned into a TV series.

8:20: Can we just keep the show moving please? The show is always way too long on the gags.

MY PICK: Moneyball is “classical” editing—not showy, no major action sequences of cross-cutting—but it has a real rhythm and momentum. With The Tree of Life and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy not nominated, it seems like the clear best.
MY PREDICTION: None of these feels like a traditional winner for this category, but I think that the Best Picture strength of The Artist will pull it into the winners circle here.

It’s Dragon Tattoo! Big surprise, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Sound Editing
MY PICK: I didn’t really like Drive, but it did have the single most memorable sound effect of the year for me—that loud, shocking gunshot blast telling us that the pawn shop robbery had gone wrong. I can’t get worked up about much here though.
MY PREDICTION: I don’t really know…I think Hugo is winning Sound, so I’ll guess Hugo takes this one too, although other than the dream sequence, I don’t really remember anything memorable about the Sound work in Hugo. Might War Horse upset for those battle scenes?

It’s Hugo. Don’t get this win, exactly. The second speaker attempts an “everyone who’s ever been born” joke, unsuccessfully.

Sound Mixing
MY PICK: Moneyball or War Horse would probably get my vote.
MY PREDICTION: Hugo seems like the smart pick here.

It’s Hugo. Getting a bit tired of Martin Scorsese trying to look humble and flattered.

8:38: Cirque-du-Soleil thing, introduced by Kermit and Miss Piggy. Dubious relevance, but it’s impressive. Would probably be more impressive in person. An audience shot shows us that George Clooney’s girlfriend feels nothing about this.

8:40: Overlong, unfunny schtick between Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. leading into an the Documetnary presentation.

Documentary Feature
MY PREDICTION: Undefeated, although you never really know with this category.

Animated Feature
MY PICK: I just want to see this category go away.
MY PREDICTION: With Tintin not nominated, Rango seems like the easy pick.

It’s Rango. Verbinski is just going through the motions here. Nice to see them cut back to his wife when he mentioned her, though.

8:53: The banter between the presenters this year is just awful.

Visual Effects
MY PICK: Indifferent.
MY PREDICTION: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, although Hugo and even Harry Potter wouldn’t really surprise me.

It’s Hugo. Might we be seeing an upset in Director? Still wondering why The Tree of Life didn’t get a nomination here. Audience seems tired of it winning by now. Man, that stage really is a mess.

8:58: Melissa Leo presenting Supporting Actor, dressed like a prom chaperone.

Supporting Actor
MY PICK: Christopher Plummer is the best of these—funny and sad, but not overstating either—although any of these five would be acceptable picks by Academy standards.
MY PREDICTION: I don’t think Plummer has much to worry about.

It’s Plummer! Excellent speech. Plummer rattles off bunches of names in his speeches, but he’s much better at it than most award winners.

9:11: Crystal’s usual “What are they thinking thing”, and it’s not any funnier than it ever is. The teenager behind Scorsese isn’t feeling it. And now, during the Academy President Tom Sherack’s speech, we get a cut back to kid behind Scorsese. Should I know who he is? Following the speech, Crystal does get a good line at Tom Sherack’s expense.

MY PICK: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by a pretty big margin. War Horse and Hugo would be acceptable choices; The Artist, unacceptable…
MY PREDICTION: …but its composer, Ludovic Bource, probably doesn’t have anything to worry about.

It’s The Artist. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of warmth coming from the room about this win—not even from The Artist people on the front row—but Bource seems like a genuine guy.

MY PICK: This category should go away, just like Animated Feature. But, if pressed, give it to Bret McKenzie, for the Conchords as much as The Muppets.
MY PREDICTION: The Muppets, I’m guessing.

It’s The Muppets. After all of those Emmy losses for the funny songs from his HBO series, I’m glad to see Bret McKenzie win this. What’s with the beeping sound coming from the TV? I wonder if this is just my TV?

9:22: They’re actually making really good time. Is there some long tribute coming up?

Adapted Screenplay
MY PICK: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is definitely the best of these, although I might vote for Moneyball since it has the best shot at taking down The Descendants.
MY PREDICTION: The Descendants seems like a pretty safe bet. It wouldn’t be Oscar night without at least a few terrible choices would it?

It’s The Descendants. Worst winner in this category since…something. Seems like a really popular win, which disturbs me, re: Best Actor.

Original Screenplay
MY PICK: I’m not qualified to vote, having not seen A Separation, which was the major critics favorite, but of the other four, I’d probably vote for Margin Call.
MY PREDICTION: Midnight in Paris, mainly because The Artist will probably be (unfairly, in my opinion) dismissed by some voters because of the no-dialogue thing.

It’s Midnight in Paris. At least we’re spared a long speech.

Live Action Short
MY PREDICTION: Tuba Atlantic (totally uninformed).

