Wednesday, January 28, 2015

TV VIEWING 101: CLASS #8: ORIGINS OF SKETCH COMEDY



Morning Class, how was Winter Break? Good? Alright, I know we've been talking movies lately, here, but we're going back to our television notes; I hope you've been keeping them up. Alright, I'm sorry that not a lot of you will have this textbook available, but in my hand, is one of my most treasured pieces in my personal collection, it's very personal to me that I'll probably only ever give it to my Cousin Erica, 'cause she's the one who I believe will appreciate it as much as I do, is "The Second City: Backstage at the World's Greatest Comedy Theater" by Sheldon Patinkin, complete, with a Robert Klein narrative 2 CD set, over some of the greatest sketches ever produced on the Second City stages in both Chicago and Toronto. This was made, for the 40th Anniversary of "The Second City". This is basically, a history of comedy in America, dating from, before Joan Rivers was a stand-up, to Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch perfect their craft before moving onto one of the most legendary of all "SNL" eras. If you can find a copy, I highly recommend it.

That said, it's not the only history though. And we talked a little bit about the origin of which, which really derived from, that old vaudevillian, music hall, variety tradition, these sort of comedic act breaks, but that idea, especially would eventually evolve into, taking these, and putting enough of these 5 or 6 minute, or even like, one minute sketches, and putting them together to create a television program. Actually, even that, actually kinda started in theater, but we're getting ahead of ourselves, let's look at it, more narrowly, what is a sketch?

A sketch is a short piece of comedy, performed by actors, that is a comedic exploration of a concept, character, or situation. That's what wikipedia says, and that's actually a good description, 'cause while, there is that same mantra that we've discussed about 3-act structure, beginning, middle, ends, in sketches, and you need conflict and drama,  and even though it's the structure of everything else, and it is, um, but it's not developed that strictly. You kinda do, start, with a situation or a character, and then evolve from there and that's why calling it an "Exploration", especially since television, which really originated the idea that "sketches" can evolve into characters. That idea-, I mean, there was a bit of that before, like the Marx Brothers, each portrayed a character and they evolved and changed for the situation, and Jack Benny, took decades to develop his character and further back, Commedia Dell'Arte, played with the ideas of emotions as characters, but really, sorta the big breakthrough on television, that this idea was really plausible was "The Honeymooners". Most everyone knows, that started originally on what was called "Cavalcade of Stars" on the Dumont Network, which was, what we would think of now as "The Jackie Gleason Show", and it was a sketch on the shows, and he liked it so much he kept making more and more of them, even made a TV show for 39 episodes, but even after, it remained a sketch on the show, for decades, believe it or not. He did "The Honeymooners" sketches, up until the '70s, crossing over many different TV shows. This is practically, a different origin of what became the sitcom actually. These are where and how these complex worlds kinda meet. Now, where sketch, really veers off, in television history, especially lately, is that, as comedy, it's aim has become more much satirical.

That's not to say that sitcoms aren't, and something like "All in the Family", or "30 Rock" recently, or "Veep" are very satirical (The latter two are all very improv/sketch based too), and we'll get to "South Park" at some point, but because ironically, isn't bogged down by characters and situations, they can kinda go off, on their own, and exist in their own little, 1-10 minute world. While most modern sitcoms, are episodic and each episodic partially goes into another and another, and then there's long-running plots and storylines going on, while sketches, they don't really have that anymore. The last time I can think of one that did was the Mama sketch from "The Carol Burnett Show", and turned into it's own sitcom, "Mama's Family", 'cause that show wasn't going for satire, as much, certainly not in that sketch anyway.

And by the way, while we're talking about satire, a think a lot of people are going think about, just satirizing, the more prominent institutions, especially in the era of "The Daily Show...", the governments, the news, but, Americana, the culture, that's satirized, all the time too. The family dynamic, those are satirized just as much, Satire, is pointed comedy, usually towards an institution, but what that institution is, is much more up in the air. Sometimes characters that are created, that kind come off as stereotypes are essentially are also institution, someone like Chris Rock's "Cheap Pete" character on "In Living Color", or Mate Lucas's "Vicky Pollard" character on "Little Britain", those are sketches, absolutely about, the character, and they need this character to work, but they're really characters that are basically aimed at satirizing very specific kinds of people within society. People, behaviors, stereotypes, demographics, etc. That is strong satire as well. Anyway, satire is more much encompassing than making fun of the news, by imitating a news broadcast.

Anyway, back to sketch comedy, when we talk sketch comedy as the base of variety, especially modern variety shows, there's two trends and movements, that really are the cause of that. One, is simple,the death of the classic variety show. format-wise. This also has two bases of how that happened, comedy is more appealing on television. It's a better medium, even than film really for comedy. Film, is a big theater, it's grandiose, huge, epic, but, comedy, is bad lighting, a fake brick and don't trip over the cocktail waitress on the way to the stage (Or do trip over her, that would be funny); you can't be at the top and then make fun of yourself really. The little box with lights and a screen is perfect for comedy, and therefore, as variety shows went on, more and more of them, became more centered around comedy sketches. "The Sonny and Cher Show", was usually mostly sketches, they had music too, but if you watch it, sketch comedy became more and more prevalent throughout these shows. The other reason that kinda happened, naturally is that, since there was, a growing amount of channels and stations, inevitably, as television would grows, shows just naturally became more specialized in what they focused on. Like, when you watch something like 'The Ed Sullivan Show", was that they're be something for everybody, supposedly. You'd have the comic, the rock'n'roll star, the dancers, the animal act, the magician, whatever you really wanted to see, they'd try to find something you'd like, and those acts, kinda fell into what we think of as reality shows today. It took a long, path to get there, but if you're a teenager and you wanted to hear or see, the best new music act, why watch "The Ed Sullivan Show", and sit through a bunch of stuff you don't want, when you can watch, "American Bandstand' or "Soul Train" Or-eh, later on "The Midnight Special", and then MTV,- the instant gratification of television, became more advanced and shows became more specialized, and then there were a lot more of them. So, sketch comedy, won the variety sweepstakes, and that's part one, and part two, and everything sorta feel into their own specialized variety formats. You didn't have to do a Broadway musical number anymore if you didn't want to, or anything else, unless you really wanted to. And this is really how, late night, eventually grew into the format format this sketch comedy based comedy.

Sketch comedy, and it's other partner, talk shows, the late night talk shows. And those two are combined as much as anything else now, as well, but we'll talk a little about more about that next time, the rise of the late night talk show format, which also has a solid base of sketch comedy as a background as well actually. And we'll get to the homework in a second, but a lot of that, had to do with, how the hosts and stars of variety shows or producers of those shows, since it did become so specialized anyway, how they would they would start, really specializing these variety sketch-based shows towards their visions. The "Laugh-In"'s, the "The Flip Wilson Show"'s, the "The Carol Burnett Show"'s, etc., but that would really start with talk shows, however, so we'll get to that next week.

Okay, homework, and I want you guys to do some homework. I want to go and find, three, different sketches, from the different sketch comedy shows, from three different decades. Three, minimum, actually. I'll give you extra credit if you can do one from each decade until now, starting with the '50s. Anyway, see if you can, three sketches, that are fairly similar in terms of the subject matter they're covering, and I'll let you be vague on this a bit; it could just be three restaurant scenes, you know, but scenes that have, enough similarities that they're comparable, and then compare them. Look, at the structure, of the sketches, analyze them, eh, the kinds of humor, they're using. What are they making fun of and how are they satirizing it, and how could they be improved if possible, eh, think about what they're making fun and think about what that says about the time period. Humor, especially satire, especially sketch, especially, improv-based sketch, is a part of the society of the time, so what do it say about the time period and what they were making fun of and how, and compare that with the other sketches, how that's changed or evolved, ask why, or if matters? Maybe it matters more who's doing the sketches as well. Think of the kind of variety show they were on too. A sketch from, "Laugh-In" is very different than a sketch from, "SNL". Is it a show with a acting troupe, or cast, like "The Gary Moore Show" or show or something, or was it-eh, something like "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" or "Key & Peele" today, where's it's couple people doing whatever they want. One person's vision, a crew's vision, a writer's room, etc. Think of the audience sometimes, we didn't even talk about Great Britain's tradition of sketch comedy much, Monty Python sketches are different than anybody else's. Or if you want to even go before Monty Python, look up "Beyond the Fringe" one day, if you think about it. There's not a look of documentation on that group, they didn't make their mark as much on television, they were theater and records, but boy, you can really see the roots of what sketch comedy would become in their work.

Alright, everyone, drive home safe. Can somebody break a $20? for me.

(Samurai slashes table in half)

Thanks. See you next class.

Friday, January 23, 2015

MOVIE REVIEWS #102: "BOYHOOD", "HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2", "X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST", "DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES", "EDGE OF TOMORROW", "FRANK", "MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT", "NEIGHBORS", "THE ONE I LOVE", "KILL YOUR DARLINGS", "LEVIATHAN (Castaing Taylor & Paravel)" and MORE!

Whew! Well, we're starting to get back into our normal swing of thing here for the time being. Our eyes and ears have been obsessively keeping one eye on goldderby.com as award season reaches it's peak, and it's a big weekend for awards by the way, so if you want to win your Oscar polls keep an eye out on what wins what in the coming weeks, especially for the Guild Awards that are coming up. Not too much else going on nowadays, although speaking of Awards season, if you haven't seen the HBO Documentary "Casting By" from Tom Donahue, about the era where Marion Dougherty and others, really turning the job of Casting Director into an art in of itself, and I particularly wanted to focus on it because it's the one branch of the Academy, Casting, that for some reason, they do not give out an Oscar for. It's an art that's been shamefully passed over and dismissed and ignored, for many, many years, and this movie will really show the great talents and skills involved in casting, and-, while there's a lot of Oscar talk this year, it being the Whitest Oscars, how there's fewer women nominated across the board then in recent years, and stats like that, you really want to look at where sexism in Hollywood lies it's ugly head, casting, traditionally a field where the biggest and best names in the past and today are predominantly women, and the fact that it's still, really not treated with the same respect as other art and sciences in the industry, that is a long-standing shame of the Academy, and they really need to start fixing that soon. And I highly recommend that documentary as well.

