Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Er war ein Mann der Frauen, Frauen liebten seinen Punk"

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Milos Forman's Amadeus. Head on over to Edward Copeland on Film to read my retrospective. "But I can't wait, at least give us a lede!" OK, then.

The tragedy of Antonio Salieri is the driving force behind Miloš Forman’s film version of Peter Shaffer’s seminal play. Here is a pious man, in complete devotion to what he believes to be a God of Grace and Mercy. Salieri has rejected almost all of life’s earthly pleasures, has offered God his undying love, “his industry, his deepest humility,” and, of course, his chastity. All he’s ever asked for in return is a soupçon of that divine Grace to manifest itself in the form of talent. God, however, has picked as a favourite not Salieri, but instead a vulgar ninny, who is not only anathema to all that Salieri believes in, but, through whom, his lack of talent is only made more explicit. God has given Salieri deranged ambition for, and an infinite love of, music, but withheld from him the elements required to realise it. This contumelious God has shared with the world a part of himself, all the while making a mockery of his faithful servant Salieri by rejecting his piety. Knowing his predilection for irony, there’s no wonder Peter Shaffer called his play not Mozart, not even Salieri, but Amadeus.

To read the rest of the article at Edward Copeland on Film, click here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Star Trash

Oh blessed be, nerds; oh happy day! Time to gambol. Star Trek is finally cool! HUZZAH! And here’s the bonus: J.J. Abrams, the director, and Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the writers, have found ingeniously oafish ways of crowbarring every single aspect of common Trek lore into the film. The single most moving line in the history of the entire Star Trek canon is destroyed to underline a scene that would have otherwise been quite powerful. It’s obvious the filmmakers studied Gene Roddenberry’s space saga closely, got to know it inside out, and it shows in their slavish and graceless dedication to the franchise. But, you know what they say: Knowledge is knowing tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in your fruit salad.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Arnie at CeBIT

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a guest of honour at the recent Cebit Conference in Germany, where he delivered, what I assume to be, the keynote address in front of a whole bunch of business people and dignitaries, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The remarks were in English at first, though he segued into German half way through, and the following clip is the last few minutes of his speech.

Schwarzenegger’s most important quality as an action star was his sense of humour. It’s great to see that he’s still got it. If you don’t speak German, that’s OK (though you really should learn how to because it’s a great language), but pay attention around the 1:40 mark. I will replace the clip with a better version should I find one.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oscars Liveblog

6:57AM – Istanbul/8:57PM – L.A.

That was terrible. Off to work.

6:55AM – Istanbul/8:55PM – L.A.

Even the poop kid is there. And the Slumdog people don't want to leave the stage.

6:52AM – Istanbul/8:52PM – L.A.

A montage of best film nominees, interspersed with moments from best film winners of yesteryear.

Steven Spielberg presents the best film Oscar to Slumdog Millionaire. Again, I am not going to wait for him to actually say it before posting.

6:47AM – Istanbul/8:47PM – L.A.

Vito Corleone, Gandhi, Gordon Gecko, Hannibal Lecter and Jack Driscoll mirror the ladies from earlier, each saluting one of the nominees. How did they agree to this drivel?

"I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me," says Sean Penn, who wins best actor for Milk. Mickey Rourke sends him a kiss from his pudgy lips. That's a big kiss.

6:35AM – Istanbul/8:35PM – L.A.

Kate Winslet is still talking.

6:32AM – Istanbul/8:32PM – L.A.

Springtime for Winslet and Germany.

A montage of best actress acceptance speeches of yesteryear, which I am sure was the same as the one from the top of the show. Shirley Maclaine, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry and Sophia Loren come on stage, and do the absolutely dreadful "singling out each nominee and singing their praises" bit. It was just the worst, worst idea, and I can't believe they thought it would work.

6:21AM – Istanbul/8:21PM – L.A.

Nope, there was a problem with the broadcast apparently.

Anyway, Reese Witherspoon gets on the stage, does her schtick (incredibly unfunny), and starts reading the best director pablum from the autocue. Danny Boyle wins best director, and there's really no point of watching this any longer. I will, though. I wear the chain I forged in life.

6:14AM – Istanbul/8:14PM – L.A.

Queen Latifah is miming during the death montage, or there’s no sound on the feed from L.A.

I think this one might be a local problem as it's gone to commercial now. I have to go to work in just over an hour. Pity me.

6:08AM – Istanbul/8:08PM – L.A.

Best Foreign Language Film is being presented by Liam “Yeah, I can’t believe how much Taken’s taken, either” Neeson and Freida “Homina, Homina” Pinto. The first genuine surprise of the night as Departures takes home the Oscar.

6:02AM – Istanbul/8:02PM – L.A.

Jai Ho wins. Call me Nostradamus.

Jai ho, Jai ho, it’s off to work we go. I’m terribly sorry.

5:59AM – Istanbul/7:59PM – L.A.

A movie without music is like an airplane without fuel, says Hugh Jackman, before a short medley of the Oscar nominated scores. The earlier glitches have given way to sheer dullness. Slumdog is about to win this. Yup.

Jack Nicholson, by the way?

Zac Efron, once again (for fuck’s sake), and Alicia Keys give A.R. Rahman his award, rolling their r’s ever so condescendingly.

