Wednesday, December 11, 2013

You Can't Take it With You

"We're insane. But we love it."
Nominees: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Alexander's Ragtime Band, Boys Town, The Citadel, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel, Pygmation, Test Pilot.

He said: Nuts, this movie is just weird and nuts.

Alright, so this one neither of us have seen, nor heard of it. It is from 1938, and won best picture as well as best director, but nothing else really. It seems there was no dominant film that year.

We didn't know anything about this movie, and could only assume that based upon the title it had something to do with someone with a bunch of money or stuff that was hoarding it for some reason.
We discovered that the main character of Martin “Grandpa” Vanderhof was played by one Lionel Barrymore, none other than Drew Barrymore's great uncle. His character walked around on crutches and apparently that was due to the fact that Lionel Barrymore couldn't walk without them as he had some type of awful arthritis and he also needed regular pain medication during the shoot. Also, this was apparently the last movie that he was in before he was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, so certainly interesting from that perspective.

The film begins with a rich mogel, Mr. Anthony Kirby, presumably in NYC, who needs to buy up some land to build a factory. He has bought all the lots except for one with a house owned by “Grandpa” who has previously refused for $25000 and $50000. Remember, this is 1938, could you imagine how much money that would be in today's terms? Hard to believe someone would refuse for that much money. The story then shifts at this time to Grandpa and his “family” that live in the house. We never really find out how he affords to basically sit around and do nothing and for everyone else in the house to do what they like best and not worry about money.

Of course the point of the story and the title is that eventually Mr. Kirby discovers what Grandpa had been preaching this whole time, and that is to forget about money and do what you love to do, enjoy life. But that is basically it. It is just a series of weirdness of his family doing their weird things, and then a series of uncomfortable scenes with Grandpa's granddaughter Alice dating and getting engaged to Mr. Kirby's son, Tony. Which is interesting since neither side really knew anything about the other, it was only Grandpa who knew who he was and who he was related to. There were odd moments of comedy, then moments of drama. The film seemed to not really know what it was supposed to be or where it was supposed to go. It was based on a play, although I don't know how much was changed from that.

Frankly I was a little disappointed by James Stewart, I was expecting more out of him, and his role actually ended up being a rather important role as Tony Kirby. There were a couple interesting discussions on modern societal issues. Something I was not expecting out of a film from 1938. Tony, the mogul's son talks about how what he really wanted to do in life was make use of solar power to replace coal and oil. This really floored me, I didn't think that anyone was thinking of that type of technology so long ago. In the same conversation Tony and Alice get into a surprisingly in depth topic of fear culture and how society tries to mold and control people through fear. Again, something I didn't expect from this film nor from a film from 1938. I guess the moral of the film is to do what you enjoy and forget about everything else.

I didn't hate this movie, I just didn't like it, and although I haven't seen any of the other nominees I would think there would be something better than this out there.

Next up: The King's Speech. Finally a movie that I am looking forward to seeing. I haven't seen it yet, since I was waiting until it comes up on the list.

She Said: Um... yeah.

I don't get this movie. Not as in it was too deep for me, or too confusing, or pretty but insubstantial... but more I just don't get why this was made into a movie, other than it was a successful play. I suspect it would've worked much better on stage than it does in the film. It reminded me in a vague way of a few other plays/movies: Arsenic and Old Lace (the crazy family with the weirdos in the basement, plus the one lone sane person); and The Birdcage (depending on one family dinner to prove your relatives aren't nuts), to be specific. That said, I liked both of those better.

I think what bothered me about this, and I guess about a lot of early films, is that it really was just a stage production, albeit with slightly more expansive sets. It doesn't really take advantage of film as a medium, which I guess is understandable in that movies (as we know them, anyways) hadn't been around for very long. The camera functions really just as a viewer, another audience member, recording what it is seen, but having no impact in how the story is told. The medium is definitely NOT the message in these early films. ("The Great Zeigfeld" was very much like this too, especially in the lengthy Folly scenes).

I did appreciate some of the content of the movie, though, the struggling with issues and ideas that are still relevant to today, such a sustainable power and finding your own path. The father's "conversion" however, seemed somewhat rushed and not genuine, but again, I think this may be a limitation of simply filming a play.

Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Amadeus (1984)

"It's hard to say what's more amazing: my music, or my outfit. No wonder Salieri hates me."

Nominees: The Killing Fields, A Passage to India, Places in the Heart, A Soldier's Story

He Said: "Du, du, du du" Oh wait, that's Beethoveen's 5th, nevermind.

As a disclaimer, the only version of this movie that we could find is the director's cut rather than the theatrical release, so obviously the version that won the Oscar is not the same that we watched, and perhaps it makes it slower and more drawn out or boring when watching the extended versions, but there you have it.