Anyway, not too much else going on now; we're keepin' it easy as much as we can, but we got a lot of reviews of some of the Oscar-nominated films, and a lot more, so let's get to this week's RANDOM WEEKLY MOVIE REVIEWS!


BOYHOOD (2014) Director: Richard Linklater

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You know, what's suddenly ironic about Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" and all the acclaim that it's getting, is that, oddly, he has been ignored by most awards until now, and yet he has been making these kind of movies, not for twelve years, but since he started making films. You know, like, let me explain it this way, I'm not a good director personally, I don't think I am, but I can teach somebody how to direct if I had to. I know all the steps, all the shots I'll want and need for a shot, know how to use a dolly, or set up a track, and when to use it, I can make show you how to make a shortlist, I can show you how to write out storyboards, but that's all technical stuff, okay. That's the easy stuff; it really is, but what Linklater manages to do, is to do all that, and yet, be able to invoke in us, responses, that almost personal and emotional, in ways that they're almost irrelevant to actual scene that's happening. And that's not just writer's feat, that's a directing accomplishment and it's not easy to direct. It looks good on paper, but it's one thing to write a scene where suddenly a little boy is told by his stepfather, out of the blue, that he's getting a haircut, and then to see his hair cut off, and then, see him trying to fake sick so as not to go to school, because of his new haircut, it's easy to get us, to care about this kid, (Actually that alone is hard) but he goes a step further, he finds a way to make us feel and make think, about other times, as a kid when, something is out of our control suddenly and we don't like how it is. At his very best, he's finding a way to seek out that reaction, that's beyond empathy, it's almost sense memory. In that certain scenes in "Boyhood" will work more than others for some, but that emotional response is what can separate the good filmmakers from the great filmmakers. This is why he goes about movies like this, and seeks out these new inventive ways of telling stories, starting with "Slacker" for instance, 'til that character meets someone else, and then following that character, and then to another character, and then enough... or "The Before Trilogy", where where we follow the same characters over nine-year intervals, or even something like "Waking Life", which uses animation to go explore the mind the resonance of ideas and dreams and other intangibles. Or, "Dazed and Confused" where we see the pointless actions and traditions that high schoolers partake in, seeking out a greater meaning, and not finding one,- he's capable of other great films, like a "Me and Orson Welles" for instance, (And even that one, is almost a study of genius from afar, so it also fits) but it's in these moments that distinguishes him as one of the great filmmakers of our time. "Boyhood" was a project he had been working on for years, 12 years in fact. He got the same group of actors and the same crew mostly, together for a couple weeks once-a-year, every year for twelve years, and then shoot a new series of scenes, following the life of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) as he progresses and grows from age 6 to age 18. This alone was a gamble, he could've easily used makeup or multiple actors to play the young characters at certain ages, and it would've been best just in case something happened to one of his stars over time, but that's not the story he's telling; it's not about them growing up, it's about the moments they characters are in now. Moments is the key word there. we gets the glimpses and we see and experience through his eye, but through his eyes, at this moment. His sees his mother (Patricia Arquette, who I just realized was never given a first name in the movie) go from rough divorce, to rough new marriages, to eventually finding her career and passion, only to look back on the path, complete distrought when she realizes at just how quickly and little time she had to experience motherhood, right at the time that Mason's father (Ethan Hawke), who he only sees periodically, struggles to fight his way back into his kids' lives, while also be able to become more responsible as a person, even if that includes, starting his own new family. "Boyhood" is really a special, unique accomplishment, not just as an experimental film, it's a great piece of cinema.


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2 (2014) Director: Dean Dublois

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I'm gonna confess that while I remember liking the first "How to Train Your Dragon", I don't particularly have great recall on the movie itself. That's not necessarily a fault of the movie itself though, I- I really think I just don't care that much for dragons actually. In hindsight, I guess it was kinda like "Avatar, Jr.", but considerably better than that; I remember the amazing shots of flight, which, really, using any kind of flight and animation, just go so well together anyway, you're already halfway there, but I'm starting to get the feeling that this is a far more thought-out and inclusive world than I first recalled. We arrive back, five years later in Berk, which was once the site of a barrage of dragons, to a world where dragons and the People of Berk live side by side with each other in harmony. Everyone's got their own trained dragon or two and they seem to sail through the skies in sheep collecting races. (I didn't catch the name of that new sport they invented, but the way I can describe it.) Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his rare, tamed nighthawk dragon Toothless, remain the closest of all the dragon/Berkian pairings, but his father, Stoick (Gerard Butler) still wants him, to take over as King one day, and is trying to get him interested in the more governmental affairs, but Hiccup and Berk, with their newfound freedom to take to the skies from their tiny island, continue to seek out more of the world, and becoming the unofficial island cartologists. As they continue to travel though, they begin finding more pirates, including Eret (Kit Harington) who's a hired dragoncatcher for Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou, and whoever thought of that casting, kudos.) who's building a dragon army, in hopes of eventually taking over Berk. Stoick wants to lay back and prepare for war, but Hiccup is somewhat more democratic in his approach and decides to go seek out Drago and try and change his mind. This is a bad idea on two fronts, but before he even gets that far, he finds a secret dragon sanctuary encapsulated by ice, run by his (SPOILER DELETED) Valka (Cate Blanchett), who's been missing for year from Berk, having run off apparently in the middle of the fire in order to pursue her her conservationist approach to dragons. This leads to, probably the most surprising and most sentimental points of the film, and it was actually quite startling to see such a slice of true human emotion in this cartoon fantasy, and a lot more of it as well, as the story develops, as Hiccup has to resort to outfighting but also outsmarting Drago as he continues to gain control of the dragons. In many ways, I think "How to Train Your Dragon 2" was better than the original, and it really goes into the story and the world they create. This movie could've legitimately gotten an Oscar Nomination for Production Design, if they were to ever give such an award to an animated film, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed "How to Train Your Dragon 2", and I have a suspicion that they continue to make more of these, and they could 'cause is a book series they're working on, by Cressida Cowell, that's quite popular in of themselves, I have a feeling these movies if they continue to be done right, can really grow and evolve the characters and stories more each time.


X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) Director: Bryan Singer

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I went back to recheck my review of the last "X-Men" film, which I highly recommended, and this from someone who's never particularly liked the "X-Men" franchise, in any form really, and I even wondered about why they didn't make "...First Class" as the original "X-Men" film, since it so brilliantly shorthands and reveals the entire backstory and history (Granted, it involve a lot of rewriting of actual history, but nonetheless...) of the X-Men, which has always been the struggle of the series. There's so many characters to focus on, and they're fighting humans, and each other, and on top of that, the ranking always seemed weird, why certain one are more powerful and skillful than others. (I like Richard Roeper's joke, about how come Storm (Halle Berry) isn't the most important she, she's friggin' Mother Nature?!; I'm paraphrasing but still....) Anyway, now we get the, what is it, 7th, 12th, "X-Men" film? I don't know, but this one is "X-Man: Days of Future Past", or as I'm gonna call it, they're version of "Star Trek: Generations". Most everybody, including the director of the original few films, Bryan Singer is back, and now, both generations, are working together in a Terminator-esque time travel scenario, where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) must travel back in through, eh, Kitty's (Ellen Page) hands, I guess, (Perplexed shrug) and sends him back to 1973, to prevent Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, apparently Rebecca Romijn is not in the near future of this world?) from killing Trask (Peter Dinklage), who's the guy that begins the prototypes of the machines that would inevitably lead to the massive genocidal war between humans and mutants, along with the help of Mystique's DNA. In order to do that, Wolverine has to go find Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) the proprieter of his now now-mostly abandoned school and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), first to capture Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who's being held in a concrete prison below the Pentagon for having killed JFK, along with some help from Evan/Quiksilver (Evan Peters). In the future Magneto and Charles Xavier (Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart) are together, but now, they're the MLK and Malcolm X of the Mutant worlds, and are still constantly at odds, even as they're struggling to be on the same side, and both care deeply about Raven, who's gone on a mission to kill Trask and then everyone else who's out to destroy mutants. Mystique/Raven, has in many ways always been one of the more interesting characters of the "X-Men", seemingly able to be anybody and therefore, anywhere, which means that she's quite a destructive force since it's usually too late by the time anybody realizes that she's even there. It also, unfortunately means that Lawrence has far more limited actual scenes than, say, the previous film which heavily focused on her, and that's problematic 'cause it makes us a little less capable of caring about her, and that, we get much less of Lawrence's performance that made Mystique's part so interesting before. And, if not mistaken, it almost seems like this movie, eliminates the previous films in the timeline, or...- I don't know, it feels and seems off, and mostly a force trick to bring together all these "X-Men" from different generations, for no real reason they need to be together, although it's continuity-wise, probably interesting to fans, but outsiders might be confused. Thankfully the last movie was so strong, I actually was more able to care and keep track of the characters for this one, although, it frankly was only about as good as the original films were in hindsight, and when events move to Nixon's Oval Office and beyond, it really starts to just get a little cartoony, not to mention that fact that "Watchmen" did that so much better. I think there's interesting themes and stories to develop in this series of "X-Men" films, but this movie didn't really seem interested in any of them. The more I think of these two latest "X-Men", they come across more night and day than I can remember. Perhaps there's some auteur theory at work here, perhaps this project was always just a cash grab no matter who was involved, but for waiting for so long to finally get "X-Men" right, and then to suddenly take multiple steps backwards, it feels more and more like a disappointment. I'm still, barely gonna be recommend "X-Men: Days of Future Past" although I'm quite tempted to drop this film to a negative review, because I was entertained and there are some really good sequences, especially in the beginning, and the Oscar-nominated Visual Effects are quite good, but I am gonna be harder on this series from here on out anyway, having finally seen how good it can be, to suddenly see it fall back when it really could've been special, it feels like a missed opportunity.


DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) Director: Matt Reeves

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You know, there's time where, it is easy, to berate motion-capture and visual effects, especially when they're...- it's not that they're overused, but they're not often used to benefit the film; they're used usually, just to use them, and that's the truly worst reason to use special effects. Here they are used, to enhance a story. In fact they're used to tell the story, and I say that in the best possible way, and you know, if you go back to my review of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", I barely recommended the film, and it was because of the effects mostly, I called it "The Flowers of Algernon" meets "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes", and really felt it was just overwrought and cliched, but I didn't think about that film at all while watching "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", which, I guess if we're comparing it to the original franchise, is probably most similar to "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" the fifth film in that series, this is really a complete re-imagining. It's been ten years since the Simian Flu has wiped out much of the Human civilization, and apes have now taken over much of the world. Caesar (Andy Serkis) has formed a rising colony and has adopted, not just the ability to teach, but taught others through both sign and the spoken word. He's found a wife, Cornelia (Judy Greer) and now has a son, Blue Eyes (Nick Thurston) that he's teaching. Eventually, after a long absence, humans are spotted as a colony of survivors in the San Francisco area is in desperate need for survival and an abandoned hydroelectric dam if the woods where the apes has built their home, is their only hope for survival. The humans, led by Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his wife Ellie (Keri Russell) tries to reach our to Caesar, yet unfortunate actions of some get in the way, on both sides, as feelings are still raw since the outbreak of the flu, and since Caesar's revolution. Caesar's known Koba (Toby Kebbell) since they were caged together for scientific research and doesn't trust humans at all, especially after seeing them stock up on extra weapons. Meanwhile, Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Carver (Kirk Acevedo) are among the many humans who don't trust the apes, and Dreyfus is apt to prepare for war, after it was their disease that eradicated the race, and many are still worried if they might be subject to remnants of the flu, despite most evidence that suggests they're immune, or that the disease itself is eradicated. The original "Planet of the Apes" movies were achievements in make-up and as they continued, they dared to espouse an alternative Darwinian timeline. Originally, this movie seemed to be one that fought to also exist in that timeline thread, and while this might not be the most original work, it's an achievement of visual effects and the ability to use those to tell this story. It's truly an accomplishment, there's scene after scene, of just amazement that they were able to bring this film alive, and you know what, this really is an encompassed. It doesn't have the heavy-handedness of the first story, it's much less of the human characters than the first one, which was almost homage by way of re-working of the material, this one just feels like it's on it's own, knows almost nothing of the other movies, it barely knows anything of the last movie even though it's a sequel. It establishes two different worlds, it establishes them well, it doesn't feel overdone, it doesn't dwell on anything extra or unnecessarily;.... it doesn't necessarily get right to the point, but it knows where it's headed, it organically gets there and it doesn't feel like a force, and yes, it's apes and humans, and you can throw in, whatever real-life allegory you want to put in there, and there's more than a few but, it's doesn't rush into anything, it's a complex route it takes to get to the battle, where both sides are at fault and both sides are equally struggling to stop powers from the outside and inside. And Andy Serkis- last film, I wondered if he should've been considered the Lead Actor instead of Supporting where a few of the award shows put him, this is a Lead Performance, and it's not simply a retread either, this is as amazing a performance you can find this year. Yes it's the same character, but it's the same character, years later, in a different situation, having evolved from before. "Dawn..." is a cinematic marvel quite frankly. There's only one complaint that I will throw out there, in the beginning, and that's during the opening sequence of news reports, they have a shot of President Obama, giving a speech out of context, I wish they didn't do that, because I think when you're dealing with a mass human eradication, you want it to be as far away from a modern world timeline as possible and to have a real person there, who probably is among the dead, essentially now being a character, that felt unnecessary to me, this didn't have to be down-to-the-minute realistic, but that's a really minor issue amazing example of the real magic of cinema, letting us see a world that we couldn't normally see.


EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) Director: Doug Liman

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(Singing)
I'm standing on the "Edge of Tomorrow"
And it's all up to me how far I go..
I'm standing at the Edge of Tomorrow
Today!
(Fading Echo)
Today, today, toda-

(Suddenly realizing people are reading as I sing this)

If you're my age, not only do you know exactly what that was, you actually thought that, when you saw the title "Edge of Tomorrow", and don't pretend you didn't, no matter how much we'd like to. Anyway, plotholes aside, "Edge of Tomorrow" is basically "Groundhog Day", but with aliens. That said, it was entertaining and Tom Cruise gives his best performance in years. He plays a former adman who becomes a military officer, who's job is to work the Sunday morning television shows and promote the military's inevitable dominance over this form of alien creatures that has suddenly begun to attack the world. America is preparing a Normandy-like invasion to eliminate these aliens. Plans are in action, but for reasons that have and are never explained, General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) has the lifelong public liaison forced against his will into battle service. Instructions to his commanding officer, Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) that he'll be disguised as an officer, and making up a story, make sure you don't believe him. He's thrown into Company J, and sure enough, the invasion is an ambush, and Cage is killed in action. Then, he wakes up the next day, and it all happens again. Waking up arriving at the base, training for the first time, ever, and then dying on the battlefield. Each time, it continues, he tries to survive it, but without luck. Eventually, he manages to contact the one person who knows what's happening, Rita (Emily Blunt) one of the angels that helped them win a critical battle earlier. She went through the same time loop and knows all the rules and tricks and together, they work to try and decipher the next day, in order to best defeat the aliens. It's ridiculous, it's a gimmick of a plot and movie, but it's entertaining, I got to admit. It's a different enough approach to this time traveling story that it's interesting, and different, and inevitably, if you don't think too deeply about it, it's fun and entertaining, to see how they figure out how to get out of this, and it almost all makes sense in the end. It's also Cruise's best acting work in a while, and you, this is a bit of a dumb action movie, and yes, he's done a lot of these, but you know what, it takes a lot and he has to be convincing through a lot of different emotional and physical levels; this is secretly one of the better acting performances of the year. He has to play younger than he is, there's no real makeup tricks,he's got a lot of physical acting, he's got to be able to properly keep track emotionally while keeping track physically, while continually evolving, and discovering something new each time,... this is a far more complex performance than most will notice at first.


FRANK (2014) Director: Leonard Abrahamson

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The title character in "Frank" is a musical genius leader of an experimental rock band, almost all of whom's members were crazy to some degree or less. Not just regular crazy, clinically crazy. I'm sure one of them didn't at some point spend time in a psychiatric ward, but I can't remember which one, offhand, possibly the keyboardist who tries to drown himself before a gig later that night, but I'm probably wrong about that. Some of the details got kinda muddled through the movie, as they probably do during recording sessions sometimes. Let's start at the beginning though, our protagonist is Jon Burroughs (Domhall Gleeson) who's a fairly talented young keyboardist, but who's unfortunately not the great songwriter he tries to be. His best attempt, when he finally played it, turned out to be a Madness song. He stumbles his way into the band after their latest keyboardist's attempted suicide, after just barely mentioning that he's a keyboardist, and soon, he's apart of the band, and is recording with them on their next album. I should probably talk about Frank (Michael Fassbender) at this point. Frank is a musical genius, who has a giant paper mache mask on his head, similar to that of Chris Sievey's character Frank Sidebottom. He sings and performs, and mostly creates the music, and generally he's a nice enough guy, even willing to let those who he's talking to show what expressions he has on his face. However, he's somewhat controlled by his girlfriend and the bands' theramin player, Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal, proving again why she's one of the bravest actresses around.) who's overprotective of Frank, even though she's never seen him without the mask. Neither has anyone in fact, oddly. As Jon, documents the recording sessions and the strange antics, there's the struggle within the band between unexpected success and mainstream appeal and what exactly those things mean, and what they can mean to Frank, as the crazy sessions are detailed on Jon's twitter, and earning enough fans to get an invite to SXSW. The other struggle that's more fascinating to me is that between Frank and Jon, as Jon wants to see Frank succeed, recognizing his talents; he's like a young Salieri getting a firsthand look at someone who's a natural musical genius, but he's touched with a Syd Barrett, Daniel Johnston-like struggles in his mind, and now he's surrounded by others with the same mental issues essentially. I think if there's a problem with "Frank" it's that it tries to go for too much of some of these conflicts, without really setting them up as well as probably possible, and that's a bit of an issue, and it kept the movie from really being able to be fully embraced, maybe that was part of the point. I might appreciate "Frank" more on multiple viewings, but it worked best for me when I started singling out the parts I particularly wanted to see focused on more, and I think that was a bit of the problem, but overall, very unique film, very good movie about music, and that tightrope between genius and insanity that all the great artistic talents straddle upon.


MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT (2014) Director: Woody Allen

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Living in a town run by Penn & Teller, I know a little something about pessimistic magicians. I’m also a fan of Noel Coward and “Magic in the Moonlight” feels almost like Woody Allen's attempt at doing a more Coward work. He’s returned to one of his favorite albeit less successful themes and motifs, magic. A magician names Wei Ling Soo (Colin Firth) who poses as a magician from the Orient that tours Europe as one of the world’s best magicians. Outside of that, he’s a Brit who’s known as one of the world’s great skeptics, often called upon to debunk the latest charlatan who claims to be some kind of psychic, this latest one sends him down to the South of France for, is Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), one that’s even fooled his closest friends and fellow debunker,… Howard Burken (Simon McBurney). Wei, who's real name is Stanley but goes by an alias when he gets to the southern France estate, is engaged and set to get on a Galapagos vacation with Olivia (Catherine McCormack) but the job option is too much to pass up. So they arrive at the Catledge's estate, near where his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) lives. Sophie travels with her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and she's currently planning seances for the family patriarch Grace Catledge (Jacki Weaver), plus, her nephew Brice (Hamish Linklater) has become obsessed with Sophie and serenade's her and indulges in her, head-over-heels in love. The thing is though, she seems to be stumping Stanley, she even figures out fairly quickly his real identity, and seems to pull things off out of thin air that she couldn't possibly have known, and soon Stanley's willing to put his lifelong reputation on the line, claiming that Sophie is indeed a real psychic.  That's something that Woody Allen's played with a bit, the notion of whether or not it's dangerous to have people believe or wonder in superstition. Magic's often had a small role in his work, maybe most successfully used in "Alice", it's always tricky to use magic in film because it can easily just seem and appear to be a special effect, instead of an actual magic trick, but he uses it well here,  Hey also perfectly understands the mind of a complete skeptic, in that they secretly want to be able to believe in the other world and in higher powers, but that reality, life, science and logic get in the way. Yet, it seems like Sophie might be able to breakthrough that wall with Stanley. There's a great monologue sequence where at one point, Stanley has become such a believer that at one desperate moment, he even starts to prey. This skeptic of skeptic, suddenly praying to God at a moment of weakness, before finally his heads start to recharge itself. Colin Firth is really good in this film btw, really one of his better comic performance, and he doesn't get the credit he should as a comic leading man; I thought of his performance in the Oliver Parker version of "The Importance of Being Earnest", for instance (And there's also some Oscar Wilde in here too) and he's delightful in this kinda role again here. And there's also the third conflict, between what the mind understands, what the heart wants, and inevitably, the fact that both can be trumped by the nether-regions as inevitably, Stanley begins falling for Sophie, despite both of them in engagements of their own, that's a very Woody Allen twist. I thoroughly enjoyed "Magic in the Moonlight" frankly. I was surprised considering how planned it was, I came in expecting a lesser forgettable Woody Allen film here, and no, this isn't in his upper tier of work by any means, but it's more than a solid film of his. And I like that, he's kinda gone around now, embracing other author's styles, it seems. After, obviously borrowing from Tennessee Williams with "Blue Jasmine", now going in the Coward, Wilde oeuvre, it's cool to see him experimenting with, putting his own spins and twists into the worlds and universes of others, and not even, like Bergman or Fellini, the usual people he borrows from, some new people this time. I had a lot of fun with "Magic in the Moonlight". 


