Tag: movies

Oh, Oscars, How Do I Loathe Thee?

Published in the North Central Chronicle on January 30, 2009.

Let me count the ways…

1. You want normal people to like you, but you fail to acknowledge what people like.

In the past, you’ve been excused from this because most of the time the highest grossing film of year wasn’t worthy of awards. But this year is different. The Dark Knight and Wall-E dominated the box office and landed on many top 10 lists. What better combination can there be for awards season? The ratings for the awards ceremony have steadily decline to half the viewers since 1998; giving due props to the high quality popular films would have boosted viewership and proved that Hollywood isn’t always out of touch.

Instead, you’ve acknowledged films that barely anyone except film critics has seen. I know that most of the time, the smaller films are better than the box office winners so they deserve to win awards, but this was the year that broke that pattern. Instead of taking the chance to try something new, you stick with what works but isn’t very exciting.

2. Year after year the studios throw out mediocre Oscar bait like “The Reader” yet you still bite, hook, line, and sinker.

Ricky Gervais was right when told perennial nominee Kate Winslet at the Golden Globes, “I told you; do a Holocaust

In six months no one will remember this movie.

WTF?

movie and the awards start coming.” Everybody knows which movies are being made simply because they have at least one ingredient in the magical formula guaranteed to clean up at the Oscars: angst, lots of yelling, Meryl Streep, or the Holocaust.

But I get it: it’s all about politics. The Reader got in because of the legendary influence of Hollywood heavyweight producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (the same men who helped Shakespeare in Love upset Saving Private Ryan for best picture back in 1998). It’s not the quality of the film but the quality of the film’s PR that matters in the end. That is ultimately what is exacerbating the problem with how the Academy Awards are run, but I don’t foresee this changing any time soon.

3. You hate animated movies.

I don’t really know why. Maybe you’re afraid that nominating a film like Wall-E because you feel threatened by anything that doesn’t require overpaid humans to do the work. Or maybe you just don’t understand yet that animation is not a genre but simply another way to tell a story. Whatever the reason, you didn’t do animated films a favor by creating a separate category for them; you’re ghettoizing them. You’re saying animated movies do not equal real movies, even when the best reviewed film of the year is a great romantic science fiction adventure film that happens to be animated.

4. You never award people at the right time.

We’ve seen this countless times: an actor or actress or director winning for a film because it was viewed as more of a reward for their body of work rather than an award for that specific performance. Martin Scorsese winning in 2006 for The Departed is an example. Kate Winslet, the youngest actress to get six nominations, will probably win this year for The Reader because voters feel she is owed for having been snubbed before. This practice causes others who actually deserve to win, like Sally Hawkins for Happy-Go-Lucky, to get robbed.

5. For being such a politically liberal town, you get really conservative during award season.

This, too, has a storied history. The so-so Crash won over the heavily favored, gay themed and superior picture Brokeback Mountain in 2005 because it was the safer pick. This year, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog Millionaire — historical or quasi-historical film with obvious messages — are up for the big awards instead of The Dark Knight and Wall-E, two films with powerful political and social commentary that liberals would ordinarily embrace in real life. For being the year for change, Hollywood has failed to change any of their award season habits.

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He's just perplexed by the Academy's puzzling logic.

In spite of my complaining, I still appreciate it when the Oscars showcase the art house pictures that don’t make hundreds of millions at the box office. There are a lot of well made films out there that wouldn’t be seen without the buzz that starts at the film festivals and carries them through awards season.

Still, the Academy needs to do a better job of rewarding art when it deserves it. The Reader doesn’t deserve it. In 10 years no one will remember it. Wall-E, however, will live on for a long time. It’s just a matter of whether the Academy wanted to live on with it. Apparently, they didn’t care that much.

My Mouth’s Bleedin’!

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Today is the day, the only day of the year, when I watch It’s A Wonderful Life. Watching the classic Christmas movie with a bowl of popcorn and a crackling fire on Christmas Eve has become perhaps the longest tradition with my family. Another tradition, getting up at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning and waiting for our parents to wake up, luckily has died out now that we’re all grown. But I suspect watching George Bailey on his “red letter day” will never get old.

Happy-Go-Millionaire

Hallelujah! It’s Oscar season!

