Jan 31, 2006

No Wonder Nobody Watches The Oscars Anymore

Well, they have been announced and they're kinda lame... I'm offended by the fact that they couldn't even get two glamorous past winners to announce the nominations. Yet I suspect it is a weakness of mine, that as much as the Oscars frustrate me, I feel the compulsion to speculate talmudically about them.
It looks like this year is gay year, just like last year was black year.
Who the hell are the voters? Why do I get the feeling they are all 75 years old and look like the old leatherfaced lady in There's Something About Mary?
Male actor:
Goody good for Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Terence Howard. Good for David Strathairn, but instead of Heath Ledger I would have given the nod to Viggo Mortensen in A History of Violence or to Tommy Lee Jones for his work in his own movie, The 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada. I'm rooting for Joaquin although most likely the prize will and should go to Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Female Actress:
Maria Bello should have been nominated instead of Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice, which is a bullshit nomination; the New Pretty Young Thing Award. I didn't see North Country but Charlize Theron's and Judi Dench's nominations bore me. Enough with Judi Dench. We all know she's fantastic. Let's move on. So it's between Felicity Huffman for Transamerica (the Academy loves physical transformations, retards and/or drunks) but I'd bet it's going to Reese's Pieces, and if so, good for her. Unless it's really gay year and we have a Capote/Transamerica combo in the acting prizes.
Male Supporting:
As much as I have the biggest crush on Jake Gyllenhaal, and he was quite good as the other gay guy, I'm not sure his performance was that great. I'd rather see his brother in law Peter Sarsgaard get it for either Jarhead or The Dying Gaul. Or for Kinsey last year or just for breathing. Matt Dillon was great in Crash and deserves his nomination. I'm very happy that George Clooney got the nod for his worldweary CIA agent in Syriana. I'm rooting for him. I love Paul Giamatti, but I hate consolation prizes. And I thought William Hurt was way over the top in A History of Violence. Jeff Daniels deserved it more for his scary, dead-on portayal of a humongous egomaniac intellectual in the Squid and the Whale.
Female Supporting:
I didn't see Junebug but good luck to Amy Adams. The rest of the bunch is quite solid. Michelle Williams was amazing in Brokeback, but if I was her I'd be afraid to win. Supporting actress prizes tend to be jinxed for newcomers (Mira Sorvino, Louise Fletcher, Marisa Tomei -- you tell me). But then, she's married to Heath Ledger so she can't have it all. Frances McDormand always rules, Catherine Keener was lovely in Capote and Rachel Weisz was quite good in The Constant Gardener, so this is a pretty even field. Rooting for Michelle.
Original screenplay:
The Academy managed to include some of the most obnoxious movies, in my view, of the year: three of them bogus to the core: Crash by Paul Haggis, an interesting premise that quickly turns to ridiculous schmaltz, the dreadful Match Point and the pretentious, incoherent Syriana. The Squid and the Whale is very well written, but too smarmy for my taste. So the bald man should go to the only one that deserves the honor: Good Night and Good Luck.
Screenplay adaptations:
I agree with A History of Violence. Night in Gay Mountain is probably going to win, Capote is very respectable and if it wins, I will be happy for Dan Futterman, on whom I've always had a crush, and Munich is a mishmash of kosher and halal and by no means a better screenplay than King Kong. I didn't like The Constant Gardener. Rooting for Violence, which won't get it.
I'm overjoyed that both Rodrigo Prieto (Gay Marlboro Country) and Emanuel Lubeski (The New World) have been honored. It's not only a matter of sheer nationalistic pride (both are from Mexico) but they both kick major cinematographic ass. I wish them luck.
Song and Dance:
Nobody has listened to us about killing the best song ordeal, but at least we're down to three instead of five. Rooting for Miss Dolly Parton (yeah!).
As per music, two John Williams nominations are two too many. He's the Judi Dench of the music category.
I'm surprised Syriana didn't get one, with taut, cool music by Alexandre Desplat, who is my favorite "new" film composer (loved his music for Birth and The Beat my Heart Skipped). Rooting for Gustavo Santaolalla.
Alien Movies:
Where is Cache, where is La Niña Santa, The Beat my Heart Skipped, Downfall, Look at Me or some of the Korean films I didn't see but got great reviews this year? The foreign film nominations are a joke. The Academy needs to revise the stupid rules for eligibility because the movies considered are officially chosen by bureaucrats, and therefore they are mostly toothless, politically correct choices. So I'm rooting for the Palestinian movie even if I haven't seen it yet.
I'm elated that the voters had the good taste to pick three very strong, unusual contenders instead of the usual pixarish commercial crap. Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, Corpse Bride by Tim Burton and the probable winner, Wallace and Gromit.
The Penguins are going to be the smartest guys in the room.
It goes to show that really, movies weren't great this year. None of these guys have real autorial panache, except for Spielberg (whether he gets on your nerves or not). Meanwhile, two of the directors with a surplus of autorial panache, David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson, were left out. So was Tommy Lee Jones, who did a pretty good job with Melquiades. And so was James Mangold, who did a fine piece of directing the very conventional material of Walk the Line.
The acting in Crash was great but the rest was not. Capote is a fine opera prima, but no great shakes, and Munich is more of the best and a little less of the worst of Steven Spielberg. George Clooney has proven that he is an intelligent, subtle filmmaker and if he wins, goody, but it looks like Ang Lee will be the man for his sensitive touch. Rooting for Clooney.
Is Munich better than King Kong? No. Is it better than a History of Violence? No. Is Gay Cowboys that great? Not really. Are any of the five nominees better than The 40 Year Old Virgin? Um, maybe only Good Night and Good Luck. Is life fair? _______.
Achievement in Sound Mixing:
Just kidding.

