Quick Oscar Thoughts

Let the rampant whining from fanboys begin.

It’s an important milestone in any movie fan’s life when he or she comes to the realization that the people voting for the Oscars are little more than old white men jerking off other old white men. That doesn’t mean he or she can’t enjoy the ceremonies, and the nominated movies, but, you know, let’s maybe not take the opinion of a group composed mostly of out-of-touch all that seriously.

 

Never forget.

With that said, I still enjoy bitching and moaning about the movies, because literally nothing gives me more joy than bitching and moaning about trivial shit.

And yes, like last year, I will watch and review all of the Best Picture nominees this year. I’ve already reviewed The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road and Spotlight, and I need to get to watching The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Revenant (Which I should see this weekend, with any luck) and Room.

With that out of the way, it’s time to make some observations about the nominations for the 88th Academy Awards.

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Selma (Movie Review)

Oh hey, Tim Roth plays a sleazeball, who would’ve thunk it?

Honestly you guys, any lead-in blurb that I’m thinking up is kind of pushing the boundaries of good taste, and I already did an anti-cop joke in my Kingsman review, so yeah. This is Selma.

Selma

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Produced by: Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner

Written by: Paul Webb, Ava DuVernay

Genre: Historical drama

Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Andre Holland, Tessa Thompson, Giovanni Ribisi, Lorraine Touissant, Stephan James, Wendell Pierce, Common, Alessandro Nivola, Keith Stanfield, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Oprah Winfrey

Music by: Jason Moran

Plot: In 1964, the fight for Civil Rights in America is intensifying, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (David Oyelowo) is right in the thick of it all.  The latest issue to rear its ugly head is the blatant neglect of the right of to vote that is guaranteed to black citizens in more backwards parts of the nation. When putting pressure on President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) doesn’t amount to much (As LBJ has a lot of stuff on his plate, such as the Vietnam War and combating poverty), Dr. King decides to take matters into his own hands, organising a massive, peaceful protest march from Selma, Alabama to the State Capitol in Montgomery, much to the dismay of the segregationist dickhead that is Alabama governor George Wallace (Tim Roth).

Out of all of the movies in this year’s Oscar class, Selma Is definitely the most topical of the bunch. You could argue that American Sniper‘s (More or less) anti-war message is also relevant, but it’s also not a great movie, and I’ll talk more about it later. What with the Trayvon Martin debacle and Ferguson being fresh in our minds, it’s hard not to feel the gravity of the situation, especially when the fantastic “Glory” song plays through the credits. We’re not here to talk about the relevance of the movie, though, we’re here to talk about quality. And, as is the case with all news vaguely related to minorities, I’m legally obligated as a reviewer to say that it was great.

Because cowardly PC critics never, ever, ever negatively review movies from black people. Never.

In all seriousness, Selma is a great movie. Is it the best movie of 2014? No, and it’s not even really that close. Is it the most important movie of 2014? Quite possibly, although in terms of measuring the depths of stupidity that the human race has fallen to, I would argue that Left Behind is a better indication of where we are as a species.

While Selma generally does everything well, with terrific cinematography, well directed scenes and a solidly written and fleshed-out script, the biggest thing the film has going for it is the supremely talented cast. While the fact that this movie was produced by and stars Oprah Winfrey in a supporting role kind of makes me roll my eyes and give out an exasperated sigh, but seeing her in the movie (Portraying activist Annie Lee Cooper) kind of makes  you remember that she’s an Academy Award-nominated actress, god complex and all. Another solid performer popping up is Cuba Gooding, Jr., believe it or not, and he’s quite solid himself, bringing up the question of why in the world he doesn’t get more work.

Oh. Right.

Carmen Ejogo is a name that I had to look up, but she gives a spirited performance as Coretta Scott King (A role she actually played before in a 2001 TV movie, believe it or not). Tom Wilkinson is great as LBJ, Common is solid as (Nowadays disgraced, for good reason) James Bevel and so is Orange is the New Black‘s Lorraine Touissant as Amelia Boynton Robinson. Heading over to the “dickhed” end of the spectrum, Tim Roth is deliciously evil as Governor George Wallace. I guess you could argue that he doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table in terms of character depth, but he’s a segregationist. I think the portrayal of Wallace as a pigheaded shitstain is pretty apt, don’t you think?

(It should be noted that Wallace later recanted his views and apologized to the black community and made a record number of black appointments to state positions. Take that for what it’s worth, I guess)

However, the heart and soul of Selma resides with English actor David Oyelowo (The asshole from Rise of the Planet of the Apes), who is completely spellbinding as one of the greatest men of the 20th century. There was a lot of outrage when he and Jake Gyllenhaal were snubbed for Best Actor nominations, and I was just as righteously pissed as anybody. I found that the best part of his performance was the humanity that he helped instill into the character. It would’ve been easy to portray him as a stoic badass, but Oyelowo knows that this is a human being he’s portraying, and no human being is 100% infallible.

In fact, this whole movie does a pretty spectacular job of humanizing Dr. King. Though history frequently portrays him as this immaculate bastion of a man, he had his flaws. He didn’t always have total faith in his cause, or in his ability to go about things the right way. Hell, he had a weakness for women! The FBI tried to blackmail him! He was an objectively flawed man, but he was still a hero, and his portrayal in Selma reflects that perfectly.

