Sunday, March 31, 2013

Every Film Ive seen in 2007 II: Films 23-44

This is a continuation of a lengthy exercise in which I ranked every single film I saw in 2007 from best to worst. Here's Part I.

23. National Treasure 2-If you buy the ridiculous premise that another archaeological gold mine that would fall into Ben Gates's lap, then this is a reasonably entertaining film with some top rate action scenes and lots more fun with history. Otherwise, it's the kind of film that makes plot hole enthusiasts' heads explode with possibilities. The president can easily be kidnapped, Buckingham Palace has laxer security than your local library, and you can break as many laws as you want as long as you want as long as it's in the name of a dead relative who passed away 150 years ago. Helen Mirren joins the cast which is always fun and Ty Burrell (before "Modern Family") can be spotted here like Where's Waldo,

24. Transformers - While there certainly wasn't enough creative juice to merit a good sequel to this film and the film was highly Michael Bayish in its love of explosions, superficial human interaction, hot girls, and general coolness, there was a Spielbergian element in the middle of all of it too (common themes: boy needs a friend, boy needs a daddy figure, girl and boy unite over lack of respective daddy figures) that made the film charming at times. 
25. My Brother -A small independent film screened at a film festival I attended, this film tells the story of an African-American kid who watches over his disabled brother as a grown-up. It's highlighted by a great performance by Vanessa Williams and Tatum O'Neal who slum it in the indie world but get some good results.

26. Music and Lyrics-Hugh Grant straddles a thin line between charming and boring and has failed to carry many a film, but he succeeds here because, like Blades of Glory, this is a film that doesn't aim particularly high and delivered on lower ambitions. One caveat: The whole film does rely on you buying the premise that a reasonably intelligent professional songwriter can't string basic rhymes out of words and has never heard of a thesaurus.

27. Ocean's 13-Ocean's 12 was such a self-indulgent mess that in press conferences preceding the film, cast members (Matt Damon on Inside the Actor's Studio comes to mind) were saying that while the cast was enjoying each other's company and the exotic locations, they were being professional and working. And the funny thing is they weren't even being asked: They just volunteered this information as if anyone would doubt that actors would do anything but act on a film set. With the disaster behind them, the Ocean's 13 crew had a respectable third outing in that it had a coherent plot but trying to lower the yelp rating (oops, excuse me, diamond rating) of a casino is not as exciting as a classic heist and I found the franchise's choice to reduce the stakes rather then up the level of excitement baffling. On the upside: Ellen Barkin, David Paymer and Al Pacino were all inspired casting choices.

28. The Hoax-For such a grand premise (a guy fooling the world into thinking he's a biographer of Howard Hughes), The Hoax was moderately uneventful which made the film feel a little pretentious. On the positive, it had some nice character moments here and there.

29. Lucky You-Curtis Hanson is a great director (LA Confidential, Wonderboys, In Her Shoes, 8 Mile) and this film has his trademarks of quiet moments, self-reflexive characters, immersion in a subculture, but this film felt a little dreary and the plot lacked forward movement. Wasn't necessarily a bad film but not Hanson's best work

30. Evan Almighty-If you're wondering why this ridiculously tenously connected sequel exists the answer is twofold: 1) Bruce Almighty grossed north of $200 million. For a comedy, that's pretty damn good, and even if it came with a neatly packaged ending, Hollywood economics supercede story: A sequel had to be made 2) Jim Carrey didn't want to do it and, fortunately, Steve Carell had became a star in the interim. Because they built an elaborate ark (fun fact: the ark was constructed and shot in Virginia, a casting call went out to my college and a couple friends were extras) , this was technically the most expensive comedy to date. Some critics ripped on the film for unwisely spending all that money for a superfluous ark but I think they missed the point: plus or minus an ark, the entire film was a grand piece of superfluousness. Evan was a one-note villain who only merited a film of his own unless you sweep it all under the rug and retcon him as a deeper character. If you can get past all that, then it's an, at times, moderately decent comedy.

31. Walk Hard-The best parodies tend to be more subtle. Walk Hard tended to hit you over the head with a grand announcement that it was a parody.

32. Charlie Barrett-I find it interesting that Iron Man was touted as Rob Downey Jr's comeback when here he was in a film the year before. Not one that anyone saw, but still. This film is a high school dramedy about a new transfer (Anton Yelchin) who goes from selling his adderroll to becoming the unofficial school psychologist and sports star. It's kind of a thin plot but has its moments.

33. Fantastic Four Part II-I can't tell whether Fantastic Four came along at an earlier point in the development of comic books or it was the movie's fault but this quartet of superheroes seems oddly one-dimensional: You have the womanizer who won't settle down, the big lug of a tough guy, the dweeby scientist and Jessica Alba's invisible heroines who is, surprisingly, the only character who feels like more than one-and-a-half dimensions. The best I can come up with for a compliment to this film is not awful.

34. Shrek 3-I have literally no memory of this film. How often does that happen five years later that you can't recall a single detail of a film? I clearly remember the Shrek universe and distinctly remember the plots of the first and second installments but this must have been a very unremarkable film. On the other hand, a truly awful film gets burnt on my memory which is why this doesn't have lower placement.

35. Invasion-A remake of the 1950's sci-fi classic "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" or possibly a remake of the 1976 Donald Sutherland-Brooke Adams remake, who can really keep track of this unorigiality anymore? The film felt uninspired (because it was) but made for a halfway decent action film.

36. Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium-After so many remakes and sequels, I'm glad to finally get to an entry on the list that's original. Zach Helm, who wrote the screenplay to the highly inventive "Stranger than Fiction", approaches this film with the same sense of whimsy but it still feels like a second rate version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with an admirably odd turn by Dustin Hoffman as a Wonkaesque stand-in.

37. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry-Adam Sandler's usual mixture of heartfelt emotion and juvenile humor barely worked in its favor in this slightly misguided but ultimately tolerable take on the gay marriage debate. The film was met with some criticism for being outwardly homophobic. Like all Adam Sandler films, the film treats its subjects with underlying warmth but tackles human complexities (in this case, a delicate subject such as sexual orientation) with the emotional maturity of an eight year old, which is what Adam Sandler essentially is. It's not his fault: When he first broke out his guitar and started singing as a prepubsecent boy on SNL, we encouraged it, and enabled him to never grow up emotionally or comically.

38. No Country for Old Men-Cinematography was top-notch but was there a point to this film? I'm sure someone out there could watch this film and read some thematically coherent message from it, but I'm guessing most of the film's fans (including the Oscar voters for some odd reason) just liked it because it included a cool weapon, a villain with a weird haircut and dialogue so vague he became interesting, and a couple cool action scenes. I love some of the films by the Coen brothers but when they don't resonate with you, they feel like you're presented with a series of superficial objects and tricks with nothing beneath the surface.

39. Golden Compass-Rule #1 when delving into heavily complex mythological tale: Make it interesting. Otherwise, it feels like you're just reading the rule book to some complicated board game.