Jan 30, 2006

Tristram Shandy Vol. 2

When I was in college, I took a course in 18th Century English Literature. Not because it was my favorite period, but because the 19th and 20th were already fully booked and I had no choice. It was a bummer. All the students whose last names started with M to Z, had to take this course; a stupid, arbitrary way of making anybody take the class, because nobody would. Our teacher, Mrs. Violet Khazoum, was an eccentric woman who looked like Mahatma Gandhi in drag. Her classes were monumentally boring, except when she'd tell us personal gossip about the writers: Fielding, Richardson, Defoe. Except for Tom Jones, I hated everything I read in that class. The Spanish-speaking contingent, my friend Sonia from Barcelona, Henry from Bogotá and yours truly had a fierce argument with Khazoum because she claimed, in a self-assured, imperial way, that the English invented the novel. We were outraged. Cervantes had written Don Quixote about at least fifty if not a hundred years before Daniel Dafoe put his clunky prose on paper. Khazoum was regally uninterested in revising her views.
We were supposed to read Tristam Shandy, by Laurence Sterne, which was rumored to be a very funny book, ahead of its time. Well, I tried my best but it was a crazy, maddening book, and I was bent on hating my forced 18th Century literary experience, (which also led me to despise Jane Austen, quite unfairly, I might add).
Recently I went to see Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story in the same way that I watch all the film adaptations of Jane Austen, so I don't have to read the books. I was also curious to see if the film would be as unwatchable as the novel was unreadable to me, or if in fact it would persuade me to give the book another try. My moviegoing companion could only take about 15 minutes of the story jumping up and down in time, announced she didn't like it, and promptly fell asleep. But I stuck it out and had a delightful time. I have never been a fan of director Michael Winterbottom. His movies strike me as dried out affairs, correctly put out, but entirely dispassionate. Yet A Cock and Bull Story is quite fun. It manages to evoke the mischievous spirit of the original, which I, like Steve Coogan, who plays himself and Tristram Shandy in the film, have not really read. As Steve Coogan explains in the movie, Tristram Shandy was the first post-modern book long before there was anything to be "post" about. And the movie, written by Frank Cotrell Boyce and Winterbottom, is a clever, airy exercise in postmodern screenwriting. I know this sounds like the kiss of death, but actually, the idea of filming a film of the filming of Tristram Shandy is lovingly executed, cleverly written, and above all fantastically populated by a bunch of extremely funny actors. Steve Coogan plays a self-absorbed, quite insufferable star named Steve Coogan, and he is hilarious in a deadpan, dry as a deadly martini, kind of way. His sidekick, the amazingly funny Rob Bryden, plays himself, another self-absorbed, clueless actor, but without Coogan's mean streak. The way they riff off each other is a marvel of comedic partnership (don't miss the end credits; they are a delightful surprise). Dylan Moran is also excellent as Dr. Slop, perhaps the world's least sympathetic obstetrician.
A Cock and Bull Story horses around a lot with what's real and what's fiction, but there is a sweet, playful nature to the whole endeavor, and the characters, even when they are grossly narcissistic, are funny, vulnerable and real. By the way, Tristram Shandy, the novel, is now on my reading list.