Now, in the way of flaws, there are some historical inaccuracies. Now, I don’t usually nitpick these kinds of things, as they’re usually done for some reasonable artistic reason. However, I feel like I should point out that as much as I dislike President Johnson, he wasn’t actually the one who started surveilling Dr. King. It was Bobby Kennedy who authorized it and J. Edgar Hoover who executed it. Granted, LBJ went along with it, but isn’t that kind of strange creative decision to show Johnson ordering Hoover to start spying on Dr. King? Am I alone in thinking that? Eh. At least they got Hoover’s personality down. Specifically, raging dickhole.

Oh, hey, Dr. Connors!!!

I realize that historical dramas tend to be on the talkier side. History wasn’t all sex scenes and explosions, unfortunately. However, there were several scenes in the movie that did go a bit too long for my taste. It wasn’t the worst, per se, but it did get to the point where I felt that the emotions conveyed could’ve been communicated in much less words. Ah well. Better to be too talky than an underdeveloped mess.

You’d think I hated this movie by now, but I don’t, I swear.

Overall: Honouring Dr. King without being overly reverent, Selma is an important film that commands respect.

Rating: 8.5/10

Ugh. One more of these fucking movies to go. Talk about burnout.

Interstellar (Movie Review)

I can now believe that this movie was filmed here in Alberta.

Christopher Nolan is brilliant. Let’s make that abundantly clear. This review is not meant as a middle finger to the man who made Batman cool again. That said, the combination of pulse-pounding suspense with intellectualism that seemed to be so easily achieved in The Dark KnightInception and Memento is not exactly a given in Nolan movies, apparently.

Mmmm… I can already smell the fanboy hatred brewing.

   Interstellar

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst

Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Based (In part) upon: Kip Thorne’s theories

Genres: Science-fiction, adventure, drama

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael    Caine, Ellen Burstyn, David Gyasi, Wes Bentley, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, John Lithgow, Topher Grace, Timothée Chalamet, Matt Damon

Voices of: Bill Irwin, Josh Stewart

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Plot:  As is the case in seemingly every high-concept science fiction movie, it is the near future and the Earth is, slowly but surely, dying out. Due to unspecified issues, the planet is ravaged by dust storms, and the entire planet has reverted to an agrarian society. One of the many farmers whose plots of land litter the devastated American landscape (Which brings to mind the Dust Bowl) belongs to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a former engineer and NASA pilot who lives with his father-in-law (John Lithgow), his son Tom (Timothée Chalamet) and his eccentric daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy).  When Murphy leads him on a wild goose chase to find her imaginary friend, Cooper stumbles upon a yop-secret NASA base, especially shocking, considering that NASA was thought to have been disbanded years ago.

The NASA facility is led by Professor Brand (Michael Caine), a brilliant scientist who, along with the rest of the tattered remains of NASA, is desperately trying to find ways to save humanity. Driven to desperation, Brand’s Hail Mary plan is to send Cooper up to space in a spaceship with a couple scientists (David Gyasi and Wes Bentley), Brand’s daughter (Anne Hathaway), and a couple of robots ( and shoot ’em up into a recently-discovered wormhole around Saturn, taking them to a whole other galaxy, where humanity could find another place to settle down.

Seriously, before I get into this movie’s problems, I must stress that I did like the movie, despite its’ shortcomings, I enjoyed myself for, oh let’s say, 75% of the movie.  The movie’s almost three hours long, but throughout the first bit, it actually felt like it was breezing along, although not fast enough for me to miss out on the ever so important interactions between the characters. The score is composed by Hans Zimmer, who I have to thank for the soundtrack to The Lion King and Gladiator, meaning that he is one of my favourite human beings of all time. Unsurprisingly, he delivers some beautiful, atmospheric music that may not be hummable upon leaving the theatre, but it sure as hell worked in the context of the movie.

The performances were also great, which is kind of a given with Matthew McConaughey as a lead these days. Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine were both good in their role, as was Jessica Chastain in her role as an aged Murphy, and I never once felt the urge to strangle the child actors in the movie, which is always a positive in my book. Mackenzie Foy, especially, was really terrific as young Murphy, and surprised me by displaying a lot of chemistry with McConaughey. Especially surprising, since her breakout role was in the goddamn Twilight saga.

“Don’t listen to him, guys. I’m sure we won’t be working at a car wash within five years.”

I gotta say, though, the character of Tom, Murphy’s brother (Ably played by Timothée Chalamet and, later, Casey Affleck) seemed completely unnecessary to me. It could just have easily been a household comprised of Cooper, his in-law and his daughter, completely eliminated the character of Tom, and there would have been no less of an emotional impact to the proceedings in the movie. I dunno, I guess it was nice to see Casey Affleck in something.

It also bears mentioning that the movie is really, really gorgeous. From what I’ve heard, they actually had Kip Thorne be a sort of consultant on what things in space would look like (For lack of a better noun), so when you see a black hole, that’s what scientists are pretty sure  an actual black hole looks like. That’s pretty frickin’ rad.

Christopher Nolan has done a pretty solid job at incorporating shorter, emotional scenes in mainly serious movies, but he has set a new bar for himself with Interstellar in terms of emotional punch. I wouldn’t say it emotionally wrecked me, but holy crap does it get intense. Go ahead and skip to the end of this paragraph if you really don’t want to know anything about the movie going in, go ahead and skip to the end of this paragraph, but my favourite scene in the entire movie was when, due to the theory of relativity, Cooper discovers that his kids are now older than him. It’s not only a brilliant way to explain relativity to somebody, but also the best scene of the movie thanks to its emotional resonance.

Fuck me, that was the saddest damn thing.