Amadeus is based on a play that is loosely based on the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart through the eyes of his fellow composer, Antonio Salieri. The film/play takes a lot of artistic license with regards to the real life of Mozart. Perhaps his life was only slightly interesting and so they pumped it up a bit to make it more entertaining. I am all for films being foremost entertaining, otherwise what's the point, but this one seemed to go too much in that direction and moved to far away from history. The movie, at least the first half, has a lot of comedic points thrown in, even though the subject matter is rather serious, it made me think that this must have been one of the first 'dramedies” and perhaps ahead of its time in this regard.

The portrayal of Mozart was one of a young immature twit. Now I don't know anything about him historically but it just seemed to unreal, he had an awful high pitched shrill laugh that he would laugh at the most immature things. He would tell off his seniors including the Emperor of Austria. The Emperor just seems to take it and give Mozart more and more leeway. Now I don't know anything about Emperor Joseph II, but from our knowledge of heads of state from that era, I highly doubt he would put up with as much back-talking from young Mozart as he did in the film. Speaking of the Emperor, who the hell would think that Jeffrey Jones would be in that role? He seems like he is better at his creepy principal, mad-scientist, etc. from his 80s comedy work than this movie.

Old man Salieri seems very bitter, wishing he was as talented as Mozart. During the movie he seems to move from hating Mozart and being jealous of him, to being envious of his abilities, and then almost pitying his fall to bankruptcy and insanity. According to the brief history that I have read, it sounds like Mozart and Salieri were more kindred spirits and closer than portrayed in the film, but without a battle between these two characters the film would fall rather flat.

I found the first half quite interesting, not really from a history standpoint, but just interesting with the characters and the story, the second half felt dull prolonged and boring. Maybe this is in part due to the fact that we got the director's cut, maybe the theatrical release would have been shorter in this area and a bit more tight and less boring, but I will never know as I am not watching this one again. The one thing going for the second half is how we watch the devolution of Mozart into insanity, and frankly the way it was directed along with the musical score, I started to feel like I was going crazy too.

Some of the acting in the movie was really well done, although the one thing that stood out (not in a good way) was Tom Hulce's over the top portrayal of Mozart, I just did not find it interesting or believable, it just felt annoying, and why oh why did they not give him a proper hair cut. Yes he spends most of the time with period wigs on, but there are times that he doesn't have a wig on and his hair is a very 80s mild mullet and it just doesn't fit in the period at all (it reminded me of how Kevin Costner kept his mullet hair for Dances with Wolves). The musical score was nice, and as one would expect, filled with period music mostly of Mozart's operas and symphonies.

Overall, an average film that was mildly entertaining, but certainly nothing Oscar worthy. Now as usual, I haven't seen any of the other best picture nominees, so it is hard for me to say this wasn't the best of that year, but with other 1984 films such as Beverly Hills Cop, Splash, and Indians Jones and the Temple of Doom, there are other films that I liked better from that year. If the Academy gave this the best picture then I wouldn't want to watch the other nominees, although the novel A Passage to India is quite good and I really like E.M. Forster, but I don't think that would translate too well to the screen.

After reading the "she said" review, I guess I completely missed the god stuff, I mean it was there and I remember it, but I didn't really absorb it and interpret as nicely as she did.

Next up: You Can't Take it With You

huh? Yes I was wondering the same thing, never heard it, from 1938, and it does star one James Stewart. Should be at least interesting to watch and see how the movies were so different back then.

She Said: I never knew Mozart was so.... ridiculous.

I'm back. And no, I have no good excuse for not writing a review of "Terms of Endearment". I just didn't do it. I'd do one now, but that would be caving to "He Said"s passive-aggressive attempt to make me write mine, and that ain't going to happen on my watch. :)

But as for Amadeus, it was good. Crazy good. Now, was I entertained? Somewhat, but not really. Was I moved? Sort of, but again, not really. But does that mean it wasn't any good? Nope. For example, i've never really understood the appeal of the Mona Lisa, but I know it's good. Crazy good.

This movie tells the story of a highly fictionalized rivalry between two composers: Mozart and Salieri. 'Highly ficitionalized' in the sense that there WERE two composers named Mozart and Salieri (I'm sure you've heard of at least the first guy... :)), who did indeed know each other in Vienna, but had no historically verifiably rivalry that we know of. That kind of 'highly fictionalized'.

The real conflict in the movie, though, is not between Saleiri and Mozart, but between Salieri and God. All Salieri wants in life is to glorify God through his music, but, alas, he is only mediocre at best. Mozart, on the other hand, is... wait for it... good. Crazy good. He is also young, vulgar, crass, entitled, snobbish, a drunkard, and decidedly 'low-brow'. While Salieri is no doubt jealous of and offended by Mozart and his talent, Mozart functions primarily as a scapegoat for his anger at God: Salieri sets out to ruin Mozart not because he hates him (though he does), but to thwart God.