It’s The Shore, and it turns out that the winners are a father-daughter team. The father tries for some statement Ireland/Northern Ireland political harmony, but seems unsure of what he wants to say, so hands it over to his daughter. Sasha Stone on Twitter says it was directed by someone famous. EDIT: Oh, THAT Terry George.

Documentary Short
MY PREDICTION: The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (ditto).

It’s Saving Face. James Cromwell is caught in a shot right after they announce the winner, and he couldn’t possibly care less. Bereniece Bejo, in the front row, is pretty taken by something that’s going on behind her.

Animated Short
MY PREDICTION: La Luna (uninformed, again).

It’s The Fantastic Flying Books…, and the back of the room seems to be happy for the winners. Front of the room just wants to get it over with. What is with the people going through the rows passing out popcorn? Supposed to be funny?

MY PICK: Malick, by a mile.
MY PREDICTION: Hazanivicius—I’ll never bet against the DGA.

It’s Hazanavicius. Surprisingly, not a great deal of love coming to Hazanvicius from the audience.

9:58: Meryl Streep gets to tell us about the Governor’s Awards. Did they even let Dick Smith go to the stage to speak at the Governor’s Awards? And now it looks like they’re going to pad out the rest of the show with commercials.

10:05: In Memoriam montage. Wasn’t a fan of his Oscar shows, but Crystal’s tribute to Gil Cates was very genuine. Glad to see Grazer turned off the audience applause, and glad to see he put up some names who weren’t all that well-known. 

10:12: For someone who seemed so shy and quiet a couple of years ago during Oscar season, Gabourey Sidibe seems really comfortable and very intelligent in these interviews about movies.

MY PICK: Pitt or Oldman, although I can live with anyone but Clooney. Clooney would be a very bitter pill to swallow.
MY PREDICTION: Jean Dujardin, although Clooney and (to a lesser extent) Pitt are both still in play, I think.

The girl behind Gary Oldman had clearly never heard of him or his film. It’s Dujardin. Was worried it might be Clooney for a minute there. Once again, I just don’t feel a great deal of love coming towards The Artist from the audience. Odd to say about a movie that’s poised to win Best Picture in about ten minutes, but these awards feel perfunctory.

MY PICK: I’ll just pretend that Juliette Binoche is up for Certified Copy. Won’t be upset with Davis. Won’t mind Streep either, just because she hasn’t won in so long. Glenn Close wouldn’t make me unhappy either, since she’s lost five times before, even though I haven’t seen Albert Nobbs and it looks pretty dire. Just not Michelle Williams, please.
MY PREDICTION: Viola Davis seems to be out in front. My guess is that Meryl will wait again.

It’s Meryl!! Great speech. Hard to get mad about this since she’s lost for the past twenty-nine years. But still, no one will rank The Iron Lady very high on the list of her best performances.

MY PICK: The Tree of Life exists in a different universe than the other eight movies.

It’s The Artist. This will never rank high on historical rankings of the Best Picture winners, but they could’ve done worse.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gettysburg (Ron Maxwell - 1993)

I'm not sure how many times I’ve seen Gettysburg. This isn't a perfect movie, and the current form shows remnants of a much longer film that probably would've been better. (The film could've easily been six or eight hours long.) For example, the scene where General Tremble complains to Lee about General Ewell is apparently historically accurate, and it's very, very well played by Morgan Sheppard. The problem with the scene is that General Ewell doesn't even appear in the existent cut of the film, so the conflict doesn't really mean much, especially to someone who doesn't know the particulars of the battle. The general idea—that there were Confederate officers who saw the importance of taking Cemetery Hill after the first day of the battle—is an important one, but it would’ve been more resonant if we had seen Ewell (an interesting historical figure) at some point before then. Maxwell also falls into the trap of including several heavy-handed monologues. Most of these were lifted directly from the novel, but books are a different medium than film, and they worked there. Here, except for the character-developing monologues, Maxwell doesn’t quite know how to approach them, and so it’s basically a character declaiming about some theme (The Cause, Duty, Honor), with music in the background.

On the plus side, though, Randy Edelman's score is appropriately epic, and his arrangement of “Kathleen Mavourneen” is lovely. Tom Berenger is at times too subtle and too withdrawn as General Longstreet (Longstreet had suffered a great personal tragedy—the loss of three of his children within one week due to scarlet fever—not long before Gettysburg, so it does kind of make sense) but he's excellent at other times, as Longstreet sees things, and has insights that his fellow officers can't see, as he feels compelled by duty to order attacks that he knows will fail. Sam Elliott, as John Buford, the unsung hero of the battle, is at his best, and Martin Sheen is pretty excellent overall (his final monologue is devastating). Best of all is Richard Jordan as the tragic Lewis Armistead. Of all the monologues in the film, he gets the best one (with Longstreet in the tent), and he absolutely kills it. Jordan’s performance in general is emblematic of a great strength that Gettysburg shows—the way it emphasizes the humanity of everyone involved in the battle. Even Edward Porter Alexander, an artillery commander who appears in just a few scenes, emerges as a fully-formed, believable person. However, I think the best thing about the movie is the way it handles the geography of battle. Movies and miniseries hardly ever get this right. Whenever we’re following a particular unit, we often wonder: Where is this unit with respect to the rest of the army? Where is this army positioned with respect to that army? You know that here; it's all made very clear, and everything in the battle scenes unfolds with amazing clarity. Unusual for a war film, the battle scenes aren't confusing at all, and that's a pretty amazing accomplishment.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Generation (Andrzej Wajda - 1954)