NEIGHBORS (2014) Director: Nicholas Stoller

✰✰1/2



This might surprise some people about my alma-mater UNLV, um, and it might be somewhat bias considering the field of study I went into, but while there are fraternities and sororities recognized and associated with the University, they don't have the huge influence that you'd think they would there. Yes, it's Las Vegas, even though I rarely went to any, and yes, our motto is, "We didn't invent the college sports scandal, but we made it what it is today", uh, something you gotta realize is that, the average age of a UNLV student, is 26-28, and actually, and many of their students are older people, going back to school to get new degrees to improve their lives, and especially in Las Vegas where education is just below dogshit removal in terms of the town's priorities, eh, the people who go to UNLV, really want an education, and really work hard for it, even the athletes now believe it or not. So it's not the party school atmosphere you might think it is, and I can count, on one hand, the number of people in my classes who I knew were part of a fraternity or sororiety. Might be a little different in you polled the law or business schools there, but it's not really apart of the fabric of the university as some would naturally think it is.

Anyway, what was I talking about, oh, "Neighbors", the latest from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" director Nicholas Stoller, and the latest in this Apatow-influenced junket of comedies, involves a career couple, Mac and Kelly (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) who have just had their new baby, and are wondering about how the child has effected their old partying selves, when they buy their new house, which they soon find out, is right next door to a fraternity, the kind that probably has been featured on "Girls Gone Wild" once or twice. Naturally, this will turn into a neighbor vs. neighbor war, only, because it's a fraternity, it'll turn into a big one, I guess, with fireworks, weed, double secret probation, (It's hard not to make an "Animal House" reference here frankly) and just a lot of other crap. It's funny at times, especially Rose Byrne actually, she's got some of the best stuff here to do and to say and it's raunchy, and over-the-top and ultimately, disposable and forgettable. The conceit, is fine, people do live next to frat houses, it's hypothetical something like this could happen, but it's basically a bad sitcom premise done well, and bloated to a movie. Um, Zac Efron's interesting as the leader of the fraternity in his senior year and sorta aimless with the fraternity to give him an identity, and there's some other decent work being done here, but there's nothing overly great or remarkable terrible about the rather innocuously-titled "Neighbors"; it's just another one of these movies, and frankly, while I'm sure there are frats like the one in the film, it's just not something that's particularly relatable to me on any modern level. I think that was the point I wanted to make with the whole UNLV diatribe up above.


THE ONE I LOVE (2014) Director: Charlie McDowell

✰✰1/2



Not titled after the R.E.M. song, "The One I Love" is debut feature from Charlie McDowell, who's the son of Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen btw, although he seems more like he's was raised by Mumblecore here. Well, maybe mumblecore by way of Nicholas Roeg perhaps. "The One I Love" begins with a couple in therapy, Ethan and Sophie (Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss). Ethan cheated on Sophie, and they're trying to get over it, but they're having trouble. Their therapist (Ted Danson) sends them to his vacation house for the weekend, hopefully as a way to rekindle their affections, at least have one last shot to see if that's possible. While their, they end up in a difficult situation that's hard to explain without, essentially giving away the whole conceit of the movie, so POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING to anybody who hasn't seen it. Alright, when they arrive, they realize that, at the guest house, idealized versions of themselves are there. They don't realize this at first, and it doesn't seem that they can even see the other's mirror image at first, but whenever one of them enters the guest house, their idealized mate is there, waiting for them. Why are they there? How are they there? Should they just go with it or investigate? They fight over what to do, and then they continue to struggle even after ground rules are set and then broken. The other couple, we'll call Ethan 2 and Sophie 2, are slightly cheerier, cooler than the others, especially in Ethan's case, his double doesn't have glasses, and seems smarter, more observant, caring, friendlier even. Sophie becomes particularly conflicted, as she both wants to get back at Ethan for his betrayal, but also seems to be falling for Ethan 2. How this plays out, well, it's a thriller that's based on impossibilities to begin with, so it's a hard little hard to completely fault or judge, but I ended up struggling with how they weren't really able to completely combine these events of a couple in trouble, with this, supernatural or whatever element to it you want to put this in, and it eventually, just sorta devolved into a thriller and not-so-much a psychological one that the movie could've taken on., and really dived headfirst into both aspects of the film; it really get went from one film to the other, and the very ending reveal, was not only predictable, but also kinda pointless in the end. Very "Twilight Zone"-ish sure, but if you asked me, what it added to the film, I couldn't tell you. It's an interesting first effort but it could've been so much more to it, and it just kinda turned out average at the end, so despite two interesting dual-role performances, I'm gonna have to give this one a negative review overall. The could've come together a lot better than it did.



KILL YOUR DARLINGS (2013) Director: John Krokidas

✰✰✰✰1/2



I always heard the term as "Killing your babies", but "Kill Your Darlings" works as well. Basically, it's a literary term that means, to destroy your characters and creations. You can't just build them up and let them be, you got really make them go through shit, conflict, challenge them to their core, even killing them off completely, whatever you need to do. The film, takes place in the mid-'40s at Columbia University and follows a young Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) as him and a few other talented young writers would rebel against the social conventions and classic teachings of prose and poetry, like Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston) and William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), essentially creating what we would now think of as the Beatnik Generation, but this is before all that, they're young college students, straight off of the football field, or from their rich parents' house, or in Allen's case, a nice, New Jersey Jewish boy, who's father, Louis (David Cross) is one of the most respected of modern poets himself. To those who know Ginsberg's work especially, they'll recognize another name in this group, Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), who, in some ways was as much the leader of the New Vision, as they called their little movement. He wasn't a writer however, in fact, Allen writes most of his papers in class for him, most of which he doesn't even attend. He's the one convinces the rest to break into the school library and change the classics in the cases with the banned material, and other such antics. He's actually the connected thread between the three literary legends, introduces Allen to William and Jack, and getting them involved in stuff that's in over their head. An everlasting sea of jazz clubs and open poetry in Chelsea and Greenwich Village. He is Allen's first lover, but he's manipulative, and his past lover, a former St. Louis professor, David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) has apparently followed Lucien all over the country, inevitably to New York? The line between lover and stalker is blurred though as sometimes we don't know who or what to believe with Lucien, something that Allen finds out, especially after David is killed, and Lucien is arrested for his murder. Allen's tasked to write out his defense, because he writes everything for Carr anyway. That's a subtlety in the story, how Lucien even plays the part of a writer, but in fact isn't one, he's acting from the beginning it seems. Lucien would be jailed for manslaughter for two years for the murder, the numerous hold-ups between whether or not it was self-defense from one of David's advances, or whether it was an honor killing, as a hopefully now-defunct law stated that you can retaliate and kill those who accuse you of homosexuality, unless you yourself are a homosexual. He would marry and have three children later in life, when he became an editor at UPI, although he insisted Ginsberg take his name off the dedication of "Howl". All three men would write about the Riverside Park incident over the years. "Kill Your Darlings" attempts and succeeds at recreating this time period and the behaviors of these eccentrics, long before they would inevitably redraw the literary landscape. "Kill Your Darlings" isn't your typical "Before they were famous" biopics, it doesn't leave obvious clues what these people would become, and it also takes the seriousness of the time and situation to heart, it's a good thriller on top of everything else. It's the first feature film from writer/director John Krokidas, and it's a surprisingly good one, works as a film, works as a thriller, works if you're a literary buff, works by showing us, very different sides of these characters that we hadn't really seen before, works on a lot levels. Good, strong, debut feature.


LEVIATHAN (2013) Directors: Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel

✰✰1/2



First off, this is not, the now-Oscar Nominated Russian film, "Leviathan" that I'm reviewing here, this is the documentary from the team of Castaing-Taylor & Paravel, they did the critically-acclaimed "Sweetgrass" about sheepherding a couple years ago, and now, they're on a commercial fishing boat in the North Atlantic. The title references a mythical sea monster mentioned in the Old Testament by the way, and this is one of those movies, where, either you're gonna get swept up into it, or you're not. "Sweetgrass," very much was the same way, and I did get swept up in that film. This one, however, I couldn't help but think it was trying too hard. I mean, there's only so many places to place and move the camera on a fishing boat, and god love them, they found all of them, they really did, and some of the shots were quite spectacular, but it was all, at this really intense close-up level, and that just started to tune me out after awhile. It's hard to completely bash "Leviathan" because it really does exactly what it set itself out to do, and the rhythm of the water and the motors and the electronics, and to see the fish, in the water, collected, out of the water, in the net, living, this cycle-like conflict of man and nature and life and death, and all this Melville-ian excess, and then, there's shot of the crew, who aren't miked or anything, which is fine, and they're standing in front of the breakroom vending machines and stuff like that, and we're at shoulder-level, from the side to them, which is just odd when you think about it. The mundane is fine, but it felt like it was a lull. you don't need to have everything from this same perspective, do you? Maybe you do, but even on a ship I imagine, there's some kind of break. We had these amazing beautiful landscapes and images in "Sweetgrass", and this is pretty much the opposite, but while we saw the work involved in the previous film too, it felt elegiac, a way to observe, while this felt like I was working the whole time. I guess they had a bit of a difficult challenge, basically having the same subject matter as "Deadliest Catch", which, I've never even watched a whole episode of, but I'm familiar enough to know the struggles and the feel from that, to know the details of this sort of endeavor.