However, it can work to the movie’s detriment too. The movie, for the most part, does a really good job of accurately portraying the science that would go into a space voyage, which makes sense, given that theoretical physicist Kip Thorne served as an executive producer. However, as much as I appreciate the science behind the movie, it loses me a little when it starts emphasizing the main theme in the film, that love transcends space and time, being, essentially, the strongest force in the universe.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against that being a theme in the movie. My problem is when the characters start spewing some bullshit about “quantifiable love”. I’m not going to go much more in depth for fear of venturing into spoiler territory, but seriously? I’m no physics major, that’s for damn sure, but I’m fairly sure that’s not actually a thing. The “power of love” crap may work in a movie such as Harry Potter, when the real-world applicability of the movie is non-existent, but in a movie such as Interstellar that puts such a large influence on the science, while keeping the human element mostly separate, you lose some brownie points from me when you try to spoon feed me with “quantifiable love.” It’s just too much of a stretch for a cynical bastard like me.

“Is…Is this love you’re feeding me? What the fuck is wrong with you!?!?”

Also, the dialogue seemed really clunky at times. I had to restrain myself from exclaiming “what!?” after Cooper explained to Murphy why he named her after Murphy’s Law. Most of the time, it’s a pretty typical, slick Nolan screenplay, but at other times…Ugh.

Another thing that was working against me was the length of the movie. Whenever a movie goes beyond the 160 minute range, it’s already gotten on my bad side. It’s not like I automatically hate it (The Lord of the Rings movies are three of the best movies of all time. Try and dissuade me of that, hipsters. I dare you.), it just has to do a bit more in the way of keeping me interested in the story to keep me distracted from the fact that I just blew three hours of my precious time. This movie did not do that. There were several times during the last 30 minutes of the movie when I felt that it should’ve ended, but it just kept trudging along, and it got to the point when I was just willing the movie to end, which is a pity, because looking back on it, it was a damn smart ending to a pretty damn good movie, but the ending was presented in such a hectic and drawn out way that I just got lost. Maybe I’m just stupid, I dunno.

One cursory look at my physics grade should have probably told me how much I would understand this movie.

Overall: It’s overly long, complicated, and occasionally displays stiff dialogue, but it’s a visual treat and an engrossing experience as well. It may not be for everybody, but it’s worth a watch. Just plan your day around it.

Rating: 7.5/10

Frozen (Movie Review)

“Suck on this, Iceman.”

Well, Pixar had a nice long reign as the dominant force of animated movies, but it looks like everybody’s favourite evil empire has finally reclaimed the throne.

The king has returned, bitches.

Let’s face it. It’s been a bit of a rough decade or so for Walt Disney Animation Studios in pretty much every single aspect of the film-making business that isn’t “making all the money.” The first Disney Renaissance is commonly accepted among people with too much time on their hands to have ended after Tarzan had its way with the box office in 1999. In the couple of years that followed, Disney kind of went through an awkward period, releasing such movies as Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, The Emperor’s New Groove  and  Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

Can you guess which two of those movies don’t suck?

Obviously, one of them’s the one where David Spade voices a cartoon llama.

With the exception of Dinosaur (Which was just terrible), all of those movies were box office disappointments, especially for Disney, who, just last decade, had grossed nearly a billion dollars thanks to the masterpiece that was The Lion King.

After the introduction of the Academy Award for best Animated Movie (About a decade or so too late) in 2002, Pixar was bogarting center stage, winning seven Oscars, while Disney was just struggling to keep up, failing to win any of their nominations, especially when he nomination were as puzzling as the ones for Brother Bear and Treasure Planet, two movies you did not even know existed. Even when Disney quietly initiated their second renaissance with the release of The Princess & the Frog, they still remained second fiddle to Pixar. And rightly so, although somebody needs to explain to me why Tangled wasn’t at least nominated.

And then, something happened: Pixar shot themselves in the foot, thanks to a trio of terrible-to-non spectacular movies, and were left in a similar position to the one Disney experienced after the first Renaissance. And from the ashes of Pixar’s run of dominance, Frozen rose like a goddamn phoenix.

Good luck getting this song out of your head sometime in the next decade, by the way.

Now, despite the Fall Out Boy reference, I’m not a teenage girl, and, despite my complete and utter hatred of my existence on this godforsaken planet, I’m not the parent of a toddler, so I wasn’t exactly part of the main audience that this movie was aimed at. Besides, fuck this movie. It is the duty of a cultured movie critic like myself could easily destroy this cynical effort to feed some Disney execs’ cocaine habit, while singing the praises of some foreign film that nobody outside of Europe has ever seen, right?

Well, let’s just say there’s a reason I’m reviewing Frozen right now and not The Great Beauty.

 Frozen

 Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

 Produced by: Peter Del Vecho

 Screenplay by: Jennifer Lee

 Story by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris

 Based on: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson

 Genres: Animated, Musical, Fantasy, Comedy

Voices of: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciarán Hinds

Music by: Cristophe Beck

Songs by: Robert Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez

Oscar nominations (Wins in bold): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song

Plot: The crown princess of the Scandinavian kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa, was born possessing the power to produce ice, frost and snow whenever she so desires, essentially making her, among other things,  the odds-on favourite to win any sort of Battle Royale between the Disney Princesses. Somebody needs to get on that, by the way.

One night, when playing with her little sister, Anna, Elsa accidentally strikes Anna in the head with a bolt of, um, ice magic that knocks her unconscious  and turns a part of her hair white. Anna is saved from further harm, and remains energetic and fun-loving as ever, but loses all memory of Elsa’s magic. Elsa, on the other hand, is immediately spirited away by her parents, the king and queen, to her chambers, where she is isolated from damn near everyone, including her sister, causing a rift between the two sisters. Elsa is trained as best as possible by her parents to control her powers with limited success, and grows up introverted and constantly worried about her powers hurting somebody else. As it turns out, locking a young girl in her room in order to prevent her from interacting with other people doesn’t exactly make a confident young woman. Who fucking knew, right?