40. Pirates of the Caribbean III-Once upon a time, Disney brilliantly revived the pirate genre with a film that was a little bit long-winded but ultimately a lot of fun. Then, in attempting to stretch the series into a trilogy, some terrible decisions were made: Rather than simplify the mythology (this is, after all, a film based on a ride) they added entirely new plots on top of unresolved ones. If you remember, the first film ends with Depp an outlaw and Bloom trying to clear his name. That would be a good movie in itself, but they decided to add some entirely new mythic octopus on top of everything that kind of nullified the first film (Why would Jack care about fighting for control of the Black Pearl if both the souls of he and Barbosa were owned by a giant octopus anyway?). The second film ends with no resolution to the first film and Johnny Depp being taken prisoner by the octopus. The third film bloated things into a gigantic mess by conveniently introducing the fact that the tertiary character played by Tia Dalma happends to be enormously powerful and brings some dangerous spell of her own. Oh and Chow Yung-Fat is some Asian sea captain who imprisons Elizabeth and Keith Richards shows up because, why not at this point?

41. Nancy Drew-I saw this film with a couple younger cousins and while I get that the film appeals primarily to kids, there's no harm in making it presentable to an older demographic. This film suffered because there was a clear need to dumb down and simplify basic plot elements to be digestible. On the bright side, this film is responsible for keeping former Mango/Antonio Banderas SNL stalwart Chris Kattan employed for the year of 2007.

42. License to Wed-Imagine a romantic comedy starring Jim from The Office in full smugness mode without the endearing romantic backstory that made the Jim-Pam relationship work and you're only at the start of the list of problems with this poorly thought-out disaster. See, faux-Jim is engaged to an annoyingly cheery woman (Mandy Moore) and must get permission from pastor Robin Williams to proceed with marraige. Only, Robin Williams is a troublesome creep who seeks to sabatoge him. Or maybe he isn't and faux-Jim's overly suspicious. It doesn't really matter because by the third act, both these plots are bafflingly forgotten and everyone celebrates matrimony on the beach. It's one of the most abrupt endings I've ever seen. If that's not bad enough, the movie features Brian Bumgartener playing an even dumber guy than Kevin Malone and easily the most cringeworthy line of dialogue of 2007: When Mandy Moore suggests they abstain before the wedding, faux-Jim responds "but I want to play tickle my pickle with my girlfriend." Oh the horror.

43. Superbad-Yes, I got the memo that this film became somewhat of a classic. Still, the general populance gets things wrong sometimes. This film is crass, sophomoric, and worst of all, uneventful. I don't mind a film being low-brow if it goes somewhere but it appears that they set the record for number of f-words in a film for no other reason than it sounded cool. Yes, two high school senior boys on an average Saturday night are gonna be thinking about sex a lot and they're going to stumble their way through a party or two in search of it, but that doesn't mean it's an interesting thing to put on film.

44. 1408-I probably made a mistake by watching this one as horror really isn't my genre. Not getting the appeal of the film before I begin the viewing experience isn't a good place to start. 1408 felt like an ameteurish b-movie.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Celebritology: Who's relevant in 2012-2013 according to Time, its readers and myself?

Celebritology is highly relevant to me in the field of news. In TV and films, I delve into actors and there relevance, but looking at every celebrity from every field and contemplating their relative importance to one another is a highly refined art for anyone writing about news because anyone writing articles for even a community level has to think objectively about who and what is newsworthy when undergoing both the pitching and selection process. I decided not only to dive into this year's poll that precedes Time's 100 Most Influential People issue but to publicize those results as well. In making my decisions, I openly admit I'm biased with personal relevance and the degree of personal contact I've had with the stories of these people, which is the filter through which we all experience and decide what is newsworthy. Here are the first fifty names out of the 153 candidates.

The numbers after the names are the percentage of online viewers who deemed them newsworthy/influential/relevant after which is my vote which is either Yes, No or Abstain (if I didn't have enough info to make a decision either way):

Ben Affleck-53%-Yes-His comeback story captivated us and in the process said a lot about our relationship with celebrities. Also, winning the Oscar for best picture and gaming the voting system in the process surely makes you relevant.

Roger Ailes (Fox News Chief)-Abstain-Just not educated enough about him and his role to know much. I'd argue that the most partisan news networks didn't shape the 2012 election as much as previous ones but I don't know his extent into it all

Bashar Assad-Yes-He's killed 70,000 people for godsakes. When the Onion writes an article that barely qualifies as satire and looks more as a desperate attempt to inform people of the atrocity, you're not only relevant, but more people should definitely know about you. Just to reiterate here, newsworthy doesn't necessarily qualify as a good thing.

Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin politician and the first openly gay U.S. Senator)-82%-No-It's 2012. Being an openly gay anything except possibly professional sports player isn't enough to warrant relevance in my eyes. 

Benedict XVI-45%-No-Being the retiring Pope isn't as newsworthy as being the incoming Pope who looks to bring some real reforms and attitude changes, so I'd rather see the news coverage go to the new guy

David and Victoria Beckham-20%-Yes-I'm contradicting myself because I advocated not caring about a retiree in my last vote, but then again, Beckham's reign with MLS (and the end of that reign is newsworthy via its timeliness) did lead to spectacular growth for the league which provides a lesson to other leagues on how to create an international sensation. Victoria, on her own, is the least newsworthy entry on the entire list.

Fatou Bensouda (Gambian lawyer/UN Prosecutor)-75%-Yes-Although it's close to abstain because I'm not that well-informed on this issue

Beyonce-68%-Yes-An activist whose especially close to the Obama administration, one of the most popular singers of the present day, performed at both the Inaguration and the Superbowl, that qualifies in the world of arts

Kathryn Bigelow-63%-No-I saw the movie myself and it wasn't too far-removed from an episode of Homeland. In other words, Bigelow's not the first to explore the dark side to the world on terrorism and eloquently put it into art.

Michael Bloomberg-62%-Yes-As a remarkable politician who's usurping the very democratic ideal of term limits in the country's most powerful city, Bloomberg is nearly always relevant, but the timeliness angle helps which comes from the soda ban controversy and the gun laws

Usain Bolt-78%-Marginally Yes-In 2008 and 2009 he would be a resounding yes, but timeliness is about something new which he didn't necessarily do. He still made the biggest headlines in the Summer Olympics which is the biggest sporting event in history

Cory Booker-72%-Yes-This is almost an abstain for me, because while I'm well-informed about him as a person and how he's one of the country's most effective mayors and most forward-thinking and politicians, I am unclear as to his timeliness. I recently went to a talk by a couple young mayors and they both said they were heavily inspired by Booker which barely qualifies him in my relative experience. The point here is that news is timely and its also personally relevant.