On the most basic level, A Generation is a coming-of-age story, about a young man, somewhere between adolescence and young adulthood, who joins a communist resistance group to fight the Nazis during World War II. Wajda bookends the film with scenes showing innocence and experience, with Stach, our protagonist, representing innocence in the beginning, and representing experience, as a hardened veteran at the end of the film, and overall the film makes for a very good, and very gripping look at the way a person evolves while managing a day-to-day, sometimes minute-to-minute type of existence. Most of all, and most impressively, we see Wajda’s skill at creating set pieces on full display, a skill still apparent in that shattering, nearly heart-stopping finale of Katyn.

It is impossible to divorce A Generation completely from its political baggage: Scenes where one character nobly expounds the wonders of “the cause” to another character are hard to take at anything beyond face value. It’s a piece of socialist realism, and during some of these scenes, it seems to be operating in a similar vein to some of the pro-Soviet films that Hollywood churned out during World War II, albeit more skillful in execution. A Generation also overstates the size and scale of the communist resistance fighters in Poland at the time: They are depicted as the only group resisting the Nazis, when in fact they were a fairly small group (much smaller than Poland’s Home Army) and did absolutely nothing to resist the Nazis when they were preying on Jews and fellow Poles; they only joined the anti-Nazi fight after the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union. Much of this, Wajda has said, was due to political pressure from the Soviet Union, and a close reading of the film will show a few sly subversions of the State-mandated ideal: The Cause is shown destroying the individual, often turning a blind eye to the Nazi extermination of Jews, and one major character essentially gives his life for The Cause that has both literally and figuratively abandoned him. In that scene, the character in question, who had shown serious misgivings about the Cause and who had rejoined only out of loyalty to friends, is chased by the Nazis through town and ultimately up a winding staircase. When he gets to the top the only door opens to prison bars, a visual metaphor that powerfully suggests, among other things, the impossibility of escaping fate. This casts the remainder of the film in a completely different, much more fatalistic light. Even the happy ending with Stach being joined by some new partisans is not really a happy ending because of what we have seen happen to the other resistance fighters over the course of the film.

Visually, I think Wajda was just finding his way at this point (he credits Italian Neorealism as a heavy influence, but this seems to have more in common with late-40’s Hollywood Noir), and the fairly dishonest political baggage does hinder the film somewhat. At the same time though, it would be pretty easy for someone to look at A Generation—Wajda’s first feature—and Katyn—his forty-first—and tell that they are works of the same man, and I don’t think that statement can be made about many “major” filmmakers.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Recent Musical Discoveries

Some of my favorite YouTube videos recently have been from ITV's Transatlantic Sessions, featuring mixtures of American, Irish, and British musicians performing everything ranging from traditional American and Irish folk songs to modern folk and country songs.

Rosanne Cash recorded country standard "500 Miles" for her album The List, and this is just one example of what a fantastic interpretive singer she is. I think Cash has an unfair reputation of being someone who owes her career to being the daughter of Johnny Cash, but she deserves full credit for being a perfectly legitimate singer/songwriter in her own right. I'd definitely say that her albums Interiors (from 1990) and Black Cadillac (from 2006) stand proudly alongside anything her father recorded.

This is from one of the early Transatlantic Sessions back in the late 90's. Maura O'Connell is someone I discovered on YouTube, and this was my introduction to her. O'Connell's alto voice doesn't have the massive range that we see in most singers today, but she's got so much authenticity to her voice that it doesn't matter at all. (I love the pure, natural tone of her voice.) "Trouble in the Fields" is a song that most singers couldn't sell, but O'Connell completely sells it.

Despite an Oscar nomination at 26, a successful sister (Shelby Lynne), and a voice that could shame most singers in Nashville, Allison Moorer never quite made it in mainstream country music. "Send Down An Angel", a completely mainstream single she released to country radio in 2000 (and one of the finest singles in any genre of the decade), peaked at 66 on the charts. Her performance here is of the old sentimental Irish folk song "Carrickfergus". It doesn't require commentary.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Reboot, again....

I'm going to try to get this thing going again and keep it going.