When the king and queen die at sea during a storm, Elsa (Idina Menzel), the heir to the throne, is set to be declared queen once she comes of age. When the castle gates are opened for the coronation Anna (Kristen Bell), excited to meet new people after years of isolation, meets a charming prince from the “Southern Isles” or whatever named Hans (Santino Fontana). After the coronation goes off without a hitch, much to Elsa’s relief, Anna and Hans enthusiastically ask Elsa for her blessing of their marriage. Because she’s not insane, Elsa refuses, much to Anna’s displeasure, and an argument ensues and, in a fit of emotion, Elsa accidentally unleashes her powers and causes an eternal winter in Arendelle.

Big deal, I live in Edmonton. This is June for me.

Horrified, Elsa flees up the North Mountain, and Anna, with the help of a misanthropic Sami ice vendor named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven, heads up the mountain to find her sister.

While there are many things that can make or break a Disney movie, at the forefront must be the animation. Since the 1930’s, Disney has been at the forefront of animation, but they’ve been known to slip up a couple of times, which can take a pretty heavy toll on a movie like this one.

Thankfully, this movie surpasses all expectations. It looks incredible. Along with Tangled, Frozen, while still mostly CGI, also blends in elements of traditional hand-drawn animation, and while the former movie looked great, the technique is exploited to its full potential in this movie, especially in scenes where Elsa is using her powers. The scene during “Let It Go” when she’s building her castle is a sight to behold, especially. I don’t think that even the most jaded cynic wouldn’t look at that scene with the utmost reverence for how far we’ve come since the days of Steamboat Willie.

Or whatever the fuck’s going on here.

The only quibble that I have with the animation (And it’s more of an observation than an outright complaint, mind you) is that, for some reason, all the female character’s eyes are goddamn huge.  Not to take anything away from the animators, because the characters still look amazing, but did they feel like they needed to make the girls look extra pretty by blowing up their eyes or something? Kinda weird for a movie with otherwise relatively progressive themes, but I must admit Id be lying if I said I cared enough to really let it bother me.

Another staple of any classic Disney movie is the great soundtrack, and I’m pleased to say that Frozen doesn’t disappoint… Most of the time. The backing soundtrack from Christophe Beck does a nice job pretty much the whole time throughout of  ramping up or scaling down the intensity, even if you don’t really notice so until the end. The songs, written by the married songwriting team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone collaborator Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, do pretty much a great job of setting the tone throughout the movie, and, I’d expect that kids would go pretty wild over them too, since they’re extremely catchy.  Hell, I haven’t seen the movie for a couple of weeks, and I still have all of the songs ricocheting through my head at the same time. This is not a good feeling.

My brain is imploding inside of itself! Somebody help me!!!

“Frozen Heart” kicks off the movie, and it’s a lot more aggressive, and kind of darker than what you’d expect from most Disney movies. It’s not exactly “Circle of Life”, and it wasn’t an integral component for my enjoyment of the movie, but hey, I’ll take it.

“Do You Wanna Build a Snowman” is one of the two really fantastic songs in the movie, and it’s also probably the most touching, which you wouldn’t expect from its upbeat beginning. It does a really good job of showing of the two main characters’ emotional states too. “For the First Time in Forever”, while a bit more formulaic, and not grammatically sound as a title,  is also a fun listen, and mostly showcases Anna’s personality: Energetic, klutzy, optimistic, yet lonely.

Also, who knew Veronica Mars could sing?

 “Love is an Open Door” is a cheesy song that would fail in any context outside of the movie, but gets by here thanks to the charm of Kristen Bell and Santino Fontana, and “Fixer Upper” is just the biggest piece of shit, but pretty much any flaw present in those two songs are immediately made up for in “Let it Go.” The one song in the entire movie that lets only the great Adele Dazeem Idina Menzel showcase her Broadway-honed talents, and has even people who hate this movie (Horrid as they may be) admitting under their venom-tinged that “this one’s pretty good”. I’m not gonna spend too much time on this song, because at this point, it doesn’t need to prove itself to anyone, so I’m just gonna go ahead and get to the voice cast.

So, I guess we’re just gonna go ahead and pretend that a dress made out of ice wouldn’t be insanely uncomfortable?

 While Idina Menzel gets most of the attention because of her singing (And the fact that Elsa is the most badass Disney Princess ever. Come at me, Mulan.), and Josh Gad is rightly praised for being hilarious as Olaf, the magic snowman, but stealing the show for me is Kristen Bell. I’ve never seen an episode of Veronica Mars, so I can’t really comment on her real-life acting ability, but I feel confident saying that nobody else could have played the part of princess Anna as well as Bell. A character that would’ve been a ditzy mess in the hands of anybody else….

Unrelated stock Kirsten Dunst photo.

… Kristen Bell injects so much charm and wit into the character that it’s hard to fathom somebody criticizing her performance.

Like I said, Gad is great, and Menzel, Fontana and Groff are fine in their respective characters, none of which seem to only be there to fill some bullshit stock character role, thank God. I guess you could make an argument that Olaf was kind of unnecessary, but come on, the dude’s hilarious. And that “In Summer” song? I love it. It’s so chock-full of not-so-subtle irony. Your seventh grade English teacher would love it.