JAMAICA INN (1939) Director: Alfred Hitchcock

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"Jamaica Inn", Hitchcock's last British film, is often ranked and listed as one of his failures, and I'm not particularly gonna disagree. Based on a novel from Daphne Du Maurier, the movie is also noteworthy as being Maureen O'Hara's screen debut, but mostly it's Alfred Hitchcock, for the first time, really being overpowered as a director from a daunting actor. Charles Laughton's performance as Sir Humphrey Pengallen the Cornwall town squire, where, unwilling by her, young Mary Yellen (O'Hara) is dropped off after her carriage rider refuses to drop her off at the Jamaica Inn. (It's an actual place in Cornwall btw). She however intends to live there with her Aunt Patience (Marie Ney) who's the wife of the owner, Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks). What she doesn't know, but will find out soon enough, is that the Jamaica Inn in the front for a group of land pirates essentially, who have been causing numerous shipwrecks by sending ships out the wrong signals, having them wash ashore and then murdering them and collecting their belonging. It also doesn't help that, as eccentric as the Squire is, he's also quickly going mad, apparently a strain of crazy runs in his DNA, this exacerbates itself near the end, when he kidnaps Mary in order to get himself killed by police, or die trying. Oh, and he's the secret leader of the gang of pirates. The movie is awkward at best. Nothing of the film, other than the Du Maurier inspiration (He would make "Rebecca" just a year later) screams like it's even a film of his, and sometimes during the best scenes, there's some really awkward jump cuts. "Jamaica Inn", for historical reasons might be listed as a historical failure, but eve as that, it was overall fairly boring.


THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (1998) Director: Whit Stillman

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So far, I'm not 100% sure I can really jump on the Whit Stillman bandwagon. I seem to be going backwards through his filmography; he's one of those strange figures who's characters talk, almost as though exposition is common dialogue for them. I can't really explain it if you haven't heard or seen it, but it's somewhere between F. Scott Fitzgerald, although a modern version, and downplayed and downplayed and downplayed, to the point where it's practically Thomas Pynchon-like, but not Pynchon's dialogue, his long passages of nothingness. I panned his last film "Damsels in Distress" which took place at a college and was sorta like a female version of "Rushmore" with Greta Gerwig as the dry but caring know-it-all, teaching a relatively low I.Q. collection of males to better themselves. That was his first film since 1998's "The Last Days of Disco" another movie in which analyzing the dichotomy between the male and female characters could take up a whole book. (Actually it did, a couple years after the film, Stillman wrote a conceptual novel that was intended as a novelization of the film, as though one of the characters from the film was writing the novelization,- hold on I have to get this right, but it was also an afterwards/sequel to the film, and having heard part of that book entitled "The Last Days of Disco: with Cocktails at Petrossian Afterwards", it seems almost a satirical version of Kerouac to me.) Everybody's some kind of pseudo-intellectual, the women, especially the main two girls, Alice and Charlotte (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale) are book editors out of Ivy League schools, who take an almost sociological look at the 1980 disco scene they're matriculate through; they reminded me of the two characters in my favorite Dorothy Parker short story, "The Standard of Living", the kind of girls who would be surprised to find out a pearl necklace was a quarter-million dollars, but instead of daydreaming about what they'd do with ten million dollars, they'd talk about how the economics and morality of the pearl trade industry. and how that's led to the enormous price. Charlotte is the more experienced of the two, often trying to give hints to Alice about how to flirt and score with men better, like "Use the word "sexy" a lot." This ends in a comical sequence in which she's in one guy's apartment and he sees his collection of Scrooge McDuck comics, and she remarks how she always thought Scrooge McDuck was sexy. Something that bothered me, and this isn't a problem I usually like to admit to, but it annoyed me quite a bit here and knowing Stillman's work so far that I can imagine this being purposeful, but the male actors, are so similar in look and personality and, even their behaviors, most of them, that I can't even tell them apart honestly. I'm using other reviews, to remember that Des (Chris Eigeman) is the one who starts dating women but then tells them he's gay when he wants to break up with them amicably, even has stories about watching "Wild Kingdom" and about a college girl who's giant breasts freaked him out that made him think that way; I think it was Des. I think he also had the monologue at the end that I appreciated, where he's on the run from the law after the club, like all the disco clubs at that time, inevitably drugs and other illegal activities brought the places down, and Des debates about Shakespeare's "This above all, to thy own self be true," line, as he's about to board a plane to Spain, reasoning that, his true self is a complete asshole, and running from the law is his true self, but it's not the right decision...." There's also a great conversation about "The Lady and the Tramp" that has to be mentioned, especially since I'm an expert on that movie, and even I had to go back to even remember the Scottie dog character from that film. There's a lot of shit in this movie; I could sit through "The Last Days of Disco" and not fully catch or absorb everything, but with Stillman, it never adds to anything. I can never tell if he's embracing or satirizing his Manhattan socialites. The girls are logical and endearing even as they're backstabbing their friends and the men are so caught up in themselves it's amazing this didn't turn into a from-roommates-to-lesbian-lovers story. There's the fictitious novel from the brother of the Dalai Lama, there's the romances the girls have with the guys from the club, there's the struggles with trying to climb the corporate ladder in the publishing worlds, there's the guys at their work, there's the constant joking about how expensive apartments in New York are, and how everybody needs roommates. Stillman seems to make movies about people who seem to think their at the center of this great epic period, time and place, while the joke I think is that they were all there, but they were really just wallflowers who saw everything at a distance or angle to it than what they actually were, they just don't know how out of it they were. Maybe that's the joke Stillman's telling? I don't know, I'll recommend the movie overall, but I'm not sure how and when Stillman's gonna click for me, but many when he does I'll look at "The Last Days of Disco" again, and I might end up praising it as a masterpiece, but getting to the level of his work is gonna take some time, I'll tell you that.


SALVADOR ALLENDE (2007) Director: Patricio Guzman

✰✰1/2



I'm sure we all remember the importance of September 11th. 1973. The day America overthrow the democratically elected Marxist "Salvador Allende" from power in Chile, and put in dictator Pinochet, would spend the next couple decades slaughtering Chileans. (Yeah, the date of the World Trade Center attack, that wasn't a coincidence, that was planned on that day, specifically for this reason.) There's been movies and documentaries on Allende before, but if you didn't know that, you'd think there was almost nothing left of Allende at all. We see half of his glasses that he wore when he was killed, recovered from the bombing, that seems to be all that was left; they were on display at some museum. The documentary has some archival footage, not much though, most of the movie is interviews, people who knew him, grew up with him, and few people in the Nixon administration giving us insight into his state of mind when her ordered the coup. He was a follower of Castro and Guevera and really wanted to try and bring that to Chile. He doesn't seem as vicious as they were, it was much more philosophical with him it felt like, at least he's shown that way. Either way, why and the reasons we went after him, and the horrible precedent it set, frankly we probably shouldn't have done that. That said the documentary, it has a few moments of insight, but was mostly talking heads, and most of them weren't particularly interesting. Guzman a good documentarian, he made "Nostalgia for the Light" a couple years later, that was more interesting, about the astronomers in the Atacama desert, although he still, is not particularly flashy. He usually lets the subject matter be and doesn't particularly add much at all other than lay back and that's problematic. He's got an interesting subject, but he really didn't humanize Allende the way I think he wanted. It felt more like a page in a boring history book, that really a look him and the time and place. Can't really recommend it, I had a hard time being engaged by the film overall, it should've and could've found a more interesting way of combining all of the elements together, but it really didn't succeed entirely.



Monday, January 19, 2015

CANON OF FILM: "GROUNDHOG DAY"

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

Director: Harold Ramis
Screenplay: Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis based on the story by Danny Rubin



We always tend to consider dramas as great films more quickly and more urgently than comedies, but I was wondering what if “Groundhog Day” had been a drama. That’s not that unusual, it’s been done as a drama multiple times, since, most recently with Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow”, but I mean, would it have had the long-lasting impact and be remembered as a seminal film it is. There’s been good and bad attempts at copying the formula from the movie, a character finding himself stuck in a time loop as he continues to relive the same day over and over again while everybody else still thinks they’re going through it for the first time, but I suspect that because this was a comedy, that whenever the idea gets revived, it becomes a little less prevalent. Similar to how when “Dr. Strangelove…” got released before “Fail-Safe” and suddenly the parody of the film comes out before the movie they were parodying. I don’t know if that’s the case of not, and I didn’t think when this film came out I’d eventually consider it a masterpiece either, but time has proven many people wrong on that, and this film will play like the similarly-themed “It’s a Wonderful Life,” forever.

 “Groundhog Day” is a great comedy, and a seminal film. Does it matter that it became so seminal and new an idea that you can’t repeat it without people thinking about the original film anymore. Most great movies can’t make that claim. The story was by Danny Rubin, working with the great Harold Ramis, and the movie is fairly simple, yet ingenious. Our hero is a weatherman (Bill Murray) who ends up reliving the same day over and over again. How they decided on picking Groundhog Day for the day, I don’t know, but it’s quite inspired actually. Murray’s performance is so brilliant, you may not realize just how subtle it is, because it only seems that he changes the situation around him and not himself personally but slowly but surely, him reliving the same moments over and over again eventually lead him to, maybe a little too literally, self-discovery. Recently, many religious scholars have noted “Groundhog Day”, for these spiritual themes, which, I guess you can find in there if you want. Although that’s a little considering one the funniest moments is how he continually amuses himself by finding new creative ways to kill himself each day, including one memorable one that constitutes kidnapping the groundhog, and you don’t see too many religions advocating suicide, (Or kidnapping groundhogs for that matter). There’s also critical performance by Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott as Phil’s defeated producer and cameraman who put up with the onscreen talent, but mostly look at this like a job, in particular for MacDowell as they have to be repeating the same events, but also have to be believable, reacting to this newly, continuously transforming Phil, who spends his days, or is it day,- anyway, eventually, he begins using the day to improve himself, each time.