David Bowie-82%-No-Yes, he's famous, but timeliness, guys: What have you done for me lately? The timeliness problem is why I cringe at the fact that Paul McCartney seems to get interviewed every two or three months by some gushy morning show anchor. It's also why I suspect he has a high vote

Ben Bernake-Abstain-I'm not well-informed about the topics in the business section of the newspaper

Jeff Bezos-84%-No-I can't vote yes for every internet CEO. I'm going to use timeliness here and suggest that Bezos is inevitably doing great things every year, but I don't remember hearing of anything particularly notable coming from Amazon

John Brennan-45%-Yes-His confirmation process was protested by innocent bystanders if that's not enough controversy for you. 

Connie Britton-30%-No-Please, she's not even a good actress. 

Warren Beatty-Abstain

Emad Burnat-(Palestinian documentarian whose 5 Broken Cameras was nominated for an Oscar)-83%-No-Being nominated for an Academy Award for best film makes you far more relevant than best documentary. Five films get nominated each year and far fewer than that number (What else besides Exit Through the Gift Shop, Waiting for Superman, An Inconvenient Truth, Michael Moore's films, Supersize Me do you guys actually remember?) actually make their way into the cultural consciousness. As someone who follows film, I haven't heard of that one (remember: personal relevance comes through personal experience so I'm judging based on whether something is newsworthy to me)

David Cameron-49%-Yes-The Prime Minister of Britain is big enough that I'll give a rare timeliness pass to. In other words, I know nothing about what he's done in the past 12 months, but I'll make an educated guess that he, being the PM of Great Britain has done plenty.

Sister Simone Campbell (Executive director of Network, a liberal Catholic advocacy group, and leader of the Nuns on the Bus movement to promote public programs for the poor)-83%-Yes-I've read about her in the news and with religion being a hot topic this year, that makes her more relevant

Robert Cantu (Neurosurgeon, co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and a leading expert on concussions)-86%-Marginally Yes-The gimmick here is that he's being put in the Top 100 to put a face on the science community that's involved with the hot topic on football concussions. However, the question is whether Robert Cantu, himself, is significant in the battle against preventing concussions, or whether he's one of many professionals that is getting a disproportionate share of the credit. At the end of the day, I think the football concussion debate deserves a larger platform of readership which would be accomplished with Cantu's inclusion.

Robert Caro (Journalist and author of a 30-years-in-the-making Lyndon B. Johnson opus)-40%-Marginal Yes-Distinguishing between academics in terms of relevance is a difficult task because so many of them are quietly changing and influencing the world. Caro gets a yes from me because, if nothing else he's interesting (devoting 30 years of your life on a book about Lyndon Johnson, who would do that?) and I'd like to read more about him. 

Jackie Chan (Hong Kong martial-arts king and outspoken Chinese political appointee)-78%-No-His newsworthiness as a movie star (seriously, check the box office receipts on his films) is at least 10 years past its expiration date, and to what degree is he being an outspoken voice with regard to Chinese policy. It's like how at least one out of every three famous people in Hollywood is an ambassador for UNICEF. I admire your commitment to a cause, guys, but in very few cases have I ever been influenced by your message (not to take away from the people in those foreign countries hearing your message). 

Jessica Chastain-60%-Yes-Although she didn't win the Oscar, Chastain is one of the hottest and most relevant actresses in Hollywood and her amazing performance in Bigelow's film did a lot to capture the zeitgeist on the War on Terror. Bigelow made a film that, at the end of the day, proved unremarkable, but the performance of Chastain in that film is worth talking about. 

Ferrodon Abbasi-Davani (Head of Iran’s nuclear program)-49%-Abstain-I have no idea of his involvement with said nuclear program so a big fat abstain for me. 

Chan Guangang  (Activist holding China to account from exile in New York City)-84%-Yes-It's the difference between any old Civil Rights leader or Harriett Tubman or Rosa Parks. The latter examples are remarkable stories that moves and inspires us. Aside from causing an international incident, he inspires us.

Perry Chen, CEO of Kickstarter-94%-Yes-He's changing art and commerce so most definitely. He's the reason you cautiously vote no on someone like Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg or the Google guys. In technology news, always be on the lookout for the next best thing. 

Yao Chen, Chinese Microblogger-63%-No-Sorry lady, there's only room for one Chinese activist in our national cultural consciousness and Guangang took that spot, but you finish ahead of Jackie Chan in my book. 

Chris Christie-63%-Yes-Governors are so interesting in terms of newsworthiness because they usually are bright, colorful, and often uninhibited public figures with a lot more power than their national coverage usually merits. In the case of Christie with Hurricane Sandy and his influence on the presidential race, a resounding yes. 

Bill Clinton-Abstain-He's relevant every year and every political news election. It would be difficult to separate 2012 Bill Clinton from 2011 Bill Clinton from 2004 Bill Clinton so I won't even try. 

Hillary Clinton-Yes-Being Seceretary of State is already high enough on the relevance factor, but throwing in the fact that she was under scrutiny for Bengazi as she was exiting and that became one of the hot button issues in the 2012 race qualifies her

Tom Coburn-29%-No, Sorry esteemed Senator buddy, I live in Washington and read Politico on my commute often and your name hasn't popped up enough to my liking

Bryan Cranston-72%-No, as a TV blogger who's been exposed to message board discussions and articles along the lines of "Breaking Bad: Best show of the year, best show of all time, or single greatest thing since sliced bread" for the past five years or so, I'm calling B.S. on timeliness. Bryan Cranston and Breaking Bad have both been mind-boggingly deserving of praise for the past five years. Nothing new here. Especially since the show doesn't officially end till this summer. If you want to give Breaking Bad a relevance bump upon its finale, at least wait until the 2014 issue. 

Andrew Cuomo-75%-No. Being Governor of the one of the most important states in the country and the one that, by far, commands the most news coverage, doesn't automatically make you man of the year, sorry. Also, I'm not buying nepotism as an excuse here either. 

Paula Deen (Popular TV cooking personality raising awareness about diabetes)-20%-No-I have only barely heard of you and seriously doubt you're having as much of an effect on our consumption as the great Jamie Oliver has. As Emeril Lagasse, Padma Lakshmi, Rachel Ray, Ted Allen and a billion others have demonstrated: I'm sure you'll be replaced with the next, best thing on the Food Network before this issue goes to press.

Jack Dorsey (Twitter creator and a founder and CEO of Square, a company that allows smartphone users to process credit-card payments through their mobile devices)-88%-Yes-Twitter is growing but the advent of Square really seals it

Kim Dotcom (Eccentric Internet legend and creator of the controversial file-sharing site Megaupload who has seen his influence rise along with his legal troubles)-74%-No-I'm philosophically against this person's movement of the internet being free and open source and intellectual property be damned, but then again being a bad guy doesn't disqualify you from being newsworthy (as noted with Assad). Instead, it's the fact that wanting to free the internet is nothing new.  If we're going to acknowledge Kim dotcom, are we going to give news attention to the guys selling bootleg DVDs on Times Square or the person who steals candy from the candy store?