SPOILER ALERT

I think the thing I enjoyed best about this movie is the ending. I’ll be the first to admit that the movie hits specific Disney beats. The “I Want” song, the romance (Although this one did surprise me and didn’t feel forced by any means), and, most importantly, the protagonist, a princess, of course, is helpless and is saved by, what else, true love! Oh spare me Disney, you schlocky asshole of a company! Why don’t you stick to buying every other film studio in the goddamn world, you sexist fucks!

Seriously though, keep buying the film studios. I love it.

Yes, true love does save Anna from an icy doom, but Disney wisely decides not to have Kristoff save both Anna and Elsa from their respective ends (As most other Disney movies would end) and has the girls save each other, not with the power of romantic love, that weird, undefinable emotion that compelled Prince Charming to make out with Snow White’s dead body, or whatever, but with sisterly love, which is proven, in this movie, to be just as strong. It’s a somewhat subtle touch, but it definitely won me over.

SPOILER END

What nominations/wins did it deserve?:

  • Best Animated Feature: Boy does it ever deserve that win. Hell, I would’ve lobbied hard for its inclusion on the Best Picture shortlist if I was a member of the Academy. One day, I guess.
  • Best Original Song (“Let it Go”): Believe the hype.

Overall: It’s not without some minor flaws, but Frozen easily merits the hype that has made it a global phenomenon (My little cousin is struggling to decide whether to be Anna or Elsa for Halloween this year). It’s not the best Disney movie ever, but it’s certainly the best one since the first Disney Renaissance. If nothing else, it has set the bar really high for Big Hero 6.

I, for one, am extremely optimistic.

Rating: 9/10

 

 

Blue Jasmine (Movie Review)

All right Woody, that’s close enough.

So, as you all may know, I’m still working through my backlog of Oscar reviews that I didn’t get around to finishing before the actual ceremony and have been procrastinating about ever since. Well, the end is in sight. After finishing Blue Jasmine today, I will only need to watch Frozen, Her, Philomena and um, The Great Beauty.

Yeah, about that last one…

I actually did start watching The Great Beauty yesterday, and I was fully prepared to see it through till the end… Until I looked at my alarm clock and realized that it was three in the morning, and I still had an hour to go of watching some old Italian guy moping around Rome. I decided to remove The Great Beauty from my Oscar queue, because life is just too damn short. Oh boy, do I ever love shirking responsibility!

Anyways, the following movie is the latest one from Woody Allen,who enjoyed a good year in 2013, which entailed this movie becoming a critical and commercial success, being honoured with the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes, and definitely not becoming embroiled in a sexual assault scandal with his daughter in law.

Which is odd, because it’s not like the guy’s a total weirdo or anything.

Anyways, this movie was nominated for three Academy Awards, netting Cate Blanchett the Oscar for best actress. However, some people with a little bit too much time on their hands were unhappy with it’s exclusion from the Best Picture nominees list in 2013. Were they right to think this? Well, I guess it mounts a better case for inclusion than Wolf of Wall Street , but then again, fucking August: Osage County mounted a better case than Wolf of Wall Street. And I wanted every character in that movie to die a slow, painful death!

  Blue Jasmine 

Directed by: Woody Allen

Produced by: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson

Written by: Woody Allen

Genre: Drama

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Peter Sarsgaard,  Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg

Oscar nominations (Wins in Bold): Best Actress (Cate Blanchett), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen)

Plot: Jasmine Francis (Cate Blanchett) has it all. Despite being a college dropout (Normally a risky venture for anybody not named Mark Zuckerberg), she has lucked out in marrying Hal Francis (Alec Baldwin), an extremely wealthy New York businessman and lives with him and her Harvard-bound step-son (Alden Ehrenreich) in a colossal house in Brooklyn. Everything seems to be going really well for her until Hal turns out to be a fraudster, is incarcerated and commits suicide.

Which seems kinda like  overkill when you realize that his prison cell probably looked like this.

Her life in tatters, Jasmine suffers a nervous breakdown and decides to move from New York to her sisters’ apartment in San Francisco. Speaking of her lower-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) were two of the people who lost everything when Hal’s business ventures blew up in his face. Jasmine’s moving in has forced Ginger to postpone her marriage to Chili (Bobby Cannavale), a mildly dimwitted, if dedicated, working class auto mechanic, which leads to tension between Chili and Jasmine, as Jasmine tries to figure out what exactly she’s going to do with herself.

Any discussion about the good parts of this movie has to begin and end with the cast, especially the leading lady, Cate Blanchett, who is fantastic in the role of Jasmine Francis. In lesser hands, the character would’ve been a total disaster, but it is a credit to Blanchett and Woody Allen that they were able to develop a character that, while she may not amount to much more than a narcissistic bitch, really, is still very sympathetic and who can make the audience feel bad for her, even when the poor situations she finds herself in are more her doing than anybody else. I know that, before seeing this movie, I had rooted for Sandra Bullock to win Best Actress, but I see know that I know nothing about anything. Cate Blanchett is fucking amazing.

Oscar nominated supporting actress is also very good as Ginger, who is another interesting character, who is just trying to get on with her life and trying to raise her kids with as little drama as possible. I didn’t feel that her character was quite as deep as Jasmine, but I enjoyed following her arc, and she kept me guessing, so good for her. Bobby Cannavale is also great as Ginger’s fiancee, Chili. Chili could have easily been written as a complete and total douche, because, well, just look at the guy.

“How youze doin’?”