This leads to the climax of the movie, the scene where Salieri helps a dying Mozart compose his own Death Requiem (dying, as in dead by the end of the scene). Despite his hatred of the man, Salieri has admired and even worshipped Mozart's music throughout, and it is here where he finally becomes intimately involved in the creation of exactly the kind of music he wants to write... though through someone else's genius rather than his own. His pleasure, however, comes not from the music, but from literally working Mozart into the grace.  Talk about a powerful scene.... and yet I wasn't that moved. Intellectually, yes, but I wasn't that invested in the characters and so I didn't really care, even as I understood the brilliance of the scene.

Which brings us back to where we started: a Crazy Good movie that deserved to win the Oscar, but nothing I'd sit through twice.

Postscript: I have actually sat through this movie twice. I watched it at my piano teacher's house when I was 14, and found it creepy, disturbing, and yucky. It's none of those things, but I guess my 14-year-old self was uncomfortable with madness and crucifixes (duh). Luckily, another girl there was equally creeped out, and we still good friends to this day. Which, as I've said before, is good. Crazy good.

The Verdict: A Split Decision

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Terms of Endearment

Nominees: The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff, and Tender Mercies

He Said: Terms of Endearment, Or how I learned to worry about everything, and almost cry...almost

Not sure what to expect with this one, I had heard of it before but didn't really know anything about it. Turns out to be a chick flick. The movie basically follows the life of a relatively normal person, Emma Horton, living in Houston from birth and accelerates fairly quickly through her life. I think the idea of the film was to show us what every day lives are all about, but it was very disjointed and with some poor writing in parts and to me did not have a very good flow. 

The movie starts off with Emma as a baby and we see the start of her relationship with her mother (Aurora), which is problematic and difficult most of the time, even at this young age. The movie then jumps to her as a pre-teen with the death of her father and demonstrates her mother's general psychological instability and her neediness and reliability on her daughter, a theme carried on throughout the film. After her pre-teen moment we jump into the teen years briefly and then spend the rest of the movie in her adult years from getting married to having kids, marriage strife and infidelity, and so on. As I said earlier, the movie seems disjointed mainly because it spends a few minutes on her at this age, then jumps quickly to something else then something else. Even when she is an adult it jumps around and the only way of knowing that the movie has moved on to further years is seeing older children around her, at which point we ask if these are her kids or just some other kids? Perhaps using a subtitled date would help with the disjointed feeling. Ultimately I think they should have spent a bit more time in these various time points to flesh things out a bit more and cut out some of the time spent on her adult life and her mother's life, parts that don't really move the film along and don't add to the character development at all.

In regard to character development, the characters are basically who they are from the beginning with very little change as they age and experience new things. The mother is still as jaded and untrustworthy at the start as at the end, the husband is still a cheater who doesn't feel responsible for his actions. The crazy astronaut neighbour is still a playboy, with perhaps a bit more loving for Aurora at the end. Which reminds me, how did he know where they were at the end? He stopped seeing the mother romantically and hadn't spoken to her in years and all of the sudden he appears in Nebraska out of the blue. Maybe someone called him to tell him but with all the disjointedness and jumping around in the movie they may have glossed over this small detail. 

Jeff Daniels plays the part of Emma's husband and he does a decent job of playing the part. I learned that Jeff Daniels hasn't changed his hair since 1980, I guess he liked the look and went with it. He certainly had a large fall from this to Dumb and Dumber, but that's the way things go sometimes. 

There is quite a large chunk of the movie focused on Aurora and her love affair with the smarmy womanizing neighbour astronaut (played by Jack Nicolson). One nice thing about this relationship is that it has equally aged male and female actors and roles which is a nice change to see rather than the movies of the past 20 years or so featuring older men with much younger women. In addition to the focus on this love affair, throughout the movie we see Aurora surrounded by various men friends who are just trying desperately to become romantically involved with her. I remember thinking how odd it was to invite one's doctor over for you birthday dinner, especially when the dinner was just a bunch of men. Another odd Aurora moment is after finally having had sex with the astronaut she calls up Emma to tell her all about it. Um...ew. How would you like your mother calling you to tell you about her sex life. Not so sure what that was all about, perhaps relief after all those years after the death of her husband finally getting satisfaction again did something to her. She was certainly in desperate need of some female friends, that's for sure. I know we should all have the birds and the bees talk with our parents, but when your mom is telling you about her renewed sex life with the neighbour, I think this skips over the too much information area and right into oh my god that is disgusting please stop talking now...please.

Thinking about the movie, perhaps how we get there isn't the point. Maybe it doesn't matter how much the movie jumps around from one area to the next and one decade to another with no explanation in-between. Maybe what matters is the people getting through their lives and what happens in the end. I don't know, I am just speculating here, but to me I feel the movie would have done better to flesh out some of these details, that way we would feel closer ties to them. Furthermore, the film spends so long on seemingly pointless scenes that if we only were to get a flavour of things and move on one wouldn't expect to spend that much time on an individual scene. Frankly I didn't like any of the characters, I found them curious and odd and enjoyed watching from an experimental point-of-view to see what happened next to them like bugs in a jar, but otherwise I didn't give a damn. So I guess I didn't understand what the director and writer were trying to achieve.