I guess seeing Rachel Getting Married was technically my first dive into this year’s plethora of Oscar bait, but tonight I dove down further by seeing Happy-Go-Lucky and Slumdog Millionaire, two small films that are getting a lot of buzz and landing on some critics’ Best of 2008 lists. Naturally, I have to see them for myself. My pre-viewing expectations were altered after seeing the two — one for the better and one for worse.

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Sally Hawkins in “Happy-Go-Lucky”

First, Happy-Go-Lucky. A British film, it’s about a 30-year-old woman named Poppy who is a naturally happy and bubbly person. I thought this would come off as irritating, but it does not at all. She is hilarious in dealing with the cynics and party-poopers that surround her. But she’s not delusional or masking a secret depression; she’s genuinely positive about everything. I think that’s a nice antidote to the hugely depressing times we’re living in.

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Who wants to be a Slumdog Millionaire?

The second film in my double-feature adventure was Slumdog Millionaire, the British film about an Indian boy who grows up in the slums of Bombay and makes it on to the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? It’s a cool concept: each question on the game show recalls a memory from the boy’s past, centering around his thieving life as a young boy or his life-long crush.

The movie is getting a lot of good press, but I don’t think it fully lives up to the hype. The director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later) creates a hyperstylized look and feel that helps keep the energy up, but ultimately doesn’t sync with the setting of the trash-filled slums of Bombay. It is a love story that is central to this movie, but it feels more manufactured than genuine. I’d still recommend that you see it, but not that it get any major awards.

In conclusion:

Happy-Go-Lucky = YES!

Slumdog Millionaire = no.

The War by Ken Burns

I’m still working my way through it, but I’ve already come to appreciate Ken Burns’ seven-part 2007 miniseries The War.

Burns explains in the making-of feature that he wanted to show the war not through historians but through average citizens, men and women and children from every corner of the country who endured the front lines abroad or did their part at home. He focuses on four towns—one in California, Minnesota, Alabama, and Connecticut—and uses interviews with the veterans and their families from those towns to make the enormous scope of World War II more intimate.

It’s a great historical record of the American involvement, delving deep into topics that are not often discussed like Japanese internment and the segregation of minorities in the Army. Burns employs his trademark use of photos, footage, and interviews in each scene. Some photos we’ve seen before, but most are new and show us a different view of what has become a very familiar war.

Norah Jones’ “American Anthem,” the series’ theme, is very good, though not as good as the theme for Burns’ The Civil War, called “Ashokan Farewell.” And while I really love David McCullough’s narration in The Civil War, actor Keith David’s here has quickly grown on me.

So if you have 15 hours to spare one these days, fill them with The War.

No Direction Home

Just watched Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary No Direction Home about Bob Dylan and I loved it. A great, detailed history of the moment and the man.

I must admit that I have not really gotten into Dylan that much until recently. I have a few of his records on vinyl—Blonde on Blonde is definitely my favorite so far—but now I’m inspired to dig deeper into his work as well as that of his main inspiration, Woody Guthrie.

My growing love of folk music was also boosted by this film. I’m fascinated by folk music’s impact on the 1950s and 60s culture, Dylan being a big part of that impact.

Either way, I’d highly recommend the documentary if you love music, history, or America. Or all of the above as I do.

1.21 Gigawatts!?

November 12, 1955.

Know the date?

Hill Valley, California. The Clock Tower. Struck by lightning. At 10:04 p.m.

53 years today.

Oh, yeah.

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In honor of this historic day in the BTTF world, here is an appreciation I wrote for the school paper:

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If I were asked to name what I think are the greatest films of all time, I might throw out a few high-brow titles like Rear Window or Casablanca or Taxi Driver. But if I had to name my favorite film, one that makes me love movies and makes me love being alive, it would be Back to the Future.

A silly overstatement, right? Not in the least. I first saw Back to the Future in middle school. Since then it has become my comfort movie. Everyone has one. Everyone has a movie they watch because it reminds them of their childhood or makes them feel happy. My sister watches Seven Brides for Seven Brothers because it got her through the grieving process after our grandma died. I watch Back to the Future because, like all those classic Disney movies, it reminds me of the goodness of my youth. Plus, it is simply a good movie.