Jan 8, 2006

The Woodsman Blows

I don't get it. I just don't. All that fawning talk about Match Point, such a great movie, yadda yadda. Well, I wasn't disappointed 'cause for starters I didn't have much faith. After all, this is a guy who has being churning out one terrible film a year for the last ten years. A guy who once was brilliant and fresh and who got lazy and sloppy and stopped living in the real world. But lest my readers think I was prejudiced against Match Point, I really wanted to believe that the Woodsman was finally redeeming himself. No such luck. Match Point is lazy and sloppy and is not about anyone who inhabits this planet. I sat through this absurd bore of a movie listening to some of the most contrived, ridiculous, basic lines of dialogue, which sound like some freshman's screenplay from the NY Film Academy. It's not that one cannot believe that some arriviste tennis player ends up marrying into a very wealthy family and then screws up royally because of greed and convenience. This kind of plot has been done to death all over the 19th century by guys like Tolstoy, Dostoievsky, Balzac, Maupassant, Flaubert, you name 'em. Well, Woody Allen is none of them, altough he tries hard to cloak himself in moral seriousness, which is supposed to disguise writing as pedestrian as that of a soap opera. The plot unfolds with coincidence after coincidence, as if London is a city of ten blocks where everybody runs into one another. The stuff that comes out of people's mouths is so expository, so banal, so shoddily written, it's beyond belief. I want to know what millionaire takes an impoverished guy under his wing, for no apparent reason, gives him his daughter, an office and a chauffered car and tells him not to worry, for he has "a safety net". Not in this day and age when even the homeless would make you sign a prenup if they could. The intellectual laziness of the plot is explained away by the concept of luck. Everything happens because of luck, which in itself wouldn't be so hard to believe if the characters it happens to resembled actual humans. Scarlett Johansson plays an American girl from Boulder, Colorado who is studying acting in London. She must belong to the creme de la creme of Boulder, being that she lives in a magnificent flat and wears stunning clothes, despite the fact that she works in a boutique and is supposed to be "a struggling actress". Her flat looks super posh but the next door neighbor has mice and the neighborhood is infested with drug dealing. Not that you ever see this, because Woody is busy showing you picture postcards of the Big Ben and the Thames and streets so clean and pretty they look like they've been scrubbed with Brillo pads. Scarlett even has a rotary phone, so how can she know that it is her lover calling her at a key moment? A rotary phone!!!! Absurd stuff like this is what keeps you half entertained the entire film, when you are not stewing because you realize that Woody Allen thinks that you are a moron. I kept hearing that the shocking thing about this film is that it makes you side with the villain. I didn't side with anyone because the whole thing seemed dated and irrelevant to me. All the characters are underwritten, but the female parts are dreadful. Miss Johansson tries her best with the part of a sexy vixen who then turns into a hysterical shrew, as is to be expected from a director who is not fond of women. The way it's written, it is impossible to understand who she is or what she really wants. Emily Mortimer just winces and squints and pouts her way around the role of a British airhead with cultural pretensions. She looks utterly lost, but then she has not much to hang on to. I pity the actors. Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, both of the amazing bee-stung lips, acquit themselves with as much grace and dignity as they can muster under a heavy directorial hand. Their sex scenes are a joke, so vulgar and clumsy as to elicit laughter. In fact, in quite a number of scenes the word "amateurish" comes to mind. The otherwise wonderful Brian Cox is not only wasted as the millionaire patriarch, he also looks suspiciously like that unbearable professional brownoser, James Lipton. And to be reminded of that man while you are at a movie is not a good thing. The best thing in the movie is Matthew Goode, a sort of new, improved Hugh Grant.
After three fourths of a film of excruciating boredom, stuff happens in the third act that wakes everybody up, and there is a nice twist to the story which must be the reason why people are plotzing. Too little, too late. Match Point SUCKS.