Terms of Endearment is simply okay, nothing more nothing less. It has its moments and at the end yes even I, the Grinch, had a moment of nearly tearing, nearly. It won the Oscar for many areas including best picture, two for acting, writing, and directing, not to mention numerous other nominations it received. I don't know how it won the Oscar for best picture but I have not seen the other nominees (The Big Chill, The Dresser, The Right Stuff, and Tender Mercies) to be able to compare, but I am damn sure something else was made this year that was better. Even Return of the Jedi with the stupid Ewoks had more interest than this movie. I looked up some 1983 films and Scarface was made that year, a magnificent gem, admittedly it is ultraviolent and the Academy tends to steer clear of those, but how did Pacino not win for that one, he did an amazing job as usual. I think Terms of Endearment had a good overall plot but the execution was lacking and it ended up being overly dry and boring.

So there you have it, a mostly boring, slightly emotional movie about a woman's life. If you missed it, you won't actually miss anything. 

Next up Amadeus, the life and time of mister Mozart,apparently with some graphic violence I hear. Should be interesting...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Man for All Seasons (1966)

"Silence is golden...."
Nominees: "Alfie" "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming""The Sand Pebbles" "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

He Said: Go ask Alice... Call Alice

Oh my good god that was awful. This movie really needs cliff notes or at the least a warning to beef up on your British history before watching it. The only thing I can say is that if you like British history and this time period then you might maybe like this (don't blame me if I am wrong, you have been warned), but otherwise stay far far away from this drivel. 

When looking at the nominees and winners in various categories A Man for All Seasons really was THE movie of that year. If this is the best that this year had to offer what a horrible year to be a film fan, but I am sure there must have been something that was better than this. Sure some aspects of filming and costumes were good, some acting good but the main actor was more stoic in the character with not much emotion in his voice, making it kind of boring and not very interesting. Maybe that is how Sir Thomas Moore was, but no one will ever really know and I just put it down to boring acting.

Honestly I could not follow this movie and I really don't understand the nuance of what was going on, and for that reason I will leave the summary of the movie to be done by my better half. I would briefly summarize the film as being about King Henry VIII who wanted to divorce his wife as she seemed unable to produce a male heir, and marry another woman so as to produce an heir. Now the drama of it all is that this was not allowed by the church at the time, but Sir Thomas Moore was promoted to head of the church and the king continues to solicit him to change the church law. Moore refuses and is eventually thrown into jail. Then it devolves into a court case against Sir Thomas Moore, so if you are up on your 17th century British law this would be interesting, but I am sadly not. In the end as we know the king declares himself head of the church and changes church rules so as to do what he wants. So the movie is more about the struggle Sir Thomas Moore experiences by all his friends and family trying to push him to what the king wants, but he holds onto his moral ethics. Sound interesting yet? I didn't think so. And that is basically how the movie runs. Honestly I don't think there really was any redeeming quality of this movie and the Academy must certainly have been wrong with this choice.

 Next up: Terms of Endearment; a movie I have never seen but certainly everyone knows the name and briefly what it is about. Here's hoping for a good one, nothing could be as bad as A Man for All Seasons...

Note: Edited details of Henry's first wife Catherine. Erroneously wrote she was sterile, when she actually became pregnant multiple times and gave birth to a girl, although she did suffer multiple miscarriages and never did produce a male heir for Henry, thus the divorce.

She Said: A Yawn for All Seasons.

So apparently I get to give a plot summary for this movie. Luckily for me, it's mostly based on history. I considered just sticking a link here where you could read all about it yourself, but I'd rather add color commentary, so here we go:

So there's this King who wants to have a baby: Henry the 8th -- Maybe you've heard of him? Seems he was married to his brother's widow, but since she couldn't give him the all important heir, he wants to marry Anne Boleyn. The problem?? DUH!!! He's MARRIED. And Catholic, hence no divorce. Being a theologically bent man, not to mention horny, he turns to the Bible and decides that the Pope never should've blessed his unholy marriage to Catherine and wants an annulment. The Pope says no, and Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, agrees. End of story, right?


Despite eventually declaring himself "The Supreme Head of the Church In England" (and thus capable of doing whatever he pleases, Pope-be-damned), King Henry is determined that Thomas should bless his marriage. So are all the other political members of the court, which makes life very uncomfortable for Thomas, a Man With Morals. A scorned scholar begins to spy on More, who chooses to step down as Chancellor rather than agree to the King's new title. When More fails to show up at the King's wedding, Henry demands that everyone take an oath on the validity of the new marriage, under threat of High Treason. But of course, More won't, because a) that would be wrong; and b) the movie would end too soon. Rather than risk his neck and the neck of his family, More decides to Plead the Fifth and say nothing, but in the end is locked in the Tower of London, betrayed by the scorned scholar, and gets his head chopped off. As does Anne Boleyn in a few short years, but that's another movie.