Gabby Douglas-88%-Yes-As opposed to the first openly gay senator, being the first black Gold Medal gymnast seems relevant to me because that is one of the premiere sports in the Olympics. Her post-racial attitude towards the accomplishment was also discussion-provoking. She was also AP female athlete of the year and that's the sort of quantifiable evidence you can use to her case

Dr. James Downing (Scientific director at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where his Pediatric Cancer Genome Project is decoding the genetic drivers of childhood cancers)-98%-No-It's almost an abstain because I haven't heard of his project, but at the end of the day, I went with the argument against Robert Cantu and deemed him unnewsworthy because a lot of people are fighting cancer every year and I haven't read any newspaper headlines in the past 12 months that say "Cancer Cured!"

Lena Dunham-54%-No-This is based on the personal relevance angle here: I haven't seen her show which reflects how the landscape of TV has changed from 20 years ago. There are so many good must-see programs that practically no TV aficionado can see them all which dilutes the influence of any TV personality.

Daniel Ek (Founder and CEO of Spotify, the booming music-streaming service)-76%-No-When compares to twitter, square and kickstarter, I don't think Spotify makes the cut. First of all, Spotify's newness is diluted by the advent of Pandora which came first. Second of all, the crises revolving around the externalities of music sharing mostly happened in the 2000's. Youtube ads and itunes were the big heroes of the day.

Jimmy Fallon-66%-Marginal Yes-He's gotten more popular in the past couple years, his entertainment style is definitely new and relevant from a media-perspective (he incorporates facebook, the news, and twitter into his segments) and he's slotted to take over for Leno now so he's an even bigger player on the landscape.  

Mo Farrah-British track star-81%-Marginal Yes-I'm a beat writer for distance running so I think the guy's accomplishment is humongous when I realize how few people are able to double at the Olympics (especially in a British uniform). Aside from the personal perspective, I think as a hometown hero, he's also a somewhat of a big deal and star of the London Olympics

Melinda Gates-Abstain

Neil Gaiman (Prolific cult novelist with 1.8 million Twitter followes and an HBO show in the works)-96%-No-1.8 million Twitter followers was newsworthy outside the twittersphere in 2010 but not anymore. Voting yes for Neil would be breaking a long-standing journalistic rule: Don't give too much coverage to a guy who hasn't acomplished anything yet. An HBO show in the works isn't significant. The guy who made the now-cancelled "Sh%t My Parents Say" is a long-forgotten part of pop culture although he was a hot news item before the show aired

John Green (Teen fiction author and video blogger with legions of online fans)-95%-No-I'm on youtube a lot and have never heard of this guy and without a quantitative number of fans, I'm definitely in the no category. Again as with Neil, crossing over to mainstream media and succeeding wildly there is what would get my vote with internet media content wunderkinds. 

Roger Goodell (Commissioner of pro football, which remains America’s most popular sport despite a rising tide of safety concerns)-11%-As I mentioned before I think the safety concerns of football is very relevant and appropriate hot button topic.

Julian Fellowes-67%-Marginal Yes-I'm making a choice based on taste here between two shows I've never seen that Downtown Abbey is marginally worth talking about in the Time 100 Issue and voting Fellowes in.

Julia Gillard (Australian Prime Minister whose parliamentary speech about the opposition leader’s misogyny was heard around the world)-Abstain-Australia is either a G8 country or as important as one so if she was just elected Prime Minister I'd be more willing to consider her for a year, but the blurb doesn't say. A female head of state (see Brazil, Liberia, Argentina, Germany) is nothing new in this day of age and I'd expect that misogyny on the part of the opposition that's running against you isn't that new either, so nothing yes-worthy I can discern.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler-93%-Marginal Yes-Tina Fey has been a media darling and surely eligible for this list A LOT of successive years. I'm inclined to put her through this year because she's been packaged with Amy Poehler who could maker the list on her own and it's appropriate because the two hosted a talk show.

Gabby Giffords-81%-A resounding yes-Gabby Giffords is a humongous news story and deserving hero that could command even more coverage than she's currently getting. If she were on every front page of America every day, I'm not sure I would mind

Seth Meyers-Yes-The great thing about watching SNL stars rise is up in the cultural consciousness is that they're really nobodies when they start out. I'm sure that new cast additions like Tim Robinson, Vanessa Bayer, Bobby Moynihan and Aidy Bryant are among the least-searched names in the entirety of IMDB. I think Meyers is one of the most relevant stand-up comedians, most promising awards show hosts (did you see him at the ESPY's) and most people don't know he's the head writer of SNL

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Ranking Every Film in 2007 1-44: Part I

Here's a series I'm starting where I look at a year (Boxofficemojo and idbm provide yearly lists. It provides a good measure on your movie-viewing habits) and every film I've seen in that year and rank them. 2007 was possibly my most prolific year as a movie watcher at 43 1/2 films due to the fact that I was working a strenuous job at a crowded movie theater and would regularly plop into a movie after working a long shift. It was also a spectacularly awful and disappointing year overcrowded with sequels that failed to deliver (the tail-end of the three biggest moneymaking trilogies of the decade-Spiderman, Shrek, and Pirates all landed with a resounding thud), a slew of ambitious war films that were quickly forgotten (anyone remember The Kingdom? The Kite Runner? Can you tell the difference between Redacted or Rendition?), the sudden emergence of Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow as kings of a new brand of schlubby comedy, an overpopulation of Office cast members in films and a mistaken belief in the range of Michael Cera. I'm going to have a little fun with the credits so bear with me.
So here we go:

  1. 3:10 to Yuma dir. James Mangold, starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, Ben Foster, Alan Tudyk, Gretchen "Where I" Mol, Logan "Before he was America's favorite indie goth kid" Lerman-It was just a remake, but I thought the dialogue was Shakespearean, the acting was top-notch and the action was raw and authentic in a way that few films in this CGI Age are. 
  2. Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul "I couldn't cut the mustard on Parks and Rec" Schneider, Patricia "redheads can act too" Clarkson, Kelli "Never heard of her before but had to look her up because she's awesome" Garner-In seven words or less: Entirely original in concept, sweet, unconventional, inspiring.
  3. There Will be Blood, dir. Paul T. Anderson (middle initial included because coincidentally one of the worst directors in Hollywood also has that name), starring Daniel "Super Annoying  Method Man" Day-Lewis, Paul Dano-I only saw about 60% of this film but could recognize its originality and perfection. The film's soundscape and visual detail are both striking. 
  4. Michael Clayton, directed and written by Tony Gileroy, starring George "I'm an attention whore, want to hear more about my Italian Villa?" Clooney, Tilda "Ice queen" Stinton, Tom "That vaguely British guy" Wilkinson, Sydney "Also a famous director" Pollock-Well-deserving of a best picture nomination. A complex tightly-paced thriller that makes tackling corporate corruption seem sexy and exciting. The film was topical and asked questions to which there were no easy answers.
  5. Sicko dir. Michael Moore, I generally don't find the movies to be the best way to expose myself to non-fiction, thus, I tend to judge them by entertainment value. Michael Moore has that in spades and he also (for lack of a better word [seriously, thesaurus, you're giving me nothing here]) arouses passion from his audience. 
  6. The Great Debaters dir. Denzel Washington, starring Denzel Washington, Forrest "Hot off his Oscar win" Whitaker, and (I'm not kidding here) Denzel "If Forrest and Denzel had a love child" Whitaker, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett-Bell-Without even knowing the history behind the story, you can tell there's a little Disneyesque truth stretching to fit the neatly told story arc of an underdog beating the odds (i.e. Did they debate Harvard? nope, just USC). Still, I found the film delicate and nuanced with an unusually strong performance from Forrest Whitaker and the film's delving into the civil rights movement, feminism on a college campus and the intellectual struggle of undergraduate life all resonated for me.
  7. Darjeeling Limited dir. Wes Anderson, written by Wes Anderson and Roman "I can never remember how many p's and l's go in that last name and have to look it up , uggh!" Coppola starring Owen "This was made right after his suicide attempt" Wilson, Adrian "Won an Oscar, Kissed Halle Berry, Haven't Done Much Since" Brody, Jason "The Nerdy Guy from Rushmore" Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Amara Karan, cameo by Bill Murray-I happen to think it's as profound and enjoyable of a film as the rest ofWes Anderson's output  and I challenge you to watch this film as if you've never seen his other films and tell me that the originality of Anderson's vision doesn't strike you here too.
  8. Hairspray dir. Adam Shankman, starring Nikki "Lived on the same street as my cousins" Blonsky, John "Channeling his Inner Woman" Travolta, Christopher "No, seriously, the guy can act, dance and sing" Walken, Zac "American Teendom's Favorite Boytoy circa 2006" Efron, James "The Guy From X-Men Who's Not as Popular as Wolverine"  Marsden, Queen Latifah, Amanda Byrnes, Brittany Snow, Michelle "Seriously? I thought she was dead" Pfeiffer, Allison Janey, Elijah Kelley-An absolutely excellent piece of ensemble work with swinging music. I wanted to gag when they called the group of teens the "Nicest Kids in Town" but at least they were self-conscious enough to call Marsden's character "Corny Collins."
  9. Junodir. Jason Reitman, written by Diablo "Ex-stripper" Cody, starring Ellen "Too short to be considered hot?" Page, Michael "One-Note" Cera, Jason "Justine's Brother" Bateman, Jennifer Garner, JK "The Deadpan King" Simmons, Allison Janney, Olivia "Damn you and your complicated last name" Thirlby-If you were around in 2007, you would be convinced that Diablo Cody was the second coming of the messiah for screenwriters. She's not all that, but Juno is a sharply acerbic, regionally specific, and bitingly funny script. 
  10. Lions for Lambs, dir. Robert Redford, starring Tom Cruise, Meryl "I lost to Catherine Zeta-Jones at the Oscars" Streep, Robert Redford, Derek Luke, Michael Pena, and Andrew "Before he was famous" Garfield-It wasn't a very cinematic film as it took place in three mostly static locations in real time. It rates so highly with me because I found it thought-provoking and one of the few pieces of art I was exposed to that had something original to say about the war in Iraq and said it well. 
  11. Charlie Wilson's War dir. Mike "Did you know he was once known as a comedian?" Nichols, starring Tom "Everyman" Hanks, Julia "Not as good as her brother" Roberts, Amy Adams, Philip "Damn you, I can never remember how many l's are in your name and always have to look it up" Seymour Hoffman, a cameo by Emily Blunt who does little other than stand on a balcony with her clothes off-If you go back in time to 2007, you'll see that this film had a lot of pre-release buzz and was touted as an Oscar contender. It didn't quite live up to that, but it was an interesting take on the American political hero and even the American dream. The apologetically sleazy congressman got a piece of legislation through that saved lives in Afghanistan. In the second piece of irony, it would lead to the Taliban, but who's counting? There was a definite sense of fun to the film. 
  12. King of California, starring Michael Douglas, Evan "Definitely not a dude" Rachel Wood-Just watched this yesterday (which is what got me thinking about 2007). The deadbeat dad is a tired convention but not many movies are focused so solely on a father-daughter dynamic. There wasn't a separate plot with a love interest or any conclusion for the character other than her resolution of her feelings toward her dad. 
  13. Bee Movieproduced by Jerry Seinfeld, starring Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Renee Zellweger, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, cameo by Ray Liotta-I might be alone but I don't think it was such a bad start for Seinfeld's foray into animation. The bee-on-human sexual undertones made me a little uncomfortable, but I thought the jokes were sharp as was the overall comic plot. It harkened to the days of Pixar's first films like Monster's Inc. and Toy Story that were permeated by an adventurous attitude of fully exploring the comic possibilities of a familiar-yet-foreign world. 
  14. Spiderman 3, dir. Sam Raimi, starring Tobey "Who will always look 23" MaGuire, Kirsten Dunst, Bryce "My sister met her at summer camp once!" Dallas Howard, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris, Topher "Amazing" Grace, Thomas Haden "Get me to the" Church "On time", Cliff "Won an Oscar in 1968" Robertson-We're only on #14 and getting to the films I wouldn't enthusiastically recommend. I never found Spiderman as colorful as some of the other superhero series with its obvious symbolism: The girl next door is literally the girl who lived next door, and James Franco is so broody and blatant he virtually was walking around with a "Future token villain" name tag. Then again, the Spiderman series showed it could have fun with stock characters. J.K. Simmons's newspaper editor was also very much a stock stereotype, but he was undeniably entertaining. So while the Spiderman series is flawed on the whole, the third installment was able to both have fun within its rigidly thought-out universe AND end in an emotionally satisfying coda. 
  15. Elizabeth The Golden Age, dir. by Shepac Kapur, starring Cate Blanchett, Clive "Handsome" Owen, Geoffrey Rush, Samantha Morton, Abbie Cornish, Jordi "My name requires not one but two spanish accent marks" Molla-This film is insanely high in terms of historic attention to detail. Even if it isn't and it turns out that the production team's research department was completely wrong about everything, it wouldn't matter because the atmosphere of the film felt so real and was so mesmerizing. The film is a more subtle than dynamic study of politics, war, sexual repression, idolatry (the kind where you look up to a person rather than the religious kind), and class. Look closely, it's all there. 
  16. Eastern Promises, dir. by David Cronenberg, starring Naomi Watts, Viggo Mortensen, Vincent Cassel A thriller intense enough that I can literally remember my heart beating from watching this movie 4 1/2 years ago. Something I can't remember years later is the plot which is what makes for a memorable thriller. I'm also not giving the film too many points for its most memorable set piece: A nude knife fight scene in a spa's steam room which felt a little self-indulgent to me. Still, it's kind of a weak year, so it's up in 16. Plus Naomi Watts always kills it. 
  17. Waitress, starring Keri "Felicity Forever" Russell, Nathan "King of the Comic Con Geeks" Fillion-A charming story with a nuanced performance by Russell that echoed the depressed housewife performance by Jennifer Anniston in "Good Girl."
  18. Knocked Up, dir. Judd Appatow, starring Seth Rogen, Leslie "I'm sleeping with the director but I can act too damnit" Mann, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Jonah "Cameoing in every movie I can" Hill, Kristen Wiig, Bill "Don't be a Player" Hader, Craig Robinson and nearly everyone from the Office and SNL in cameo roles-I tend to find Apatow a little overrated and think he's produced as many duds as he has genuinely enjoyable films. His films often are raunchy just for the sake of being raunchy and contain plots that meander off course. Knocked Up, however, was enjoyable on all levels and its winding plot was one of its biggest strengths. Hard to buy Seth Rogen as a suitable romantic match for Katherine Heigl but, then again, I'm not the first one to point that out. 
  19. Across the Universe, dir. Julie Taymor, starring Jim Sturgess, Evan "Again, not a dude, see the middle name" Rachel Wood-Some of the appeal of the film depends on how much of a Beatlemaniac you are, and some of it depends on the beauty of the visuals and vocals. While the visuals and musical numbers are stunning and the efforts to encapsulate the entirety of the 60's within a few characters is admirable, most of the film's main characters (I'd be content never seeing another film with Sturgess in it) are bland and uninspiring. Some are expys of famous people with none of the charisma. Taken as a series of disparate scenes (like Fantasia), the film is highly enjoyable.
  20. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead dir. Sidney Lumet, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan "Handsome" Hawke, Amy Ryan, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney-This film barely registers with me five years later. The premise is excellent, the ending was powerful, and it's always a delight to see Albert Finney in a film, but something about it didn't resonate that well
  21. Bourne Ultimatum, dir. Paul Greengrass, starring Matt Damon, Joan "Amazing in  Pleasantville" Allen, Julia "What the heck is she doing here?" Stiles, David Strathairn-The Bourne series has never been interesting to me as anything beyond a series of well-executed action scenes. Why do I care about this character? Despite Damon's general awesomeness as both a leading and character actor, there just isn't enough pathos (yeah, I used a fancy word, deal with it) behind Jason Bourne to make a series. But then again, that action was hard to discount. Like Spiderman 3, Bourne Ultimatum ended on a high note with an emotionally satisfying conclusion. 
  22. Blades of Glory starring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Jenna "From the Office" Fischer, Jon Heder, Craig T. Nelson By no means, a memorable or ambitious film but one that was pleasant, funny, and delivered at its level of ambition. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Flight is about a plane crash and it has one spectacular scene in which a commercial airline pilot, Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), bravely asserts control over a malfunctioning plane under extreme pressure landing it in a farming pasture in Georgia. His improbable descent echoes that of Chesley Sullenberger's 2009 Miracle on the Hudson although it's loosely based on a 2000 Alaska Airlines crash that led to no survivors.