Still though, this is arguably the greatest example of all of Bill Murray’s talents. Running through every possible emotion is one thing, which he more than has to do with this most roles, but nobody can walk into our lives and convincingly seem like a prick quite like him. He’s not over-the-top, he’s not obnoxious, he just is, and while you don’t think of this performance as a study of understatement that his later work has been known for, but this actually shows how he realizes exactly how subtle he needs to be, and not overdo anything. There’s so many ways this performance can go wrong, and ruin the movie, and yet because it’s Bill Murray, it doesn’t. Director Harold Ramis did his best work with Bill Murray, he supposedly considered other names for this film, but I can’t imagine he would go through with the film without Murray though. It’s arguably Ramis’s best film, it’s arguably Murray’s greatest achievement, and “Groundhog Day”, I mean, it’s an adjective now. It sneaks up on you, and you don’t realize it’s brilliance right away, but you can really look back on it, not even as a comedy, but just as a film- I think of Judd Apatow for instance, and this improv style of, taking the scenes, and then letting gifted actors, reshoot and reshoot, coming up with funnier lines and behaviors each time out; that really began with Harold Ramis, and you basically see the entire technique here. Do it this way, say something else, react this way, in many ways, the films like a look and treat at the process of the future of big budget Hollywood comedies.

No wonder everybody’s trying to remake "Groundhog Day" again; they’re all already just directing like Harold Ramis to begin with.  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 OSCAR NOMINATION ANALYSIS! Every CATEGORY ANALYZED and a look at how CORRECT MY PREDICTIONS would've been had the conspiracy to keep my psychic powers quiet- Oh, I'll do that again next year. A look at what I got RIGHT and what I got WRONG on my PREDICTIONS.



Well, I didn't do the character bit about how I'm perfect with prediction this year, 'cause I was running late, I guess I won't do it again this year, (Although I do believe my predictions were dead-on until they were changed slightly after I posted in order to make me seem fallible and less all-knowing, but, don't worry it this year. I didn't even remember to send a Memo this year to them.) So, let's assume that didn't happen and I got a few things wrong. There were some surprises, some big ones that change categories, some really stupid ones (Documentary Branch, we're gonna have words!) but now that the results are out, time to compare and time to look at the categories now. Time for the most extensive OSCAR NOMINEES ANALYSIS this side of Goldderby!

(* represents correct prediction)

BEST PICTURE
American Sniper
*Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
*Boyhood
*The Grand Budapest Hotel
*The Imitation Game
*Selma
*The Theory of Everything
*Whiplash

For the first time, only 8 films made Best Picture list, and if you know how they count, that is a mathematical anomaly that should be looked into; it is almost an impossibility despite their claim of 5-10 nominees/year for their not to be 9 nominees, so there must have been a lot of just disagreement on the on bottom of the ballots. An inordinate amount for only eight films to reach the 5% threshold. And if you want proof of the split, for the first time since they expanded the Best Picture category, a Best Director nominee, didn't get into to Best Picture!!!!!!!!!! Talk about a buried lead but Bennett Miller got the fifth Best Director spot, but "Foxcatcher" somehow- it had to be ninth, I'm convinced but, it didn't break the threshod. I had "Foxcatcher" in, I thought "Nightcrawler instead of "American Sniper", which I had tenth, barely getting in, I made a last-second switch to make that tenth, and put "Selma" in. By the way, I'm looking this up now, but I think the first time ever, that a movie only got two nominations, and those nominations were Best Picture and Best Song. Sorry, "Selma"; I knew there was some backlash, but it definitely did bad again, but "Best Song" and "Best Picture" very unusual. 


BEST DIRECTOR
*Wes Anderson-"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
*Alejandro G. Inarritu-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
*Richard Linklater-"Boyhood"
Bennett Miller-"Foxcatcher"
*Morten Tyldum-"The Imitation Game"

I think everybody had Morten Tyldum after BAFTA and DGA, hopefully you all did, I kept going back and forth between Damian Chazelle for "Whiplash" and Bennett Miller for "Foxcatcher" as the fifth nominee; and I eventually went with Chazelle instead, I mentioned it multiple times on my Predictions blog, I even put it up on Goldderby.com in the Oscar forums about "Selma" backlash, and I was right it turns out, so Ava Duvernay, not in, but how Bennett Miller got into Directing and not into Best Picture, is jut bizarre. That means, enough people, outside the Directing Branch, must've had trouble with "Foxcatcher", for some reason. I'm not sure why exactly, but the Directors nominated it, I have to assume they had it high up there, and nobody else did; that's the only conclusion I can come too. It got into Directing, Writing, Makeup, (Those weird Makeup people) and the two acting nods, hmm. You'd think that was an actors' picture too, wouldn't you? I'm not sure how that fell out, splits votes at the bottom, that's all I can think of. 


BEST ACTOR
Steve Carell-"Foxcatcher"
Bradley Cooper-"American Sniper"
*Benedict Cumberbatch-"The Imitation Game"
*Michael Keaton-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
*Eddie Redmayne-"The Theory of Everything"

I went a little hopeful/crazy by putting Steve Carell into Supporting Actor instead of Lead, hoping other Oscar voters took the same cue for BAFTA last week, but make no mistakes, he definitely got votes for both categories, and probably knocked out somebody like Jake Gyllenhaal or David Oyelowo in the Lead category, with the help of the Supporting Actor votes, once they put him in Lead Actor, and I wouldn't completely discount him pulling off an upset here either, but I think it's clearly between Redmayne and Keaton, it's a deadlock right now on Goldderby between those two. Gyllenhaal, btw, there's always gonna be one now, that will get Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA, and SAG and somehow he'll miss the Oscar; it seems like it's inevitable now, there'll be one every year, this time around, it's Gyllenhaal. Don't overlook Bradley Cooper either, "American Sniper" has been picking up ground, and he has been busy, on Broadway doing "The Elephant Man", he hasn't even campaigned yet, so he has a shot to come up between them, he's been nominated, like three years in a row now? Yeah, three years straight, hasn't won; they want to give it to him. It's a possibility. They liked "American Sniper" enough to put it in Best Picture, so they're watching it. 


BEST ACTRESS
Marion Cotillard-"Two Days, One Night"
Felicity Jones-"The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore-"Still Alice"
Rosamund Pike-"Gone Girl"
Reese Witherspoon-"Wild"

Ooh, Jennifer Aniston gave it a good run, getting into SAG, Globes, and Critics Choice, for "Cake", but didn't get in here, but let's take a look at who did get in, 'cause Marion Cotillard is a gamechanger nominee for "Two Days, One Night", which is the film from the Dardenne Brothers, it was Belgium's entry in the Foreign Language film, and it didn't make the shortlist. But, I thought going in, Marion Cotillard was screwed because she potentially up for two Best Lead roles, this and "The Immigrant", and there wasn't support or push for either one, and "The Immigrant" has been streaming on Netflix, so they've seen that one too, and "Two Days, One Night" was not the one most saw, but she would've split votes, and it's not like how Julianne Moore would split votes, because they gave up on her being nominated for "Maps to the Stars" awhile ago, despite a Cannes Award for it, (They even had a late push for her in Supporting for that) but for Cotillard to overcome that, plus other actresses in her way, and remember, she's pulled off a surprise win before for a Foreign Language film; this also could be a makeup for her not being nominated for "Rust and Bone"; this is gamechanger nomination, this went from Julianne Moore, with a walk to Best Actress, because let's face it, she should've won by now for something, but this is a two-woman race now. They saw Marion Cotillard in "Two Days, One Night" and put her in, none of the others, maybe Felicity Jones really have a shot, but this race got interesting really quick with the Cotillard nomination. 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Robert Duvall-"The Judge"
*Ethan Hawke-"Boyhood"
*Edward Norton-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
*Mark Ruffalo-"Foxcatcher"
*J.K. Simmons-"Whiplash"

No surprises here; I put Steve Carell in Supporting instead of Lead, so that was  my gamble; I knew he would get enough votes in both that added together he would get in, but I am a little surprised, despite other nominations that Robert Duvall got in for "The Judge", which has generally not been overly well-received, except for Duvall, and he's been snubbed before when get nominated at Spirit, SAG, Globes, etc., most recently with "Get Low"; I mean, he's so consistency in every role that it tempting to nominate him in everything, so it's not the worst thing ever that he's up again, and frankly this was a weaker year in the category. That's part of why I went out of my way to try and throw Carell in there for Supporting, 'cause I really wasn't seeing much pattern or scenarios for anybody else getting in frankly. Maybe Brolin got a vote here and there, maybe Miyavi for "Unbroken" maybe Wilkinson for "Selma", maybe Cristoph Waltz for "Big Eyes", but nothing was sneaking in that wasn't already a contender. So, same five as everywhere and as long as the patterns stay true, congratulations J.K. Simmons. Nobody deserves it more btw, incredibly talented, great actor; I've been a fan since "Oz" and "Law & Order", Jason Reitman uses him all the time, one of my old professors plays in the same fantasy football league with you; I've heard nothing but good things about him, and unless something happens, it looks like it's safely going to him now. 


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
*Patricia Arquette-"Boyhood"
Laura Dern-"Wild"
Keira Knightley-"The Imitation Game"
*Emma Stone-"Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"
*Meryl Streep-"Into the Woods"

Ah, I got talked into Jessica Chastain for "A Most Violent Year", I should've stayed true to Laura Dern. Um, no real surprises here, and in case you lost count, this is Meryl Streep's 19th nomination, Jesus Christ. I know, even she thinks it's absurd, but, if she would give shittier performances..., eh, they'd probably still nominated her.- No, I'm kidding, I love Meryl Streep, she does get in sometimes in weird places though. Keira Knightley's nomination is the one I'm a little more befuddled by; and I normally love her, but I didn't think she was that great in "The Imitation Game", but tough to roll over a Weinstein picture even slightly when it has momentum going for it. That said, Patricia Arquette is the heavy, again, no real surprise, although Rene Russo, not getting in...; I think that would've been nice, you could've thrown her in. Great actress, never been nominated, sure "Nightcrawler" in some ways underperformed, it did get into Writing though, some people liked it; I would've liked to have seen her in, especially since she hasn't done too much work in a while, seeing her in something that's even in contention for an award.... Oh well. 


ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
American Sniper-Jason Hall
*The Imitation Game-Graham Moore
*Inherent Vice-Paul Thomas Anderson
*The Theory of Everything-Anthony McCarten
*Whiplash-Damien Chazelle

I was in denial about "American Sniper", that one's my fault; I had "Gone Girl" in there, and that was stupid, but they almost never nominate, much less have someone win for adapted their own work, and Gillian Flynn was adapting her own novel there. (Last time was 1999 with John Irving winning for adapting "The Cider House Rules") Glad I pulled out "Inherent Vice" though, P.T. Anderson, coming back into the Screenplay category, he's missed it last film, with "The Master" only getting three acting nods last time. Turns out Chazelle gets helped by being forced to switch categories and put in Adapted controversially, but it's actually not an overly field he's up agains; he might pull this off. 


ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
*Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Aleandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
*Boyhood-Richard Linklater
*Foxcatcher-E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
*The Grand Budapest Hotel-Screenplay: Wes Anderson; Story: Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness
*Nightcrawler-Dan Gilroy

Wow, normally I get Adapted Screenplay right and screw up Original Screenplay, that's what happened three years straight for me, but took a good shot getting "Nightcrawler" into Original Screenplay. so kudos to me on that one; that was the one kinda iffy one to me, and there were more than a few choices in a crowded field that would've made sense there. Glad I pulled that one off, and congrats to Dan Gilroy for even getting in this field. Oy! "Birdman...", "Boyhood", and "Grand Budapest..." are probably the three top Best Picture favorites, and they're all up for Directing. The Globes split them all up, who knows, maybe the Oscars will do the same, or one will come out and sweep. If someone sweeps it though, it's probably "Boyhood". Oh, and don't rule out "Foxcatcher" either for this one. Hmm. Loaded category. 


BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
*Big Hero 6
*The Boxtrolls
*How to Train Your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
*The Tale of Princess Kaguya

This is one of the biggest surprise this year, the lack of the nomination for "The LEGO Movie", which I thought had a far outside shot at Best Picture as well as Animated Feature; it did get into Best Song for "Everything is Awesome" so it wasn't shutout, and instead "Song of the Sea", Tomm Moore's film got the last slot. Remember, he was nominated surprisingly a few years ago for "The Secret of the Kells", which I didn't particularly like, btw, but the Animation Branch apparently loves him. There is an opening now for Best Picture, "Big Hero 6" and "How to Train Your Dragon 2" are probably the most obvious choices there, but don't discount "The Tale of Princess Kaguya", this is Studio Ghibli's latest, their other great director Isao Takahata, who's most famous film is the great "Grave of the Fireflies", one of the very best animated films of all-time, and one of the films that put Studio Ghibli on the map, they gave Hayao Miyazaki a Lifetime Achievement Oscar this year, they given it to them before, with Miyazaki's "Spirited Away", and they've two other Miyazaki films since, they haven't award Takahata yet. Studio Ghibli's future is in a bit of jeopardy too, so they might not have another time to do so, so that's not a discard-able obscure animated feature that's nominated; that might actually be the favorite right now, especially if everybody's split on the other American films, it can easily sneak in there and take it. 


BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
*CitizenFour
Finding Vivian Maier
*Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt of the Earth
*Virunga

(Frustrated Sigh) This is FUCKING BULLSHIT! I'm sorry, but you can have Errol Morris, Michael Moore, Werner Herzog, Alex Gibney, Barbara Kopple and Lucy Walker come up to me, and say that these are the five best documentaries ever made, and this would still be bullshit that "Life Itself" isn't nominated. I haven't even seen the movie, but the Documentary Branch is never gonna forgive Steve James. It's impossible- If they didn't nominate him, for a documentary on Roger Ebert, then they're just never gonna nominate him for anything,- if you don't know this story, I'll give you the small details, in 1994, James made "Hoop Dreams" one of greatest films, much less documentaries of all-time, it made more #1 lists by critics than any other film, including "Pulp Fiction" that year, but it wasn't nominated for Best Documentary, supposedly 'cause it was too long (Although it got an Editing nominations, so if Editors found nothing wrong with it's length) it turned out, the branch purposefully gave it low scores, in order to get somebody else to win; it ended causes a complete restructuring of the category, and it was Siskel & Ebert who were the ones leading the charge to have the changes made. That's why they became close to begin with, and why James was trusted with telling Roger Ebert's life story at the end of his life,- I know, we're supposed to care what's about the best in cinema, and maybe it sucks, I doubt it, but even if there were five better movie, they didn't nominate James for his last film "The Overnighters" or any other film he's done for that matter, but sometimes, nominating the best film and doing the right thing are two different, and especially if they're wrong and it should've been nominated, (Which, with the Documentary Branch is certainly a probability, not just a possibility) they should've nominated him; then didn't have to give him the Oscar, but at least nominate Steve James as a gesture of apology, for screwing him over the first time, recognize his work. But no; that didn't happen, the Branch, is still bitter, about it, and btw, I'm gonna call for a new look at the Documentary Branch's rules now, 'cause of this, and they're refusing to nominate him, just to refuse to nominate him, and it's fucking bullshit! If I have one hope in this, I hope "The Salt of the Sea" wins this Oscar, and Wim Wenders, another great, legendary filmmaker who's never won anything, should've many times before, gets his Oscar, and goes up on stage, and talks about how "Life Itself", Steve James and Roger Ebert were screwed over by the Branch. I doubt that'll happen, "CitizenFour" is probably gonna win it, but, it's complete crap that this went down. Cheryl Boone-Isaacs, time to go restructure the Branch again! 


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
*Ida (Poland)
*Leviathan (Russia)
*Tangerines (Estonia)
Timbuktu (Mauritania)
Wild Tales (Argentina)

Somebody commented to me after my last blogpost that there's no way "Wild Tales" would get nominated, well, whoever did that is eating their words today, but I didn't predict it. I was looking for one upset out there, I had "Corn Island" as my apple in a box of oranges, but "Force Majeure" not nominated for Sweden, that's a bit of a surprise; I don't think a lot of people thought that; I had suspected it, but went against. I did predict "Tangerines"; I knew about that film. First ever nominations for Estonia, and Mauritania a North African country, getting it's first nomination; that's Abderrahmane Sissako's film, he directed "Bamako" years ago, if you remember that one. Obscure country, 'cause I always confuse it with an island nation called "Mauritius", which shows you the kind of geography nerd I am. Um, barring something weird like a "Tangerines" upset, it's probably between "Ida" and "Leviathan" but still, Foreign Language Oscar, constantly known for surprises.


CINEMATOGRAPHY
*Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)-Emmanuel Lubezki
*The Grand Budapest Hotel-Robert Yeoman
Ida-Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski
*Mr. Turner-Dick Pope
*Unbroken-Roger Deakins

Well, two things, not that the A.M.P.A.S. has shown the proper appreciation to Christopher Nolan before, but they must've really not liked "Interstellar" if it didn't even get in here. (Granted, Wally Pfister, Nolan's usual cinematographer didn't do that one, maybe that had something to do with it) and B. I almost talked myself into nominating "Ida"; I should've pushed it in somewhere. I even said it was a dark horse; I wanted to go with it, but alas, ugh! Missed it. Other than that, "Unbroken" didn't get too much anywhere, but Roger Deakins, nominated again, this is his 12th nomination in 21 years, he's never won; three straight years nominated, four out of the last five years, he's been nominated, and I hate to say this, but he's probably not the favorite this year, as "Birdman..." 'cause people think it's all about lighting, Cinematography, it's also about camerawork, "Birdman..."'s camerawork, where the movie seems like it's practically all one take, even though it isn't, probably impressive to cinematographers, plus, the other nominees are pretty strong too. "Mr. Turner"'s cinematography, looking just like the J.M.W. Turner paintings, which are very light and color sensitive, that's an impressive achievement,- I, ugh. Poor Roger Deakins, I hope he wins, personally, but he- ugh! It's hard to vote against some of these other ones. 


COSTUME DESIGN
*The Grand Budapest Hotel-Milena Canonero
Inherent Vice-Mark Bridges
*Into the Woods-Colleen Atwood
*Maleficent-Anna B. Sheppard and Jane Clive
Mr. Turner-Jacqueline Durran

I talked myself out of "Mr. Turner" here, stupidly, seeking to try and find a spot for "Selma" to possibly breakthough, that didn't work, probably a dumb idea anyway to go against Jacqueline Durran despite a lack of a Guild nomination, but they corrected that. The other I got wrong, I had "The Imitation Game" in, instead of "Inherent Vice"; I think a lot of people probably missed that one though, not sure where exactly to put "Inherent Vice" anywhere in the nomination ballots across the board really; that probably messed a lot of people up. Mark Bridges, I believe won before for "The Artist", if I'm not mistaken; yeah, for "The Artist" a couple years ago, so he's a name. I would've figured "The Imitation Game"'s getting everything else, it's a period piece, with Keira Knightley in it, British, had the Guild nomination, Weinstein film.... that's a tough one to think it would miss out on this; strange one too a bit. Hmm. 


EDITING
American Sniper-Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach
*Boyhood-Sandra Adair
The Grand Budapest Hotel-Barney Pilling
The Imitation Game-William Goldenberg
*Whiplash

Oh, the one spot I didn't put "The Grand Budapest Hotel". Ugh. well, the shocking omission of "Birdman..." is startling here; this would've seemed to be where a film with so many invisible cuts would thrive, so that's out. Also "Gone Girl", Kirk Baxter, usually with Angus Wall, not that time, but, not only has the Fincher film usually been nominated here, he's won it twice, including once for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" which didn't get a Best Picture or Best Director nod, in a ten-film field too. That was, probably the one spot, other than Rosamund Pike, you really could've written in "Gone Girl" for nomination. That said, this was a difficult category to begin with. "American Sniper", "The Grand Budapest Hotel", definitely some skilled editing in them, "Whiplash" I figured would get in, because of the music; matching music with movement and people playing it, that's almost as difficult as chase sequences, and there wasn't an obvious chase/action movie around to give a nomination too, so it was a bit up in the air this category the whole. "The Imitation Game" though, very suspicious nomination there. Not bad editing,- well, not horrible editing, but trying to find a great skillset of editing in that film, it's a bit of an uphill argument, comparatively to the rest of the noms. That's a suspicious extra Weinstein nomination. 


MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Foxcatcher
*The Grand Budapest Hotel
*Guardians of the Galaxy

I'm generally disappointed in my Oscar predicting performance, but 2/3 in the makeup category is okay to me. I knew I should've been wary of picking "Maleficent", but I still "Noah" would've probably been my third choice, but when went with the mostly subtle makeup, of "Foxcatcher", which made, not just Carell, he's is the most obvious compared to other what he traditionally see the actors look like, but I though Ruffalo's makeup was pretty convincing too; they really did use the makeup to help add and accentuate the characters this time around, and that's a good thing. 


ORIGINAL SCORE
*The Grand Budapest Hotel-Alexandre Desplat
*The Imitation Game-Alexandre Desplat
*Interstellar-Hans Zimmer
Mr. Turner-Gary Yershon
*The Theory of Everything-Johann Johannsson

I don't know what happened last night, but apparently I wrote down "Gone Girl" when I meant to write "Interstellar"; I fixed that just now; I swear, that was a error 'caused by tiredness and the deadline rush; I did have "Interstellar" in there. "Mr. Turner"'s nomination is the one I'm most surprised by, and that film, considering did really well in technical categories. I had thought "Inherent Vice" in, trying to find a fifth nomination really; that's probably why I originally thought "Gone Girl", but other than that, no real surprise here. Desplat, eh- if you looked through the nominations, I swear to God, Alexandre Desplat, could very easily have run the whole category this year, he had that many film scores, that easily could've been nominated this year. I wasn't even looking for his name, I was just thinking of titles that could sneak in, "The Monuments Men" was a good score, who did that- Oh Desplat,- or, and it happened like five or six times, he had an amazing year in general. And I'm very happy he finally got the nomination for a Wes Anderson score too, for "The Great Budapest Hotel"; he should've been in for "Moonrise Kingdom" and that really unique score as well, and actually, "Budapest..." in general, no other Wes Anderson film, except for "Fantastic Mr. Fox" had gotten anything other than Screenplay before, but, the production design is crucial, the music is crucial, the costumes are crucial in his films, all the time, and it's nice to see those other technical aspects, many of which, if you read those screenplays of his, are down to the most minute detail of a shot; he's very descriptive about his scenes, and it's really a challenge to create his work, visually. Incredibly elaborate, and I'm glad with "The Grand Budapest Hotel" at least now, it's getting the notoriety it deserves. 


ORIGINAL SONG
*"Everything is Awesome"-The LEGO Movie- Music/Lyric: Shawn Patterson
*"Glory"-Selma-Music/Lyric: John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
"Grateful"-Beyond the Lights-Diane Warren
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You"-Glen Campbell... I'll Be Me-Music/Lyric: Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
"Lost Stars"-Begin Again-Music/Lyric: Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Okay, if you had told me that Gugu Mbartha-Raw was in a Oscar-nominated film this year, I would just presumed that "Belle" got into Costume Design. "Grateful"?! Over "Split the Difference" from "Boyhood", and-eh "Yellow Flicker Beat" and Coldplay's song from "Unbroken", really, Academy!? Look, I'm a Diane Warren apologist, and I listened to every single one of the 79 songs on the Oscar list btw, that one was pretty lousy; I liked the rest of these actually, and they all would've made my Top Ten, but that one? It's so overly-generic. And now, I gotta go find this movie, "Beyond the Lights", which was directed by, actually a good director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who directed "Love & Basketball" and "The Secret Life of Bees", so it actually might not be too bad, but songwise, ooh. I don't know about that one. Glen Campbell, nomination for the documentary about him, he's suffering Alzheimer's right now, so I doubt he'll be able to perform at the Oscars, but that was a good song. However, can we talk about Danielle Brisebois, nominated for John Carney's new film, "Begin Again", he first film since the amazing "Once" which won this category in '07, Danielle Brisebois nominated for an Academy Award for writing this really beautiful song, from the movie, she was the little girl in "Archie Bunker's Place", many years ago, she was the little girl who was Edith's stepcousin's daughter, that they brought in after Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers left the show, and Archie and Edith took care of her; she's been a musician for a long time, this is nothing particularly new, she was a member of the New Radicals, a one-hit-wonder band, she's written songs for Natascha Bedingfield and Paula Abdul among numerous others, Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, she's an incredible. She was also, years ago, the original "Annie" on Broadway, just a nice side-story for those who think that name is familiar, congratulations to Danielle Brisebois. going from "Archie Bunker's Place" to Oscar nominee. 


PRODUCTION DESIGN
*The Grand Budapest Hotel
*The Imitation Game
*Interstellar
*Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

I had "Birdman..." getting in, instead of Mr. Turner; I thought they would throw one contemporary film in there, but "Mr. Turner", the nomination makes sense when you think about it, but it didn't get a Art Directors Guild nomination, strangely enough, It showed up at BAFTA, but I figured they didn't nominate it, for Period Film at the ADG's then, probably not in for Oscars. I have a feeling "Mr. Turner" probably got closer than we think to a lot more awards, possibly Best Picture and Screenplay perhaps than just the technical ones, 'cause it missed a few Guilds, and the BAFTAs supposedly don't like Mike Leigh, but the Oscars do love him, and it's showing here. These technical awards it manage to pile up, very surprising. Gotta remember this for his next film, you can't let, the other awards dictate where a Mike Leigh will end up.


ANIMATED SHORT SUBJECT
*The Bigger Picture
*The Dam Keeper
*Feast
Me and My Moulton
A Single Life

So much for my thinking that the Academy likes Bill Plympton. I don't know who he pissed off, but he had two shots this year and missed twice, so I don't know what's going on there. "Me and My Moulton" I thought about nominating, that's Torill Kove's latest, she won the Oscar a few years ago for "The Danish Poet", very beloved Norweigan animator. "A Single Life" caught me by surprise; I wasn't really expecting that to get in at all. Might be an upset there, but "The Bigger Picture", I figured was in 'cause of the animation, and "The Dam Keeper" and "Feast" seemed like the best stories, um, I think it's between one of those three; "A Single Life" could be a spoiler though. I thought "The Numberlys" might get in with their "Metropolis"-homage short, but I guess that was asking a little much.


LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
*Aya
*Boogaloo and Graham
Butter Lamp (La Lampe au Beurre de Yak)
Parvaneh
*The Phone Call

My French isn't great, but I'm pretty the correct translation is "The Yak Butter Lamp", for "Butter Lamp", but oh well. Um, I had "Parvaneh" but I wrote in "Carry On" instead, I'm pissed I changed that, the rest were pretty easy to pick. "Aya"'s won a lot of awards most everywhere it's played, "Boogaloo and Graham" got a BAFTA nomination earlier this year, don't count out "The Phone Call" either, Sally Hawkins stars in that one, and Live Action Shorts like it when big stars come in a do a short for somebody once in a while. More of them do than you think by the way. 


SOUND EDITING
American Sniper
*Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
*Interstellar
*Unbroken

"The Hobbit" didn't get a single Sound Editors Guild nomination, or Sound Mixing Guild nomination or show up anywhere for Sound until now, so, you got me on that one. I had it as a possibility of course, but boy that might be the call of the decade if you made that one. I had "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" instead of "American Sniper", but that was my fault, "American Sniper" I caught on to that bandwagon way too late, didn't realize how big that one was gonna be until all the nominations came out. That one crawled up late. I got it for Sound Mixing though, which I'm proud of, but I second thought it for Sound Editing, because "Dawn..." had 2 Golden Reel nomination while "...Sniper" only had one, figured it would get in here somewhere, guess not. 


SOUND MIXING
*American Sniper
*Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
*Interstellar
*Unbroken
*Whiplash

Well, I got two categories, right. LOL, oh damn. 2/24, not good. I should've done better than that, but this was exactly the lineup as the Cinema Audio Society (Sound Mixers Guild) went, so, not too bad on that one. Figured correctly "Whiplash" would take the spot for Music but not get into Sound Editing, pretty easy call here. 


VISUAL EFFECTS
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
*Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
*Guardians of the Galaxy
*Interstellar
*X-Men: Days of Future Past

So, "The Hobbit" into Sound, but not Special Effect, that's reserved for Marvel, I guess. Hmm, good to know. Eh, so "Captain America..." the surprise one to me; I'm glad I called "X-Men..." I don't think too many others picked up on that one. Bit of a surprise since "Captain America..." didn't get into the VES Awards, instead they had "The Hobbit..." and "Maleficent" in a 6-movie race 'cause of a tie, so kinda hard to put "Captain America..." in there, especially since Marvel was already represented. 


DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
*Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
Joanna
Our Curse
*The Reaper (La Parka)
White Earth

Well, boy did I get this category wrong, and I'm shocked Lucy Walker's short film, "The Lion's Mouth Open" didn't get in; I thought that would the obvious favorite there. I'm glad "White Earth" got in; I suspected it might; that one's about, something not being discussed much in regards to recent American development, the oil drilling up in the Northern plains in places like North Dakota, which is not only causing a mass migration 'cause of the need for work, but also, they basically have to start building small towns and cities up there for it, and I actually know somebody who went through that for awhile, very interesting developments happening there. But still, depressing category overall. Suicidal veterans, mother dying, son sick, and cows getting slaughtered. And you wonder why nobody watches the documentary shorts. Depressing, depressing, depressing, material. 

Well, there you go folks, the early morning, category-by-category analysis of the Oscar nominations. I could've done better with the predictions, but it's a long way to go. Tonight's the Critics Choice Awards, don't forget, the one award that does matter, it's on A&E this year, I believe, which sucks for me without cable, but try to catch it if you can, and when the Oscar come back around, the coverage will continue and we'll see how well we predict the winners, and how more importantly how well the Oscars will predict this year's One-Year-Later Awards, which will be right here in December. We're already looking forward and making plans for that. Congratulations to all the nominees, and fuck you, Documentary Branch!