But, thankfully, Cannavale adds another layer to the character, making him, and I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record here, a flawed, yet sympathetic character that the audience can get behind. Sure, he’s loud, kinda boisterous and a bit of a dummy, but he also seems like a sweet guy who, deep down, really loves Ginger, even if he can be a bit of a loser.

Alec Baldwin knows how to play a slimy douche like he knows the back of his hand, and he delivers here. As for Clay, C.K., and Sarsgaar, they all do very well in their respective roles, but it’s very clear that the sole purpose for their characters is to move the plot along so that we can see more of Cate Blanchett being crazy. I suppose I can’t complain too mmuch about that, but I can’t help feeling like some serious talent was wasted here, especially in the case of Louis C.K., the funniest man alive, who damn near steals the show every time he appears.

I’m not very sure how I feel about Woody Allen personally, but speaking purely from a cinematic viewpoint, he did a damn fine job writing this script. The interactions feel real and are smartly written, and when he wants his comedic side to rear its neurotic head, he does so very well. The only problem with that is that it can occasionally feel like the movie doesn’t really know where it wants to be in terms of tone. At times, it can feel like a dark comedy that occasionally satirizes the absurdities of yuppie-dom, but other times, it can feel like it’s more of a character study, and I, personally, would have liked to see a little more of the former, but hey, I’m also the guy who gave Man of Steel a 7.5/10, so fuck me, right?

What nominations/wins did it deserve? 

  • Best Actress (Blanchett): Now that I’ve actually seen this movie, I can say for certain that Cate Blachett blew the other candidates out of the water.
  • Best Supporting Actress (Hawkins): Don’t get me wrong, Sally Hawkins was great, but she had no hope of beating out Lupita Nyong’o or Jennifer Lawrence.
  • Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen): Yes to the nod, no to the win.

Overall: Sure, it’s got some flaws, but Blue Jasmine  is a smart, occasionally funny look at a life gone astray that demands your respect even if the writer/director doesn’t, really.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

The Great Gatsby (Movie Review)

Well, that’s creepy.

Pop quiz: What do the following movies have in common?

  • The Iron Lady
  • The Wolfman (The 2010 remake)
  • Alice in Wonderland (The 2010 Johnny Depp version)
  • Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  • The Golden Compass

If you guessed either of the following, then congratulations, you win!

  1. They were critically disliked, posting a score of under 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
  2. They have all won at least one Academy Award.

Yes, it seems that during the vast majority of Oscar ceremonies (Or, at least, every Oscar ceremony that I researched until I got bored), there always seems to be one movie among the winners that should just count itself extremely lucky to be enshrined alongside true legends of cinema like No Country for Old MenArgo and Gravity. Very rarely, however, do these movies take home a major award though (Although Meryl Streep did win Best Actress for The Iron Lady). More often than not, they win things like Best Makeup or Best Visual Effects. You know, semi-important awards, but not important enough to prevent movies like Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa from being nominated.

A movie brought to you by the same  grown men who allowed their puppet-garbed penises to be bitten by snakes.

Which reminds me, I need to watch Bad Grandpa.

Anyway, in the last Academy Awards, the movie that joined this mediocre group of unlikely legends ended up winning two Oscars for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design, despite receiving paltry critical reviews. Did the critics blow it in their evaluation of this film, maligning it because of a brutish lack of understanding of Baz Luhrmann’s vision? I’ll let you decide, dear readers…

… But the answer is no.

Fun fact for all you Mumford & Sons fans out there: Carey Mulligan (The adorable blonde in the pink dress) is a former pen pal and current wife of M&S lead singer Marcus Mumford.

The Great Gatsby

Directed by: Baz Luhrmann

Produced by: Douglas Wick, Lucy Fisher, Catherine Martin, Catherine Knapman,  Baz Luhrmann, Anton Monsted

Written by: Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann

Based on: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Genre: Drama

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton,  Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, Amitabh Bachchan

Oscar nominations (Wins in bold): Best Production Design, Best Costume Design

Plot: The movie is told through flashback by Nick Carraway (Maguire), a Yale University alumni and World War I veteran who has admitted himself to rehab in order to deal with his alcoholism. At the suggestion of his doctor, he starts chronicling his experiences in New York, where he lived when he was pursuing a career as a stockbroker in 1922.

We are then taken back to the Roaring Twenties, when jazz was all the rage, Wall Street was booming, and toothbrush mustaches weren’t automatically associated with Adolf Hitler.

Like so.

Nick moves into the fictional Long Island village of West Egg, across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Mulligan) and her disgustingly rich, cheating white supremacist husband, Tom (Edgerton), who Nick knows from their college days. While dining with his cousin and her husband, he also meets a friend of their’s, cynical young professional golfer Jordan Baker (Debicki), whom Daisy is trying to set up with Nick.

Nick also runs into some drama when he is invited to one of the many overly extravagant parties that are thrown by his next-door neighbour, a filthy rich business man by the name of Jay Gatsby, a man rumoured to be, among other things,an assasin, a bootleggr and a German spy. Nick befriends Gatsby, who, as it turns out, knows Nick from the war and takes an interest in him, as he is madly in love with Nick’s cousin Daisy, whom he courted before the war until they fell out of touch.

To date, I have seen two Baz Luhrmann movies, and I’ve gotta hand it to the man, he’s pretty damn unique with his filmmaking technique. There doesn’t seem to be another director alive who takes quite as much joy in trying to dazzle the audience not with special effects, but in using his eye for great cinematography, music and vibrant imagery to try to make his films look as much like an Italian-style opera as possible. There are times when it works out quite well, as in the case of critically acclaimed movies like Moulin Rouge! and Strictly Ballroom (Neither of which I have seen, admittedly) and other times when it feels… Out of place, to say the least, like in Romeo & Juliet, which I did see.