This movie, though, is not really about the history of Thomas More, but about one man's decision to stand by his morals.... that, and perhaps the power of silence. While I followed the details of the movie better than my hubby (obviously, since I'm writing the plot summary for a change), I simply didn't care about Thomas More's struggle. I was interested in learning more about all the political intrigue, but I don't think that's the point of the movie. In a more intimate setting such as a theatre (it was originally a play), I may have felt more involved and invested in his predicament, but instead I felt like I was being told to "ADMIRE THIS MAN" rather than actually being given a chance to do so.

The Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Monday, February 25, 2013

2013 Oscar Awards

Seth MacFarlane adding much needed something into the Academy Awards

He Said: Alright, not bad, not great

How sad it is that we have only watched 3 best picture movies over the past year. But we are hopeful to watch a ton more now that we have moved and don't have as busy of lives, and I am not trying to fix and paint the house at the same time as having a very busy and awful job and then busy and sleep-deprived with a newborn baby and then busy with finding a new job and moving. Now with that out of the way, on with the big shoe.
If you read my last year's post it will likely be just as disjointed since I just write down an interesting thought or thing on the show while it happens. Seth MacFarlane is hosting, here's hoping he brings some good writers and youthfulness and actual comedy to the scene, scathing comedy is the hope and hopefullyhe and his comedy are not dumbed down and censored for the non-family guy audience. I think this was a rather bold choice for host sincce he is well known for making fun of anything and everything, but really the Oscar's and all the famous people take themselves way too seriously. This reminds me of how I felt about Ryan Seacrest last year, way too serious and pompous and it took a little fun from Sacha Baron Cohen to liven things up. Now what would it take for him to host, or perhaps one of his characters? Now that would be something to see!
Argo appears to be the lead runner for best picture, but no particular movie looks to dominate the majority of the categories like in most previous years where one film stands out in best picture, actors, directing, writing, etc. The only real nominee that I have seen was Django Unchained, and yes it was a good fun movie although it was about 1 hour too long and it was draggy here and there. I have no idea how it got nominated for best picture. I love Tarantino movies, but this is certainly not his best work and his acting in his bit role was worse than he has ever done (which really is quite an achievement unto itself) and the accent he puts on, its so bad he shouldn't even have tried. That all being said, I think Christoph Walz did a great acting job in this one (as well as his previous Tarantino film, Inglorious Basterds) so here's hoping for him this year, but all the men in the supporting actor category are solid great actors so I don't think there would be any complaints no matter who wins this one.
On the red carpet, George Clooney was looking like a younger Sean Connery and he was being either sarcastic or pissy when approached and just told the interviewer to “go talk to her” indicating his
female companion and how they only ever want to talk about is dresses and jewels, etc.
What is with the awful hair that Anne Hathaway had? She looked like something from the late 70s or a wee boy. Then she had a dress that had similar breast and nipple emphasis like that Madonna pointed bra from way back when.
Finally starting with the actual show:
MacFarlane started off pretty good, some nice laughs and pick on people jokes but then comes the whole Captain Kirk thing and I did not see that coming. This was odd and added some humour but in retrospect definitely in the realm and wheelhouse of Seth MacFarlane's work.
We discovered that Seth MacFarlane can sing (most of us knew that already), that lady singing the Goldfinger song cannot, she should just quite. She got a standing ovation. Why? Must be a historical thing to honour the old and weary, but sometimes they are old and weary for a reason.
Boring movie musicals, blah blah blah. And Anne Hathaway still looks like a boy.
Jennifer Garner is so unattractive, deep sunken eyes, and a thin skeletor face then she added in that weird purple dress with the huge thing on the back that as my wife pointed out looks like her ass is pregnant.
Was Kristen Stewart high? At the very least she was awkward as a presenter.
Another year, and another round of dead people, although this year no one really big and famous died, but there were some surprises for me as usual with Michael Clarke Duncan having died as well as Ray Bradbury. Then the weird Barbara Streisand song at the end there. Way too much singing for my likes in this year's Oscars.
Overall no real surprises on winners, although it was interesting that no single film dominated the Oscars this year, it was all really spread out. Perhaps this is a sign of a really good movie year with many strong films. Seems like Life of Pi got the most wins, but nothing in any real category except for director, although we all know Ben Affleck got shunned for that one, maybe next time for him. Then the odd part with Michelle Obama leading in the best picture winner with her somewhat political statements there, that didn't seem to fit at all, although it was better than looking at and listening to the suddenly very old Jack Nicholson. His oldness combined with Dustin Hoffman's oldness and Robert de Niro's oldness just really hit me this year with how old these guys are getting which is really sad that a whole generation of great actors are pretty much done.
Overall, Seth MacFarlane was adequate, he censored himself quite a bit I think but what can you do. I think he was the first host to not only be the host but also a presenter (Ted) and a nominee (a song in Ted) and it would have been great if he won just to see what his speech would have been like. In retrospect with it being a celebration of musicals in the movies it does make sense to have him as a host as he is very musical with all the shows and movies that he does, but perhaps we could have had a more seasoned, albeit less funny, host in Neil Patrick Harris.
This year was slightly better than last year, but still a stinker and nothing as good as the great run in the early 90s with Whoopie and Billy Crystal. Although as we saw last year, Billy Crystal's time in comedy has come and unfortunately gone. Here's hoping for some good stuff for next year and now it is time for me to start watching more movies and add Argo to the every growing list.