You don’t realize it the first few times you watch it, but Back to the Future is an incredibly well-written movie. There are so many subtle things you don’t notice until you reach the BTTF-nerd status as I have. For instance, the mall is named “Twin Pines Mall” in the beginning. Then, after Marty, played by Michael J. Fox, comes back from the future, it is named “Lone Pine Mall.” This is because he ran over one of the two pine trees in Mr. Peabody’s front yard. (Remember when I mentioned the nerd status? I wasn’t kidding.)

The writing, especially the dialogue, is exceptionally smart, given that the movie was a big-budget blockbuster when it was released in 1985. The Doc Brown character, played by Christopher Lloyd, has many of the funniest one-liners as the eccentric scientist from the 1950s. He wonders what Marty’s strange suit is and Marty tells him it’s a radiation suit. He responds, “A radiation suit? Of course! Because of all the fallout from the atomic wars.” Later, Marty says his catchphrase “This is heavy” again and Doc wonders why: “There’s that word again: ‘heavy.’ Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth’s gravitational pull?”

The acting, as well, is spot-on. But did you know that Michael J. Fox was not originally cast as Marty? Eric Stoltz, who played the drug dealer in Pulp Fiction, was cast first and even filmed a few scenes, but the director Robert Zemeckis fired him (thank God) once Fox found room in his filming schedule for his popular sitcom “Family Ties.” Christopher Lloyd as Doc and Crispin Glover as George McFly were perfectly peculiar in their roles and Tom Wilson as Biff Tannen created one of the all-time greatest movie bullies.

But any movie can have clever writing and good casting. What makes me love it so? Honestly, I don’t know. The original music score is wildly fun and the 1950s sets are great bits of nostalgia, but they are just parts of the whole. It just has that X-factor that won’t let me forget how much I love to sit in a darkened room and watch a story unfold. This particular story just happens to zip around the space-time continuum with a slightly insecure, “Johnny B. Goode”-playing teenager and his lovably loquacious scientist friend.

If I can’t explain why I love the Back to the Future trilogy so much, I can simply show you. In addition to the posters from all three movies hanging on my wall, I have three different DeLorean die-cast, 1:18 scale model cars (one from each movie) and a pen and a key chain I bought from Universal Studios after taking the now-defunct BTTF ride. Yet my nerdness runs deeper: I also have a copy of the letter Marty writes to Doc which I made myself in junior high pinned to my bulletin board at home. Yeah, that’s right.

But the most amazing experience I’ve had with Back to the Future had nothing to do with the movie. When I was in eighth grade, my dad met a guy who owned a real DeLorean and asked him to dress up like Doc Brown, crazy wig and all, and cruise down my street and into my driveway. He leaped out of the car and yelled, “Chad, you’ve got to come back with me! Back to the future!” I jumped in the car and we drove around the city like crazy time-travelers. It was an otherworldly experience. (I now realize I never thanked my dad for. Thanks, Dad!)

To me, Back to the Future represents the incredible power of cinema. I feel like I take in the world through my senses when I watch it. I know that sounds crazy, but I can’t describe it any other way. I know that every one of us has a book or a movie or a song that has an invisible hold on our hearts and souls. Mine just happens to rock along to “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Gosh! Idiot!

June 11, 2009. It is the first day I will be able to watch Napoleon Dynamite for the first time.

When that movie first came out in 2004, it was hyped up so much by my peers. Everybody recited the lines for about six months and I got really sick of it, as did everyone else eventually. I decided around that time that in order to allow myself the opportunity to enjoy the movie without being affected by the hype, I would wait five years to watch the movie.

Next June will be five years to the day of its theatrical release, so I guess I’ll find out then. I’m looking forward to it.

I’m pretty sure I already know all of the funny lines from it, courtesy of my high school peers. Although, Napoleon Dynamite, I’ve heard, is one of those movies you will either love or hate. Based on what I know about it, I think I’ll enjoy it.

If there is a movie that has been released for a while and has been hyped up way too much, but you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend postponing like I did. I know a few people who waited too long to see The Dark Knight and were let down because of the sky-high expectations set by those around them. You will get joshed by your friends for not seeing it, but it will be worth it.

What movies have you put off seeing because of its hype?

The Dark Knight – Round 2

Just saw The Dark Knight for the second time. I tried to take in all the theories and analyses I read after seeing it the first time and look at the film with a discerning eye.