Unfortunately, The Great Gatsby falls into the latter category.

The Great Gatsby is one of the few classic novels that I’ve actually read  for pleasure, and, while I did enjoy it, not once did I think that I wanted to see a film adaptation that featured as much flashing, overwhelming lights, contemporary hip-hop and R&B soundtrack, and Tobey Maguire as this one did. The Great Gatsby was written by Fitzgerald as a period piece about the extravagance and excess of the Roaring Twenties as well as a character study about Jay Gatsby and his relationships with Nick, Daisy and the other people surrounding him. Sure, a good deal of the book was centered on his flashy parties, but the glitz and glamour wasn’t at the forefront of it all, which, unfortunately, isn’t how Baz likes to do things. Throughout the first and second acts of the movie, the audience is simply bombarded with colours, flashing lights, and misplaced music, all of which don’t really serve any purpose other than to exhaust the audience.

As for the soundtrack, I kind of hated it. For all the hoopla about Jay-Z being an executive producer and working on the soundtrack, I only heard one or two songs by the man formerly known as Shawn Carter, and I wasn’t all that impressed. This is by no means a diss, because I love me some good rap music, but wouldn’t it have been better to use  soundtrack of mostly jazz music or something? You know, because it’s set in the Twenties, which were jazz’s Golden Age?

Honestly, I do get what Baz is trying to do here: create a spectacle that can dazzle the audience with it’s beautiful cinematography. I’ll be the first to admit that that kind of thing has its time and place. Hell, there’s even a few moments in this movie where Baz’s vision pays off, especially some of the gorgeous shots of the bright lights and bustling streets of New York City. Unfortunately, it gets excessive and overwhelming, and misses much more than it hits. I feel like this movie would’ve been done better in the hands of somebody like Martin Scorsese. I would’ve much rather seen a movie centered around Gatsby (Instead of shoehorning him in at the 30-minute mark) and shot in the style of Scorsese’s masterful 2003 film, The Aviator.

Piss bottles optional.

Speaking of Scorsese, his frequent collaborator (And my favourite actor), Leonardo DiCaprio, is the star of this film and, fortunately, does a great job as the eccentric millionaire Jay Gatsby. My favourite scenes in the movie don’t involve the ridiculous party scenes, but rather the dialogue between Gatsby and Nick and/or Daisy. The characters in this movie aren’t very well defined, but Leo takes what he’s got and manipulates the audience into feeling for Jay Gatsby, even if the rest of the movie kinda blows.

As for the rest of the actors, well, I guess they get a A for effort. Tobey Maguire (My childhood hero) isn’t bad, per se, as Nick Carraway, but he’s pretty nondescript, as his character pretty much just serves as an object that Leo can spout expository dialogue to. Carey Mulligan is fine, albeit somewhat dissapointing as Daisy Buchanan, who is apparently the 20’s equivalent of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Joel Edgerton is also okay as Tom Buchanan, but he doesn’t do much more than some scenery chewing as the mustache twirling villain.

Holy shit! H even has a Hitler mustache (Kind of)!

Australian newcomer Elizabeth Debicki makes her debut in this movie as Jordan Baker, and she’s, well, okay I guess, but come to think of it, her character was kind of unnecessary.  I guess she did tell Nick about Tom’s affair, but we learned that later on anyways. Leo really does carry this cast, and this movie, in fact, from badness to mere mediocrity.

Kind of like his other big 2013 movie, except at least this one had the decency  to end at a reasonable fucking time.

What nominations/wins did it deserve?: 

  • Best Production design: Okay, I can see the nomination, but choosing this movie over 12 Years a Slave or Gravity is a crock.
  • Best Costume design: Again, I get the nomination, but I still think 12 Years a Slave deserved to win.

Conclusion: It may boast some intriguing sceness and yet another great performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, but overall, The Great Gatsby is mostly style, little actual substance.

Overall Rating: 6/10

 

The Wolf of Wall Street (Oscar Movie Review)

Yeah, we get it, you’re richer than us, you slimy douche.

Now that I’m done writing about baseball for a while, I’m jumping back on the (Long  departed) Oscar review train and reviewing a movie that I saw before the actual ceremony, but that I put off reviewing (Along with Her and Philomena) for some inexplicable reason until now, which is odd, because I happen to have some pretty strong opinions on it. I also have, like six more Oscar reviews coming after this one (Namely the two aforementioned moviesFrozen, The Great Gatsby, Blue Jasmine, and The Great Beauty) and a couple of Razzie reviews.

Actually, now that I think about it, forget the Razzie reviews. Life’s just too short to waste an afternoon devoting myself to an analysis of A Madea Christmas and Temptations of a Marriage Counselor.

Besides, I’ve gotta free up some time to go to a couple of other movies I really wanna review, namely The Grand Budapest Hotel, because it has seriously piqued my interest, and Noah, because ditto and I’m a sucker for religious debate, and, just from looking at the movie’s ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, I can tell that  this is a movie that will be argued about for a long time.

+1000 points for not having Russell Crowe sing.

Anyways, let’s just get to this insane freaking movie, shall we? It’s got Leonardo DiCaprio in it, so it must be great, right?