Because it's hard to stretch a plane crash into a two-hour film, Flight is largely about the aftermath of the crash which makes it a more interesting film. What I find especially topical in this litigious era is that the film's thrust is over culpability and blame. This also ties into the film's main theme of Captain Whitaker coming to terms with his alcoholism. He had three times the legal limit for a driver and traces of cocaine in his system according to the toxicology report taken after the crash, yet he did successfully save the lives of 96 out of 102 people on the plane.

The moral question is posed: What if a hero like Sullenberger did something truly miraculous while he was in violation of the law and dishonest with himself? Would he still be a hero? What punishment does he deserve. 

The plot meanders smoothly between its initial storyline about a plane crash to a legal drama to a portrait of a man coming to terms with himself and weaves in other storyline threads between Whitaker and the people in his life.

The way his support system weaved into and out of his life and how the film showed that from his point of view, they were somewhat invisible to him, was one of the strongest films about the film:

  • There's his estranged wife and son who are somewhat of an afterthought to him. 
  • There's a drug supplier (John Goodman) who magically brings him back to life and in some ways is his best friend. 
  • There's a rep from the pilot's union (Bruce Greenwood) who is his likely his only friend that acts as a healthy influence on him. 
  • There's a beautiful storyline about a recovering heroic addict he meets in the hospital (Kelly Reilly) with whom he briefly cohabitates until she concludes he's unhealthy to her attempts at a clean life. 
  • There's the stewardess (Tamara Tunie) who survived the crash with him who has known him for 11 years and expresses to him on the morning of the flight that she's praying for him. There's a hint of a deeper mutual respect there. 
  • One can also tell there's the ghost of his late father and grandfather, both pilots, on who's farm he's staying to avoid the glare of the media (I liked the thematic hints to the 24/7 news cycle in the story)

Other supporting players in the film I recognized included Don Cheadle as a thorough lawyer who's fighting for him even though he doesn't need help and Nadine Velazquez. Cheadle has a Lead Actor Oscar nomination and an Emmy for lead actor, but I've always liked him in supporting roles like this one (not to mention, After the Sunset, Family Man, Swordfish and Traffic). Nadine Velazquez (from My Name is Earl) has a thankless job as a naked stewardess in the film's opening scene. You'd think starring on a sitcom would you lead you to better roles than this.

Why didn't the film get nominated for Best Picture? The film was topical, well-written, had a strong cast, and great themes? My guess is genre bias: The fact that all of Denzel Washington's films in the past 10 years (Out of Time, Deja Vu, Unstoppable, Taking of Pelham 123) have been seen as action films, and people (whether they be the one's giving out critics' awards or Golden Globes or the Oscars) read it as another action film.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Themes of every 2012 Film I saw

This follows off a thread I last did in 2007 and will be continually updated but here's a sort of first stab at it. Also, I wrote this from a cell phone. So I expect many spelling errors here:

Quartet, Trouble with the Curve, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:
Antithesis of Ageism/Old People are Rad-All three films are an unabashed celebration of the latter stage of life. I see all three is created out of a reaction to ageism, both metatextually (proudly employing older actors and tailoring to older demographics in an industry where that is not easy) and on screen. Dustin Hoffman, who just turned 75, likely chose to make a film about an old age home for artists for his directorial debut as a way to explore his feelings about old people. He even went so far as to use retired musicians in the background so that our ears are literally filled with the musings of old people. In both BEM and Quarter, major life decisions (which is the reason characters are made the center of storylines) are shown as continuous. Trouble with the Curve, on the other hand is a failure of a movie because it's anti-ageism makes no sense. Why exactly should a guy whose job it is to scout players, be able to continue his job when his eyesight is gone?

