Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Pictures: Oscars Post-Mortem and the Politics of Kid’s Stuff

 

Travelling to Canada for my dad’s 80th birthday meant flying back during Oscar’s 84th night of celebration ; it’s the first time in years I haven’t seen the whole show, beginning to end. And that worked out fine; apparently, according to Twitter, Angelina Jolie has great legs, while Sacha Baron Cohen is a born showman and Billy Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr. imitation is now somehow suspect. Really, I don’t feel like I need to know more about the show.

 As for the Awards themselves, well, all I can say is that my mock-Ernest Borgnine predictions from last week turned out pretty much right, going 6 out of 8 for a 75% correct ratio; more than good enough, in my book. With that said, let me note that the first person to run a piece predicting next year’s Oscars gets a wedgie and a wet willie, simultaneously.

The end of Oscar season, thank heavens, also means the end of Oscar coverage … which means, of course, that people who don’t know what they’re talking about when they talk about movies in general will have to find some other aspect of film to talk about when they want to demonstrate that they don’t know when they talk about movies specifically.

 Lou Dobbs, who gets paid a lot of money to be wrong about a great variety of things for Fox Business News, noted last week that “The Lorax,” the upcoming CGI Universal adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s 1971 children’s book, “”is about a woodland creature who speaks for the trees and fights rampant industrialism. Where have we heard this before? Occupy Wall Street … tried to put the makers against the takers. The President’s liberal friends in Hollywood (are) targeting a younger demographic using animated movies to sell their agenda to children.” Dobbs also attacked, yes, the animated “The Secret World of Arietty” for a pro-recycling, pro-conservation message.

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The Pictures: Oscar Predictions, With a Twist

 

Upon these stout forearms .. so rests ... THE FATE OF HOLLYWOOD!

As I discussed yesterday, the Oscars are far from perfect. Predicting systems is tough, primarily because, as Jeff Goldblum taught us in “Jurassic Park,” no system is perfect — there’s a lot of wiggle and waggle in the ways of Oscar voters. I like to predict socilogically —  by imagining the world view of a very experienced, very talented man who has a decades-long commitment to entertainment. In short, I try and think like Ernest Borgnine. Herewith, my picks, and those I suppose Ernest would make, in the major categories. 

Best Director: 

My Pick: Terrence Malick for “Tree of Life.” Yes, I’ve mocked “Tree” through the year as a little too too, over-talky and rambly. But no other film this year was as unquestionably the statement of one director’s will and vision, and we have to hold that in some regard. Oscar goes to Haznavicius. 

Ernest’s Pick: “Wow, that ‘The Artist’ is one heckuva film, isn’t it? It really recreated the films of my youth — a time before sound, before color, before the U.S. Armed Forces were integrated. That Michael Janavoo-choo-nuu-ciu​s guy really did it, and he deserves it!” 

Best Screenplay, Adapted 

My Pick: “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Yes, it’s a little rushed, but no film felt as righteously in its world as “Tinker Tailor” did this year, or mined it for as much drama.  (“Moneyball,” though, came close.) The Academy will like “The Descendants.” 

Ernest’s Pick: “That movie with the people in brown nodding at each other and wearing big glasses — what was that? I’m voting for ‘The Descendants’ — a nice, funny little drama about a man overcoming grief, with the help of his kids and a whole lotta money.”

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The Pictures: How Can Oscar Swing for the Fences?

 I cannot be the only person to suggest that if “The Artist”  does in fact take Best Picture this Sunday after a lackluster, snoozy Oscar season, the silence will be deafening. But there’s really nothing new or fun to say about the Oscars this year, mostly, right down to the supposed scandals.  Last week, the news was abuzz with the revelation that the Academy — those voters for the Oscars — were predominantly white, male and advanced in years. (The less polite would say the Academy is ‘old as dirt,’ but let us be frank: Dirt has color.) Before I put my feet in my mouth with a few predictions for this year’s Oscars tomorrow, though, let me invoke the spirit of the excellent “Moneyball” (as Eric Eisenberg superbly did in a piece about that film’s merits and this year’s Oscar race at CinemaBlend.com) and  recommend five things the Academy could do to improve the Oscars — not just for the benefit of the show, but for the benefit of the cinema.

 1) Mess with the Numbers.