Kong: The brute is a beaut

I laughed, I cried (I did!), and more than once my attention wandered over to the family next to me who were screaming at the screen at the top of their lungs and hollering WHOA! every time something happened, which was pretty much all the time. If Peter Jackson had been there, he'd been very pleased.
The movie is long, but the pace is right. Anytime there's a slight lull in the proceedings it comes crashing promptly to a halt courtesy of the giant ape, or twenty dinosaurs or swarms of giant insects or bats. My attention also wandered because unlike the new breed of humans conceived on videogames, there is so much information I can take in one frame. A lot of the computer animation looks blurry and cheesy. Sometimes it's stunning, particularly when there is less interaction between it and the actors, but it feels weird to the eye. The zealousness of it makes it tiresome, although the cheesiness makes it endearing. I was more bored by some of the endless action sequences than by the graceful moments of quiet.
King Kong is Peter Jackson's love poem to the original movie of 1933, which, as Jackson rightly feels, is a true wonder of cinema, a harbinger of what movies could be capable of achieving. When he's busy paying homage to it, the movie is absolutely gorgeous and quite moving. As a maker of spectacle, Jackson has the imagination to fit his insanity. The man thinks big. He hasn't heard yet of less is more. Sometimes he thinks so big, he overkills. In some of his most spectacular ideas, such as the dinosaur avalanche (WTF?) and the amazing giant insects, he goes on way too long and way too much, simply because he can. His capacity to amaze would be better served by a tad of restraint.
Still, he comes up with some very nifty images. Skull Island looks like the abandoned set for D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, with a dash of Apocalypse Now thrown in. The jungle is so vast and bottomless it even dwarfs King Kong, and the scenes of New York in the thirties are delightful. The movie has many splendid, lovingly rendered details and a longing for old fashioned spectacle, recreated, ironically, with newfangled technology.
But more than anything, King Kong is a love story and its male star is a beaut. Kong is a fantastic creation. His gestures, movements and expressions are authentic and irresistible, thanks to great animation and the amazing acting of Andy Serkis (who also plays Lump, the cook, in the film). The writers of the film, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, both women, know their apes well. There is a funny, wonderful scene where Naomi Watts tries to distract Kong by doing bits of her vaudeville show. He eats it up and wants more. When he doesn't get it, he goes through a hilarious domestic tantrum a la Raging Bull. Refreshingly, there are no leaden one liners so common to Hollywood blockbusters. There are some very clever jokes, but most of the entrancing comes through sheer visual imagery. King Kong is a smart blockbuster.
Kong is a terrifying beast, but he's also quite sweet. He is loyal and courageous and pensive. His eyes are deeply expressive. He likes sunsets. I'd date him if he ever got to come down unharmed from the Empire State Building. I'd take him to Zen Palate for the bamboo shoot special.
I found Naomi Watts' quite unequivocal infatuation with the ape fascinating. It is romantic, but it is also clearly sexual. When she faces the choice between Kong and Adrien Brody she clearly prefers Kong, and I don't blame her. Adrien Brody is stuck in a thankless job, playing the eternally humiliated writer of a movie script (the writers actually have him sleeping in a cage) and second banana to the ape. He looks smart and sensitive, like writers should (Mr. Ex-Enchilada says he has the face of a sad clown in a cheesy painting). To try to save the girl, he takes the elevator. What kind of a hero is that?
If you stay through the looong list of credits at the end, you will see that the movie is dedicated to Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoesdack (directors/writers) and Edgar Wallace (writer), the creators of the 1933 film and to "the inimitable" Fay Wray. King Kong is an archetypal dream of modern man. It is a great story and Peter Jackson has turned it into a story of his amour fou for film. What makes this enormous blockbuster different from other gazillion dollar behemots is that this one really feels like a labor of love. To quote a member of the screaming family next to me, "This is better than Jurassic Park".

Jan 5, 2006

Sharon is Dying, the Press is Lying: Let's Talk About Oscar!

In a week that has had the hairs of the world standing on end (were the miners dead or alive, will Ariel Sharon become a retard, etc), the only piece of really important news is that Jon Stewart is hosting the Oscars.
The Grande Enchilada must confess she's been an avid Oscar watcher since Liza Minelli sang Cabaret and they had that amazing Shaft musical number, back in the day when there were streakers and David Niven was alive, and long before they had 15 hours of sweaty, stiff-jawed, narcotically pumped stars trudging on the red carpet like wild herrings on an assembly line.
Every year I vow not to see the Oscars ever again and every year I succumb to the temptation. It used to be like watching a car crash: very, very bad but you couldn't look away. Hollywood peeps in the 70's were loopy. Back in the day Marlon Brando sent Pocahontas to collect his prize and we all looked forward to not seeing Woody Allen collect his. In the 80's you could count on an utterly embarrassing spectacle like the Snow White debacle with Rob Lowe or other equally vulgar dance clunkers choreographed by Debbie Allen, who should be barred from the proceedings posthaste. And in Mexico, where I saw the telecasts, I particularly enjoyed listening to 2 simultaneous translators understand Johnny Carson's jokes and still set their tongues a-twisting trying to render them into Spanish. That alone was spellbinding.
Now that the Oscars have become like watching paint dry on the one non-padded wall of your cell at the insane asylum, and NOTHING EVER HAPPENS, I heartily welcome the news of Mr. Stewart bringing his charming chutzpah to the ordeal. I hope that, for the life of him, he stays away from the teleprompter and the terrible jokes written by that scary furry man who was recently starring in Hairspray.
Here are some tips to the Academy to make the Awards watchable:
• Kill the Oscar for best song, for the sake of mankind. No more musical numbers, ever. This may actually help bring world peace.
• My favorite part is the obituaries. Make it longer.
• Kill the kill music. Let the stars embarrass themselves and their agents and their mom and dad and God above, and their publicist and stylist and trainer and pusher....
• Let the camera linger on the faces of the losers as the winner's name is said.

As for my fellow sufferers, I recently discovered a way to make the Oscars almost bearable: drink lots of hard liquor.
And watch the pre-show either on mute or with the soundtrack to the Ride of the Valkyries: very übermenschy, very Leni Riefenstahlish. Very glam.