Zero Dark Thirty
The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions-The suggestion that torture was necessary to capture Bin Laden is what incited the controversy that moved people to picket the Academy Awards Luncheon today. A good question for discussion would be whether it was the theme that disturbed people or the presentation of that theme. I'd argue that whether it was torture or not, would anyone really debate that it was a road to hell for Maya? She clearly is drained by the process
Unsung Heroism-Read: Maya
In fact, Maya is representative of so many desk jockeys here in DC who shuffle through papers and are one small cog in the machinery of a large bureaucracy (I'm 97% sure I spelled that word wrong, give me a break, I'm blogging from my cell phone) and in a way she's the new everyman blue collar hero that the average worker in America can see themselves as and vicariously live through. Which brings me to..... Changing nature of terrorrism/the world-George W Bush said this was a new kind of war. I think if the new hero is a desk jockey and not a soldier, it signifies that the changing landscape of the world and specifically war is a larger theme of the movie. Therefore, people with knowledge of that changing world are the people who are now most essential in war. This might also be an implied justification of the torture: Yes, torture is inherently wrong but you are also seeing an unfamiliar world on screen you can't fully understand so who's to say whether something like the wrongness of torture is universal?

Imperfect nature of the justice system- Bernie was generally a good man who did something wrong at his weakest moment to a woman everyone in the town hated. He would have never been driven mad enough to shoot her if he stayed away from her like everyone in the town. Essentially, he was punished for daring to be kinder then the rest of the town
The power of community-Bernie is the hero of the story and the victim of an imperfect justice system because the community loved him. Serving the community made him morally superior to even the concept of murder
Everyone has a dark side-It either just takes a little longer or more extreme circumstances have to arise for someone like Bernie to reveal his.

The Dictator
Corruption is all relative-Sacha Baron Cohen's films are strongly satirical so its a 99% certainty that if he is making a film, he will use comedy to make his points. Few people know that Cohen is a religious Jew who wrote his thesis on anti-semitism in Oxford. Thus, Borat was a subversive tool to spread the central message of his scholarly studies.
The dictator gives a speech at the end of the movie about how dictatorship is good because of reasons that double as a list of flaws with democracy. Throughout the movie, the lifestyle of a madman is depicted as morally normative.
The power of laughter-Its a story where the hero is a doppelganger for political figures generally considered too reprehensible and offensive to glamorize. Cohen suggests that if funny enough, discourse about these men and the heinous acts of brutality undertaken in their regimes can be successful.

Pitch Perfect
College is good-The protagonist Becca has an already-set end point in her life she knows she wants before she sets foot on campus. Hence, college is irrelevant to her. Although she still has the same end point, she is surprised to find that she has a life changing experience that teaches her how to be a better person. Score one for college! The film has a very pro-college message but ironically, Becca is never shown going to school or learning anything from her classes.
Friendship (particularly same sex friendship) is underrated and important-The practice of blending your voices together to create harmony is (very obviously, I'm not saying anything profound here) symbolic of Becca learning to coexist with other girls which she admits at the end of the film is something she's never done before.

The need for creativity-Filmmakers write what they know so the joy of filmmaking/art is a theme that pops up everywhere from musicals to biopics of artists to films about films. Argo expands on that a little bit by showing that creativity is curative from individuals like Tony Mendez and the two Hollywood producers, to the organizational health of the CIA. In the case of the two Hollywood execs (Alan Arkin and John Goodman), they make movies yet their creative outlet comes from abetting the CIA. Along this theme, the a-hole hostage who wouldn't initially cooperate among the six could be read as a non-believer of the curative power of creativity. It was also indicative of this theme that the Iranian officials at the airport were mesmerized by the pictures of the movie.

Silver Linings Playbook
Your work is the spoke to which you build the wheel around-I was once listening to two religious Jews in a conversation. One said to the other that he wasn't sure whether he was passionate about taking a job, and the other responded that a job or whatever you decide to pursue as your primary mode of activity isn't necessarily relevant, but everything else falls into place and has more meaning once you adopt some mode of activity. Pat was singularly obsessed with reuniting with his ex-wife Nikki and while it looked like an unhealthy obsession on the surface, it got him focused and organized on rebuilding himself. In the end, Nikki's irrelevance was highlighted by the penultimate scene in which we learned that she was no longer relevant to him on his journey.

Destigmatizing mental illness-Both Robert De Niro and director David O. Russell have a child with some mental illness and both were attached to the project for that reason. Pat scares people around him but as the viewer you also see he means no harm. Through both Pat and Tiffany, the viewers are being exposed to people with mental illness and forced to ask themselves if they're as bad or as repulsive as they seem. Likewise, various characters are forced to reconsider their notions  of craziness when deciding the degree of acceptance they want to have towards the two "ill" characters. Pat is even scared of Tiffany which brings some more complex dynamics and also illustrates that fear of people who are different is universal. Jennifer Lawrence's Oscar interview also further confirms that destigmatizing illness was a focus of the film or played a big role in the characters' minds

The Importance of the Support System-Kind of a no-brainer. It was through connecting and forming better bonds with old friend, his family, his new soulmate, and even his psychiatrist that Pat got better. One comment I'll add here for some depth to this bullet point, is that Pat only started to trust Dr. Patel and take his medicine when they began to bond.

The Artist comes to Netflix!: Notes from my rewatch

-George Valentine/Jean DuJardin has quite a smile. He tells Peppy that she needs to have some physical feature that sets her apart, and where would DuJardin be without his smile? I still think he nailed the performance, but the smile is really an attention grabber. On second viewing, I wasn't sure if he was smiling at times or if he was just laughing. If it's the latter, then he's less of a charming man and more of a Tom Cruise-like a-hole who turned people off (after a couple decades of being the biggest star on Earth) with his smirk. For instance, in the first encounter with Peppy Miller, where she accidentally gets past the security rope, is he laughing at her or with her? The power of DuJardin's epic smile is also used to diffuse a couple tense situations that are really nicely orchestrated. If the film is thematically a celebration of the art, then the power of laughter (comedic art) to diffuse an otherwise tense moment fits in with that theme

-Speaking of the film's theme being a celebration of art, 4 of the past 6 Best Picture Oscar winners have had thematic elements that deal with art and performance to some degree. In addition to King's Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, King's Speech, and Argo, the protagonist's successfully rests on putting on a show. Some might say that Hollywood is narrow-minded and only likes saluting itself, but none of the best picture films from 2003-2007 or 1995-1999 along with 2001 had that theme and in the cases of Gladiator or Slumdog Millionaire (and even Kings Speech), the films aren't necessarily celebrating art, but more commenting on the nature of media to manipulate people and those are not really the primary themes of those films.