 The decision to increase the Best Picture nominees from five to ten, sometimes, is as confusing as the designated hitter rule. And while it widened the Best Picture field, it narrowed the eyes of Oscar stat watchers — so few films have one Best Picture without a Best Director nomination as well, or vice-versa. Instead, the Academy should set the number of Best Picture Nominees at eight, and increase the total number of Best Actor, Best Actress, both Supporting Actor and Actress, both Adapted and Original Screenplay categories and Best Director to the same number. The show may get a little longer — again, so not my problem — but that increase could enable a broader pool of nominees,  promote more quality work in diverse fields and more quality films from diverse genres and let edge-films and edge-performances have some room to benefit from Oscar-nod promotion and discussion.

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Wanderlust

 
Financially, Wanderlust will fare just fine, buoyed both by Aniston’s very real (and earned) star power and by the goodwill it earns by being a resolutely ‘R’ comedy in a mild February of milder releases. And if director and co-writer David Wain were not the man behind Role Models, one of the funniest studio comedies of the past 10 years, perhaps I wouldn’t feel as disappointed by Wanderlust as I do. But while Role Models mined riches even in the well-plowed comedic soil of cretins befriending kids, Wanderlust‘s equally musty city-vs-country culture clash plot finds only flecks of hilarity in mostly bland-to-bold mediocrity.
 
Harried urbanites Aniston and Rudd, both smacked with bad professional news, take a bath on their just-purchased Manhattan “microloft” and, after a brief stay with Rudd’s jerky older sibling Ken Marino (co-writer, with Wain), wind up at a Georgia commune called Elysium. But it’s not a commune, explains tribal elder Justin Theroux—that word suggests a bunch of hippies smoking weed and playing guitar—as behind Theroux, Wain and cinematographer Michael Bonvillian capture exactly that in soft, hazy deep focus.
 
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‘In Darkness’: An Underground Look at the Holocaust

Selected as Poland’s submission for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, and then placed on the five-film nominee list for that honor, Agnieszka Holland‘s “In Darkness” is completely enveloping. The coarse winter scrub of the outskirts, the gray stone of the Polish city of Lvov, the cunning and avid face of sewer worker and petty thief Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) are all alive and real and horrible. And as Socha decides to play both ends against the middle — hiding Jews in the city’s very sewers in 1943, when every Jew in the Lvov ghetto was executed or sent to the camps — we come to know the dripping and damp walls of the dark tunnels, the fear and the filth and the wet-waste stink of them. To make a subtle distinction, it is not a Holocaust story, but it is a story of the Holocaust — a brief moment within that

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Interview: Greg Kinnear of ‘Thin Ice’

Jumping from TV clip-show hosting to acting nearly 20 years ago, Greg Kinear has built a career out of playing parts just off to the side of the character you thought you were dealing with. In ‘Thin Ice,” Kinnear plays Mickey Prohaska, an insurance salesman who stumbles across an old man (Alan Arkin) with a violin that’s worth millions — millions Mickey could use to get out of a jam, especially when a demented locksmith (Billy Crudup) stumbles across his plan and wants in. We spoke with Kinnear in L.A. on the patio of the SLS Hotel. 

MSN Movies: Is it ironic at all that you’re sitting in the L.A. sunshine, and all everyone wants to talk about is Wisconsin’s freezing temperatures?

Kinnear: I just hatched the idea back there. I think talking about the movie makes me cold and my feet start to numb, so I thought that the idea of coming out on an 80 degree day and to the outdoors, if that option was available to us, would be a good one.

Preferable as opposed to just huddling on a frozen lake somewhere?

A frozen hotel room or a frozen lake were my choices, so yes, this is better. It was an incredibly cold environment to make that movie. The movie is as cold as it looks; it’s not a special effect.

Well, I’m also wondering when you’re shooting ice fishing, you’ve got to get the camera out there, you’ve got to get the crew out there …. I’ve read that you thought, “There are twenty-five people around this hole.”

More than that.

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Interview: Chelsea Handler of ‘This Means War’

With her stand-up, best-selling books, notorious talk show and new sitcom based on her writings, Chelsea Handler is a stunningly busy woman. Now, though, she gets to showcase her comedic persona — the pottymouthed drunken best friend you never wanted — on the big screen in McG’s “This Means War,” as the friend and confidant to Reese Witherspoon as Witherspoon is torn between Tom Hardy and Chris Pine. We spoke with Handler in Los Angeles about her plan for media domination, why McG may not be the best PR man possible and why, in fact, the children are not our future. 