After listening to and reading various comments and stories from the media on the Oscars, I cannot understand why they feel the show was a “train wreck,” “the worst Oscar's ever,” “worst host ever.” I mean come on and look at the history of this show, there have been way way worse hosts and much more weird and boring shows than this one, especially more recently. Look at last year's show with Billy Crystal, the one with Anne Hathaway and James Franco (the absolute worst ever), the Hugh Jackman show, the David Letterman show, and even the Ellen Degeneres show. Admittedly I enjoyed the Ellen show, but it seemed like the audience and the media just didn't get it and I think that happened again this year.
I also forgot to mention the oddity of the tie for best sound editing. Okay, not a major category but interesting that it is only the sixth tie ever in the history of the Oscars, I figured there would be some sort of tie breaking procedure but apparently not.
Some pundits and media types thought it was filled with unpredictable winners, whereas I thought they weren't too many surprises. Some people were shocked that Spielberg didn't win, that Argo won best picture over Lincoln, Walz was a long shot, Life of Pi winning as many awards as it did as a surprise. Well this is how I see it, and keep in mind I am just a guy who is no hollywood movie type, I haven't seen most of the movies I just base it upon the buzz leading up to the oscars, other awards, reviews, friends. So Argo was a bit of a surprise but it won in the Golden Globes so it was headed in that direction. Walz like I said already did a great job in this and his previous Tarantino film and all the men in the supporting actor category are great actors so no big surprise there either. Ang Lee did a great job as usual making a gorgeous looking movie and based on a book that we all thought would be so hard to translate to the screen. The best actress award seemed up for grabs as well with no particular person way out in front for that one. So overall no great huge shocks in my opinion.
Lastly, again MacFarlane did a fine job, it wasn't as awful as the stuck up pundits are saying (heck even my wife thought some of his stuff was really funny and she HATES his stuff with a captial HATE). So not great, but certainly not awful or worst ever.

She Said: Nothing

Verdict: The Academy was right for the most part except leaving Affleck off the nominee list, the show was okay, much better than last year but nothing great, and looking forward to seeing Argo when it hits our list.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Dances with Wolves (1990)

"My hair will strike fear into my enemies!"

Nominees: "Awakenings" "Ghost" "The Godfather Part III" "Goodfellas"

He Said: Dances with Mullets

This is an unusual year of films for me in that I have actually seen all of the nominees, although most of them I haven't seen in a long time. So for starters I will analyze the list of nominees a bit. Looking over the list I don't know how on earth Ghost was nominated? That was an awful film that was just a showpiece for Patrick Swayze and nothing else, boring boring romantic boring movie. Awakenings was a fantastic film, and though probably not best picture quality it was great, and Robert DeNiro certainly deserved the win for best actor for that (as opposed to Costner) especially contrasting his usual mob role a la Goodfellas. Speaking of Goodfellas, how did Scorsese get pushed aside for best director? Well at least this was rectified when he finally won for The Departed although that is another story and another movie that will make it on the blog in due time as it won for Best Picture, although I am not sure why, it wasn't that good. Goodfellas was an excellent movie portraying the mob life in what seemed like a very real way. The violence can be a bit hard to take at times, but the story, acting, and directing were top notch. Frankly I think it was the violence that held it from winning, it seems the Academy tends to frown upon ultra-violent movies as winners, although this has started to change in the past few years. Then there is Godfather Part III, a terrible awful sequel that makes no sense at all even after watching it several times. I am a huge mob movie fan and thus a huge Godfather fan, parts I and II are excellent, well filmed, written, acted, etc and it shows in how they won a lot of awards, but part III? It was the complete opposite and just overall bad. Frankly I don't even know how Ghost, Godfather III and Dances with Wolves were even nominated. So in my mind and personal opinion I would rank that year's nominees as Goodfellas, Awakenings, Dances with Wolves, Godfather Part III, and last and least Ghost. I don't see how Dances with Wolves was nominated nevermind winning? But this is where we are at. It won, so we watched it.

This has been on our list for the past five months or so, but we didn't get to it due to moving, life, babies, and mainly the fact that neither of us wanted to watch it again, remembering how boring and awful it was. I will say that I was much more interested in it this time around it still falls far short of being a good movie let alone an Oscar winner. While I can certainly appreciate this movie a lot more now than when I saw it so many times as a 10, 11, and 12 year old (since my mother loved it and watched it at every chance and having one tv back then meant we all watched whatever happened to be on) I don't see why it would be a Best Picture movie. It is long, boring, and not much happens throughout. The best it does is portray Native Americans in a more realistic light than had been done previously, albeit with some stereotypes still present, and for that it is commended for its effort. However, it really lacks a story, and without that it falls flat.