The big thing I noticed was that Bruce’s love for Rachel fuels a lot of his decisions and affects the course of events greatly. But for having so much influence on the plot, it wasn’t the strongest part of the movie. I found myself either not caring or not understanding the love (or lack thereof) between Bruce and Rachel. It just seemed like an arc that belonged in a soap opera.

Either way, I still liked it the second time. To see so much depth in a summer blockbuster is a good thing. If it doesn’t get any important Oscar nominations then something is wrong, not with the movie but with the voters.

Saving No Country For The Band of Brothers

I just noticed this:

They all have basically the same design. I love all three of these films so I don’t really care, but I just thought it was curious.

Iron Man

I think us moviegoers have caught on to the whole Superhero Movie thing. We’ve learned that comic book superheroes are born out of a freak radioactive experiment gone wrong, or out of childhood anger, yadda yadda yadda. We know that evil villains will eventually be outsmarted and killed due to excessive monologuing. We’ve caught on to the formula, which is why the summer Superhero Movie blockbuster was in danger of extinction.

Was. Was in danger of extinction. Thanks to Iron Man, the Superhero Movie has returned to glory. And I say, welcome back.

Robert Downey Jr. plays the billionaire engineer, genius, and playboy Tony Stark who runs Stark Industries, a weapons manufacturer and military contractor. After a demonstration of his highly destructive state-of-the-art missile called the “Jericho”, Stark is attacked and captured by terrorists in Afghanistan. He gets hit with shrapnel in the attack, but avoids death by creating a device that keeps the shrapnel away from his heart using electro-magnetics.

Stark’s captors force him to build a new Jericho missile inside a cave completely from scratch, but he instead builds an armored iron suit equipped with guns and missiles a plenty and escapes his captivity. But after seeing his own company’s weapons being used by the enemy against American forces, Stark returns home with a new mindset. He decides to no longer manufacture weapons. This moral transformation is the key to the entire film.

Stark secretly rebuilds the armored iron suit he created with new hi-tech features, intent on using it to destroy the enemy forces from which he escaped and the weapons they were using. The scenes where Stark perfects the design are full of slapstick and wit between Stark and his robotic lab assistants. The final product, the Iron Man, looks something like the Tin Man from the year 3000, outfitted with hyper-intelligent technology and a slick paint job.

Stark’s conversion from being a cocky showboat to a morally-conflicted superhero is what makes these kinds of films interesting to watch. He is tremendously flawed, even with his intelligence, but we still like him and want him to succeed.

Only a few people close to Stark see the transformation: his assistant Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), who tries to balance her strong independence and her increasing attraction to Stark; his business partner Obadiah (Jeff Bridges), who tries to hide shady business deals from the newly-idealistic Stark; and Rhodes, Stark’s Air Force Colonel friend who is wary of Stark’s new crime-fighting methods.

Ultimately, Robert Downey Jr. is this movie. He’s funny, quirky, and a terrific actor. He’s also a unique casting choice for a superhero, which is why the film works so well. His troubled real-life back story helps his character seem all the more real. Story-wise, Iron Man isn’t revolutionary, but that doesn’t really matter. The characters are strong and relatable, so the story simply falls into place around them.

Downey and the director Jon Favreau, who also directed Elf and Zathura, allow the film to stretch beyond the normal guidelines of the typical summer action movie. There are the usual high-octane action sequences, of course, but the talented supporting cast makes each character vital and interesting. The last superhero film to accomplish that was Batman Begins.

I’ve already heard Oscar buzz for this film, and rightly so. I would fully endorse a Best Actor nomination for Downey. The Academy has snubbed summer superhero movies in the past, and for good reason. They are produced solely to make a profit, so sometimes a quality cast and story are lost between the ridiculous special effects sequences. But not with this film. I was fully engaged with Stark’s moral debate, but I also thoroughly enjoyed Stark-as-Iron Man battling his nemesis at Mach-speed in the Los Angeles night sky.

Iron Man is just about the best movie to kick off the summer season. After last year’s lackluster threequels failed to inspire, Downey and Co. have given us something to fully enjoy without sacrificing the crucial elements that make a good film. Two sequels have already been planned—the first is set to release on April 30, 2010—so it looks like we’ll be seeing much more of Stark and Iron Man. And I say, bring it on.