 The Wolf of Wall Street 

 Directed by: Martin Scorsese

 Produced by: Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz,  Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

 Written by: Terence Winter

 Based on: The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

 Genres: Black Comedy, Crime Drama

 Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie,  Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin

Oscar nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay (Winter), Best Supporting Actor (Hill), Best Actor (DiCaprio), Best Director (Scorsese), Best Picture

Plot: The film opens to stockbroker Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio) showing his exploits off to the audience, namely his opulent salary, highly entertaining workplace, unreal home on the Gold Coast of Long Island, and his beautiful ex-supermodel trophy wife, the beautiful Naomi Lapaglia (Robbie). Oh, and his ability to consume insane amounts of prescription and not-so-much-prescription drugs. How did he get to where he is in life? Well, let him tell you through narcissistic narration!

The setting flashes back to 1987, when Jordan is just busting into Wall Street as a  low-level commissioned stockbroker (Or whatever) at L.F. Rothschild. While working there, his boss (McConaughey) suggests that he adopt a lifestyle based around cocaine, casual sex and masturbation in order to relieve tension and stay on top of his job. This works out well for him and the firm until Black Monday (A global crash of the stock market), after which the firm closes down and Jordan finds himself out of a job.

Jordan ends up taking a job with a Long Island boiler room, where he takes advantage of the lax regulations of penny stocks and earns his fortune. Eventually though, he quits this and starts Stratton Oakmont with his buddy, Donnie Azoff (Hill), a burnout with similar tastes in drugs, and starts aggressively scamming people out of millions of dollars, which ends up attracting the attention of FBI agent Patrick Denham (Chandler).

When outlined neatly, as I like to think I just did, the plot is pretty airtight. Sure, it can be a little bit hard to follow, especially when he explains all the fiscal jargon that goes into stockbroking and running a scam, but as far as I know, there aren’t any holes in the plot. Martin Scorsese directs the movie excellently, like he do, although the editing was kind of haphazard.

Honestly though, the movie is three hours long, and it only really heeded to be two and a half hours long. You could skip, let’s say, from the 30-minute mark until, say, the 90-minute mark, and you will have missed nothing except a lot of sex scenes and other scenes of debauchery that didn’t need to be there.

Now that I’ve mentioned it, I guess I should mention my biggest problem (And, I suppose, one the biggest controversial aspects of the film) with this movie, which are the gratuitous sex and drug use depicted in the first half of the movie. Now, if any of you are thinking of calling me a sheltered, conservative prude, I’d like you to take a moment to remember that I’m a 17-year old straight kid. Do you honestly think I’d have a negative reaction to a nude female body without a good reason? Especially when that nude female body belongs to Margot Robbie? Get real.

No, it’s not that these scenes are evil, or immoral, or whatever. It’s just that we’re given so many of these scenes in such a short period of time (An hour is a shirt period of time in a Scorsese flick) that it just ends up losing any shock value that it might have previously possessed, to the point where I realized that I had just been watching an extremely explicit orgy in an airplane that involved several gorgeous women  and Leonardo DiCaprio (Because come on, nobody’s that straight) and felt absolutely nothing emotionally or otherwise. That really sucks, because a) I like seeing hot women in various states of undress (I just realized that this post is starting to make me sound like a huge pervert. Thank God for internet anonymity!) and b) There are so many ways that these scenes could have been used constructively but weren’t.

SPOILER BEGIN

One example in this movie of a well-placed sex scene is the one near the end of the film where Jordan is banging his wife for the last time before she leaves him. This is a great scene because it exposes Jordan Belfort as the pathetic human being that he has become, begging his wife for sex and whimpering, if I remember correctly (Screw double-checking!). I fail to see how a scene detailing how Jordan and Donnie “double-teamed” some woman in an office is supposed to convey as much importance, though.

SPOILER END

With that said, I feel like I should mention that, in all fairness, the movie cuts down on most of the filler after the halfway point, and became miles more engaging. It doesn’t elevate it to legendary heights or anything, but it’s still excellent. It’s just a damn shame that the second quarter of the movie, or so, is so fricking weak.

And as for the complaints about this film being “amoral”, I have these two points to mention to anybody using this weak excuse to discredit a movie.

  1. What exactly did you expect from the guy who directed Taxi Driver and Goodfellas?
  2. Get off your fucking soapbox.

And with that, Kenny Rollins was awarded the “Resisted swearing at his audience for 1000+ words” award.

Yeah, this movie is amoral. So was Pulp Fiction, and it’s a universally loved movie. If you wanna criticize this movie, try focusing on its’ legitimate flaws and try not to base your argument on a completely subjective feeling like morality.

Acting/Writing: As you will soon be able to tell from the briefness of this section and the interminable nature of the last one, I don’t have nearly as much to say  about the actors. They do a great job with what they have (Which is also great). What else do I need to say?

The two Oscar nominees shine, obviously, with DiCaprio giving a great (If not too close to being his greatest) performance, even channeling a little bit of his role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape at one point, and Jonah Hill further distancing himself from his links to Judd Apatow and turning in a wonderful darkly comic performance. Australian actress Margot Robbie is fantastic too, and kudos to her for managing to hold her own on the screen with Leonardo DiCaprio while being somewhat of a newcomer. Also, she’s the hottest human being on the goddamn planet.

What nominations did it deserve?: 

  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Winter): Yeah, I can see it being nominated.
  • Best Supporting Actor (Hill): Yup.
  • Best Actor (DiCaprio): He deserved the nomination, even if he didn’t deserve to beat his co-star, MConaughey.
  • Best Director (Scorsese): It’s no Aviator, but sure.
  • Best Picture: Actually, no. I think it’s flaws are too numerous to ignore, and I think that it’s kinda sad that it was nominated over, say, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Final Rating:

7.5/10