So for those who were hiding under rocks for the past twenty years, Dances with Wolves is basically about a US Army soldier fighting in the civil war who is transferred by his own request to a remote post in the mid-west. He finds the post to be abandoned and then we enter into Dances with Wolves meets Castaway for a fair portion of the movie. He befriends a wolf and then finds the natives. Over the course of the movie he meets the natives and becomes one of their own and eventually leaves his post entirely to join them. He discovers how different the natives are compared to what he was always told, they aren't brutish savages, but friendly giving wonderful people. He falls in love, encounters the US Army again after basically becoming a member of the native group. A couple somewhat violent fights ensure between different native groups as well as when the natives try to rescue Costner from the US Army when he is listed as a traitor. If that all sounds entertaining, then good on you, but I found it immensely boring. As my partner in crime mentioned, yes the movie is filmed and shot well with really nice cinematography, and it does have decent to good acting, but that is not enough to save it.

Mary Mcdonnell should be called cavewoman and not Stands with a Fist with that huge 80s hair. And speaking of hair, since when do civil war soldiers sport mullets? I guess since Kevin was in charge of everything, he wasn't willing to change his star appearance. What's up with that? It is these small things that make one question other things in the film, if they can't do something as simple as have proper hair then am I to believe everything else in the film?

This is one of the first movies to really portray Native Americans as they are and were and not as they are stereotyped to be, and I really do think that is one of the primary reasons for it winning best picture. It's not that it is a bad movie, it just isn't anything special if you take that out of it. If this movie was made now then there wouldn't be as much hoopla surrounding it. I might be wrong, but that's how I see it.

On a final note as I was watching the movie I got to thinking about Graham Greene and how he seems to have transcended his native heritage as an actor and has really just become a good actor. What I mean is that we often see native actors that get stuck playing only native characters. Graham Greene, on the other hand started out that way, but at some point he started playing male characters, and his race and ethnicity didn't seem matter at all. This is a really good story and it would be great if actors of all races could do the same and fill roles that aren't a specific race. At this point in the 21 century it is rather sad how far behind we still are in race relations, hopefully things will change quicker for the better.
With that I would say the Academy was very very wrong this year.

Next up: A Man for All Seasons...whaaat? Never heard of that one, looking at the short synopsis it is about King Henry VIII wanting to be able to divorce and remarry, wow this one sounds awful, hopefully it is a nice surprise.

She Said: Dances with Greatness (emphasis on the dances).

This could've been a great movie. It has lots of things going for it: beautiful shots of the great plains, sympathetic characters, a potential interesting idea...

The problem is nothing happens. There's no conflict. The characters don't change. John Dunbar starts curious and sympathetic about the "Indians", and he ends less curious and even more sympathetic. He doesn't move from hatred to acceptance... or really anywhere. In turn, the Indians seem to share the same feelings for him. Nice to see more positive portrayals of Native people, but still very stereotypical, even for a period piece. The bad guys remain bad guys throughout, and then Dunbar and his white/Native wife ride off into the very beautifully shot sunset.

Which brings me to another point: we know from the existence of the Metis people that White men took Native brides all the time. So why does his love interest have to be a white woman? But not a "real" white woman, of course, because that wouldn't serve the plot, but one who has been raised by the Native tribe, and is thus culturally "Indian"? Wouldn't it have made a stronger statement to have him  fall in love with an actual Native woman? Or maybe they didn't want to be that political. Having never read the book, I can't say if they "whitened" the plot for the movie, but it sure seems like it.

The Verdict: The Academy was wrong.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ordinary People (1980)

"I HATE YOU!!!! No... wait... that's Mom who hates ME!!"
Nominees: "Coal Miner's Daughter" "The Elephant Man" "Raging Bull" "Tess"

He Said: No Ordinary People

Going into this one it was rather difficult to find anywhere, and we will just leave it at that and not how we attained a copy to watch it. My in-laws both told us that this was the most boring movie ever and the only one that they ever walked out of the theatre on, so we were putting off watching this one for a while and certainly not looking forward to it at all.

Ordinary People is basically about a family living their lives, I am guessing somewhere in the American Northeast (maybe Connecticut), who are going through the emotional and mental difficulties following the death of a son and the subsequent suicide attempt of the other son.

There is no real plot per se in this movie, just character development with a small amount of mystery and intrigue in terms of figuring out what exactly happened to the family, at the start you just know about the characters acting weird, disturbed, and slightly sad and then beating around the bush about the living son and the “hospital.” At least this mystery existed for me since I didn't know anything about this movie other than Donald Sutherland was staring in it, as I try not to read the synopsis going into movies so that it gives me more of a mystery and interest in the film.