-Who exactly is George Valentine modeled after? His love of laughter might suggest a silent film star like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Chaplin successfully resisted sound movies for several years after 1927. Two of his three most famous films were made after the Sound era with City Lights coming out in 1931 and Modern Times in 1936. Modern Time had a little snippet of sound here and there and ended with Chaplin singing right at the end just like how we first hear Valentine's voice at the end. So there are those definite parallels. It looks like Valentine is a comic star based on how he makes the crowd laugh at his movie debut and performs dog tricks but it also doesn't look like he's completely slapstick like Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy. The film within the film "A German Affair" contains hints of a dramatic storyline. When he strikes out on his own, he does a swashbuckling adventure and a safari film which resembles Douglas Fairbanks who did make one of the most seminal Three Musketeers film adaptations. Like Valentine, Fairbanks got considerably more freedom and directed and produced his pictures after co-founding United Artists.
Then again, he's dancing at the end and he's a little bit stubborn with his artistic vision which parallels notorious workaholic and control freak Gene Kelley (or perhaps the Singing in the Rain version of Gene Kelly from 1952 which borrowed heavily from his persona). Lastly, since he's French, he could be modelled after Charles Boyer who got nominated for an astounding four Oscars (a pretty high number for a guy I've never heard of until ten minutes ago, not that I'm the expert)

-Isn't it funny that George's wife is played by Penelope Anne Miller and Bernice Bejo's character's name is Peppy Miller. What are the odds of that?

-I've never been a humongous fan of George Cromwell as characters go but he's excellent in here and I wouldn't have minded seeing him getting nominated for the film. I was also reminded that Malcolm McDowell should get nominated one of these days.

-Was the film great because it was able to capture our attention and entertain us despite the limitation of having virtually no sound or was it a good film because it didn't have sound? I would argue a little for the latter. I think the lack of sound pointed us modern viewers toward elements that we're not used to paying attention to. From personal experience, my first film class focused a lot on mise-en-scene and pausing movies and looking closely at details. I used to try to read films that way but eventually veered away from focusing on the finer visual details of the film. This film was visually rich and subtle and the silent nature of the film bought me closer to appreciating those clues. I don't think that's a small achievement.

-The Artist Studio was filmed in the famous Bradbury building which was also the location for Blade Runner. 500 Days of Summer, Chinatown, and other movies.

-I like the fact that the relationship between Peppy and George was never technically romantic. It was a good change of pace from the usual relationship we see on screen between the leading man and lady. I thought that Peppy's gradual arc from devoted fan to star to savior was one of the strongest things about the movie and Bejo was wonderful at it. At the same time, you can kind of see Bejo's character in the movie's first couple acts as a less amoral version of Anne Baxter's Eve in All About Eve who turned on her idol. I think the most unnoticed, least discussed moment in the movie that I found creepy when she was embracing George's jacket and dancing with it.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Inherit the Wind and Kramer's preachiness

The two best courtroom dramas I've seen- Judgment at Nuremberg and Inherit the Wind- were directed by the same man, Stanley Kramer, and were released one year apart.

Having just seen Wind today, I've now seen six Stanley Kramer films: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Defiant Ones, Ship of Fools, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (the only one of his film to make it to  AFI's Top 100 at #99) in addition to the above-two mentioned films. 

With the exception of the decent-but-lackluster Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, I highly recommend all the other films, and think they have all held up well. Defiant Ones is better remembered than any other Sidney Poitier film, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World has been the template for all-star comedies, Inherit the Wind (along with the 1955 play) is the reason people still know about the Scopes trial today, and I've heard a Ship of Fools theory referenced in my film history courses.

All of his films are social message pictures. Even It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, a comedy, can be easily read as a morality tale about the all-encompassing power of greed. For some reason I'm not too sure of, Kramer isn't a particularly well-respected director and I've even heard some backlash against him. Perhaps, his films are too preachy?

What's ironic about Inherit the Wind is that it's preachiest elements are taken from real life. The actual 1925 Scopes Trial was somewhat of a publicity stunt. The teacher, John Scopes (renamed Cates for legal purposes), was in cahoots with the prosecution the whole time, to boost publicity for the town by putting Scopes on trial:

"The Scopes Trial had its origins in a conspiracy at Fred Robinson's drugstore in Dayton. George Rappalyea, a 31-year-old transplanted New Yorker and local coal company manager, arrived at the drugstore with a copy of a paper containing an American Civil Liberties Union announcement that it was willing to offer its services to anyone challenging the new Tennessee anti-evolution statute. Rappalyea, a modernist Methodist with contempt for the new law, argued to other town leaders that a trial would be a way of putting Dayton on the map....The conspirators summoned John Scopes, a twenty-four-year old general science teacher and part-time football coach, to the drugstore....Herbert and Sue Hicks, two local attorneys and friends of Scopes, agreed to prosecute."

It was after all this that stalwarts William Jennings Bryan (renamed Matthew Harrison Brady) and Clarence Darrow (renamed Henry Drummond) offered their services to the trial and made it more and more outrageous. The most cringeworthy moment, for example, when Drummond tried to disprove the bible by putting Brady on the stand, actually happened. This changes my whole view of the film: What I originally viewed as a blatant attempt to make a school teacher's trial as an excuse to espouse on the absurdity of the bible, I now see a historical recreation of what became an absurdist spectacle in and of itself.  

Similarly, Bryan/Brady seems painted as a straw man, but he appears to have been just as extreme in real life and insisted on reading his speech despite the fact that the trial was over. 

If anything, I found the film morally more ambiguous once I knew the real-life story. The past friendship between the two adversaries (the movie added the fabrication that they used to be professional colleagues) and the positioning of Brady as less extreme than the Reverend Brown is somewhat complimentary to the legacy of William Jennings Bryan.

I still think, to some degree, Inherit the Wind has somewhat of a bias against the Bible Belt, but it also works as an effective framing device because history has also rendered its own verdict about the validity of evolution (although, there are some small pockets still holding that debate today) so we're watching two different trials as the audience and two different sources of anticipation: 1) who will win the actual trial at steak and 2) who will look less embarrassing to our 21st century sensibilities. 

Of course, the closing scene in which Gene Kelley's cynical reporter Hornbeck and Drummond go at each other's necks only confirms that Kramer didn't want us to relate to any one character as the author avatar. Hornbeck, a charming storyteller played by a debonair matinee idol cast against type, would seem to be the best fit until he's torn into pieces by Drummond. 

At the same time, the closing scene was the one that felt the most false to me, because I never thought that Hornbeck deserved to be made out as the soulless villain. It might just be the fact that I'm a reporter and idolize them, but I do think that uncovering the truth behind false facades is a truth worth standing for and he was championing the rights of Cates. It should also be noted that the person who Hornbeck was based on Baltimore Sun reporter H.L. Menken who was a very warm and beloved figure.

Overall, I think pretty highly of the film. It's cluttered up with a number of characters and storylines, I wish the Reverend Brown-Rachel storyline got more attention, for example. The film clocks in at 2 hours and 7 minutes and ten minutes before the end, I was actually hoping that we'd see a whole second trial. In that sense, this is the mark of a good film: I can't complain about a 127-minute film if I wanted to watch another hour.

In the larger scheme of Kramer's filmography, Kramer's films don't conceal that they have a social slant but they're complex and thought-provoking. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner doesn't really have an easy answer and Judgment at Nuremberg isn't about defeating Naziism but rather the aftermath. The defense for the Nazi judges is portrayed in a respectful enough light that Maximilian Schell won an Oscar for Best Actor.