MSN Movies: I was just talking with the genius director McG and he says, “Well of course we’re introducing Chelsea Handler to the world.” You have books; you have a talk show–

Chelsea Handler: McG is an idiot

I was about to say, “Is he Amish?” Does he not know?

He knows he’s an idiot. I’ve told him he’s an idiot several times. Again he’s an idiot, if he thinks he’s responsible for anything in my career. He’s wrong.

 Did you think about changing your name to McH?

No, I think about changing his name to McMess.

Because he’s got that freaky eye thing going on today, right?

He’s a mess. What is wrong with his eye? What does he have a sty?

He’s blown out a blood vessel.

Good, that’s his karma. He deserves it.

But apparently he blew it out when he was in the editing room to remove some of your more choice remarks.

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‘John Carter’ Set Visit Part 1: Alien Worlds, American Know-How, British Accents

Inside the large soundstages of Longcross Studios outside of London last February — an old British Army tank-proving grounds, before it was transformed into the studio and set-construction home of productions like the suitably martial “Clash of the Titans” and “War Horse” — a team worked tirelessly on the upcoming Disney film “John Carter,” placing actors in costumes and foam-and-balsa sets in front of green screens in the name of creating an entirely different world. Outside, it’s England; inside, under the supervision of director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E”) and with the backing of the Disney studio, it’s Mars.

Not, of course, the red and dead Mars we all know from science books and space probe photos, dry and desolate and still. Instead, Stanton and his team — including “Lost” and “Super 8″ composer Michael Giacchino, ” Star Trek” and ‘Enemy of the State” cinematographer Daniel Mindel and “Being John Malkovich” and “Where the Wild Things Are” editor Eric Zumbrunnen — are working specifically to create the Mars chronicled in Edgar Rice Burrough’s pulp adventure “John Carter” series.

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The Vow

 I’ll relate what may be the most telling thing about The Vow, the new based-on-a-true-story romance from director Michael Sucsy starring Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams as a young married couple torn apart when a head injury gives her amnesia that wipes out their entire relationship from her mind. When a group of film-writer friends and I were talking about it prior to screening, we were all in some part unshakably convinced The Vowwas a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. It isn’t, but it might as well be—it’s like a can of fake Spam, the lower-rent version of something already from the bargain basement. That is, if that can of fake Spam was going to make millions and millions of dollars this weekend.

To be fair, The Vow does follow the Sparks factory mandate to a T (which in this case stands for “trauma”). A young and attractive couple are in love. That love is tested by medical, neurological or geopolitical disaster. Love then wins the day by wheezing through a series of intense but ultimately predictable crises, much like a portly boxer wheezing through a fixed fight until his opponent throws it in the correct round. Love, it is said, conquers all. But The Vow proves that love can’t conquer bad writing.

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Sundance film festival: how it got its edge back

Man in snow outside Sundance film festival View larger picture

A man seeks tickets outside the Eccles Theatre during this year’s Sundance film festival. Photograph: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

At this year’s Sundance film festival, which played out over 10 freezing days in Utah and came to a close last Sunday, the divide between American cinema and the news stories defining the nation’s mood seemed narrower than ever. From abuses of military power abroad to the financial meltdown at home, to the long, sad aftermath of hurricane Katrina, real-world concerns were being tackled in challenging and provocative ways by the films in competition. And not only by those in the documentary section, which can be relied upon to respond sharply to recent events. These stories were also being told by dramatic features.

                                                                           

Compliance

  Compliance: Craig Zobel

In Compliance, one of this year’s most divisive films, a prank caller posing as a policeman forces underpaid employees at a fast-food restaurant to subject a female colleague to a series of degrading strip-searches. Audiences reacted strongly to its depiction of people obeying power without questioning the moral authority behind it, and the abuses carried out in the film recalled Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. In Arbitrage, an enormously wealthy venture capitalist (Richard Gere) tries to offload the toxic assets that made his fortune before someone finds him out. And in Benh Zeitlin’s mesmerising debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild, which won the grand jury prize, members of a dirt-poor community in Louisiana return to occupy their own homes illegally in the wake of a disastrous flood.

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