The acting is pretty good. The suicidal son is quite good with a young Timothy Hutton in that role. Judd Hirsch does a fine job as the psychiatrist and the parents are pretty good with Mary Tyler Moore and the aforementioned Donald Sutherland, even if I think Sutherland's acting was a bit stiff at times. Robert Redford directed it (well but not outstanding) and won the Oscar, not sure how they gave it to him and passed on Scorcese's Raging Bull, another fine film in the same year, but no Oscar year is without controversy.

Not much to say on this one, other than that I recommend it, it is highly entertaining if you like slower movies with good strong characters and character development; if you don't like those types of movies then I would pass on it. Also, as the subject matter is a bit on the dark and gloomy side it is a bit of a downer film, so if you aren't into those then perhaps passing on this one would be best. Perhaps the only criticism I have is that it isn't really about ordinary people. The family is a very affluent family being able to afford expensive psychiatrist fees and the ability to fly around North America and to Europe on trips. So they aren't really that ordinary except in that they are trying to deal with emotionally difficult things and have problems working through them just like all families would if faced with similar circumstances, which I guess might be part of the point.

Hard for me to say if the Academy was right or not. The first couple times I saw Raging Bull, I thought it was fabulous and I would probably say it was overall a bit better than Ordinary People. However, since I haven't seen Raging Bull in some 10 years, I will have to call it a draw until I watch it again. Stay tuned perhaps for an update after another viewing of Raging Bull. That all being said, I think people should see this if they can get a copy of it and if you are not put off by the somewhat dark subject matter.

Next up, Dances with Wolves. Oh the groans, oh the terrible movie. I HATED this movie as a child and it was on TV all the time and my mother would watch it all the time, here's hoping it is like a fine wine and gets better with age. All I can say is I am definitely not looking forward to this one.

She Said: Ordinary Schmordinary.

So when I told Dad that “Ordinary People” was up next, he told me it was one of the worst movies he’s ever seen. When I told Mom, she said she’s pretty sure she and Dad walked out of the theatre.

They’re on crack.

This was one of, if not, THE best movie we’ve seen so far as part of this little project. It was beautifully filmed and brilliantly acted. The portrayal of a family dealing the with death of the “favorite” son and the resulting mental illness of the other is spot on. I really felt for these people, even the mother who was so consumed by her own grief (in an icy, detached kind of way) that she was nearly impossible to care for. All the main actors received nominations for their roles, except for Donald Sutherland, which I don’t get. This is a true ensemble movie: this family could not have been played by anyone but these three people, all of whom rely on each other for their performances.

In comparison to “A Beautiful Mind”, I found this to be a much more realistic portrayl of mental illness: not as something you can overcome by just “willing it” to be so, but as a real disease requiring treatment, with setbacks and breakthroughs and just the general messiness of being.... human.

Watch this movie. Your tear ducts will thank you.

Verdict: The Academy was right. More or less.

Ordinary People (1980)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Michael Clayton

I actually watched this movie and wrote this review quite a few months ago but forgot to post it.

This is the last one in my series of best picture nominees compared to No Country for Old Men. Yes I didn't put in a review for Juno since that was obviously not in the same league as No Country, decent yes, but not even close in terms of a well crafted film. Attonement is something I just have no interest in watching so no review on that one.

Michael Clayton is an attorney who is a fixer, it starts with him having to go to upstate New York to help out some guy who did a hit and run, and after meeting with him his car blows up (without him in it). The movie then switches to four days before those events so we can see how he ended up in that situation.
Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will be Blood all share some things; they all have some death to varying degrees, and people falling into things they shouldn't have and then being black mailed, threatened, or killed due to that fact.

Really cool closing credits though. He jumps in a cab and gives the cabbie a fifty and says to give him “fifty dollars worth...just drive.” So we watch in single long shot, Michael Clayton (George Clooney) sitting in a cab with all the multitude of things running through his mind while being driven around in a cab. He looks around out the windows at everything passing by and takes some deep breaths and generally has a concerned worried look on his face that slowly switches to somewhere between scorn and sorrow. I have never seen anything quite like that before and it was really neat. As I am sure you have noted if you have read a few of these reviews, I really like the single shot scenes with no switching of camera angles, it really makes it feel a bit like a play and more like you are really there. As opposed to all these ridiculous action movies (Michael Bay is famous for this garbage) with tons of camera angle switches all over the place with terrible editing that makes you feel more like you are on an amusement ride than watching a movie.

The movie was overall well done and enjoyable and much more interesting than There Will be Blood, but I still preferred the story and overall filming of No Country better than this effort. Still this is a solid movie that I would recommend to see but for this Oscar year I would say the Academy was right (and yes I haven't seen Atonement yet and probably never will) in picking No Country for Old Men as the best of the ones nominated. Obviously I haven't watched every movie from that year so there could be one that is even better, but I doubt it.