And the best song medley, which was the cause of the only controversy in this year’s ceremony. Can’t say I disagree with the producers’ decision to keep this short.

Jai Ho wins this one. I am just going to go ahead and post before they even announce it.

5:46AM – Istanbul/7:46PM – L.A.

Eddie Murphy presents the Jean Hersholt Award to Jerry Lewis. I’ve got that one right. The great nation of France is thankful to the Academy.

A montage of Jerry Lewis films, and moments from his telethons, follow, initially set to Coldplay’s Viva La Vida, one of the truly hideous songs of last year.

Jerry Lewis’s speech is short and classy.

5:40AM – Istanbul/7:40PM – L.A.

Sitemeter Update: Enquiring minds want to know the name of the piece of music that played during the special effects montage. It was Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes. You’re welcome.

5:35AM – Istanbul/7:35PM – L.A.

A montage of money shots (not that kind, alas) from various summer blockbusters, and Rambo, as it finishes with the single worst shot in Iron Man.

Will Smith emerges from the floor to the Dark Knight theme (seriously, what world are these guys living in) to present the visual effects Oscar, which, understandably, goes to Benjamin Button. This was the one part of the film that kind of worked.

Smith stays on the stage, unable to pronounce the word astounding, and gives the sound editing award to The Dark Knight. A quick shot of Christopher Nolan smiling. Hell has indeed frozen over.

Fresh Prince just does not want to leave. Slumdog Millionaire wins the sound mixing Oscar.

"Yes, they still have me here," quips Hancock just before Slumdog wins best editing. Sweepety sweep.

5:19AM – Istanbul/7:19PM – L.A.

Smile Pinki wins best documentary short. Start getting ready for tomorrow's headlines with lots and lots of Indian puns.

5:15AM – Istanbul/7:15PM – L.A.

Heath Ledger does indeed win, and his mum, dad, and sister get on the stage to accept the award. Various shots of people looking solemn, with Adrian Brody especially teary-eyed. Sad moment.

A documentary montage follows, which reminds me how much I love Werner Herzog. And speaking of documentaries, I saw Man on Wire yesterday - pants.

Bill Maher is presenting best documentary - I think. There was a problem with the feed, but this was, for once, an issue at our end, I think. Anyway, Man on Wire is winning this, and look, it does.

5:06AM – Istanbul/7:06PM – L.A.

Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline, Cuba Gooding Jr, Alan Arkin, and Joel Grey are presenting the best supporting actor award, which is going to Heath Ledger. This bizarre way of saying how great each actor was is embarrassing. For all of us.

5:00AM – Istanbul/7:00PM – L.A.

It's snowing in Istanbul. Thought you might want to know.

4:58AM – Istanbul/6:58PM – L.A.

Hugh Jackman and Beyonce, both in top hats, are doing a musical medley. If you ever needed another reason to dislike Grease, then you should see this. Actually, better not.

Hah – they sing a few bars from One Night Only, too. Let’s not pretend to care, indeed.

Oh, god – Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Amanda Seyfried, and, you know, that guy, are also on the stage.

This terrible bit was called “The Musical Is Back.” And it was choreographed by Baz Luhrman. Both Luhrman and the musical have seen better days.

4:40AM – Istanbul/6:40PM – L.A.

The only seriously funny bit so far. Seth Rogen, James Franco and, this is just brilliant, Janusz Fricking Kaminski in a skit about all the comedies of the last year.

The three also present best live action short, and it goes to Spielzeugland, which Franco can’t pronounce, much to Rogen’s giggling delight. The film’s director says he is going to have fun with a boldhead. Grossartig, mann.

4:31AM – Istanbul/6:31PM – L.A.

Ben Stiller is ripping on Joaquin Phoenix, and his recent breakdown on Letterman. Stiller is out of shot for most of the bit, so we the reactions, but never actually see the bit. A lot of glitches this year.

It is going to be a Slumdog sweep, as it wins cintog (Anthony Dod Mantle does, but you know what I mean). I thought Benjamin Button might win this one, because everyone seems to have loved its look. Whatever. You can’t polish a turd.

4:24AM – Istanbul/6:24PM – L.A.

Amanda Seyfried and the Twilight guy have just presented a montage of the Oscars’ salute to the most emasculating moments of 2008.

It’s not a good show. Not quite a train wreck, but there’s still tim. And time.

4:24AM – Istanbul/6:24PM – L.A.

For fuck’s sake, they’re not done yet. Carrie Bradshaw and Sarah Jessica Parker are still on the stage, this time presenting best makeup. It goes to Greg Cannom for Benjamin Button.

4:20AM – Istanbul/6:20PM – L.A.

Oh, I get it – the theme for the night is the filmmaking process itself. Nothing gets past me.

Sarah Jessica Parker and one of the aforementioned Space Chimps (who messed up reading the autocue) present the art direction award – it goes to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

They're also presenting best costume design. Just before the camera cuts to them, there is, once again, a technical glitch and you can hear Craig checking with Parker if everything isn't alright, and her, rather abruptly, saying yes.

The Duchess wins, by the way. Michael O'Connor's acceptance speech is very good.

4:14AM – Istanbul/6:14PM – L.A.

I've just checked Sitemeter, and a lot of people, and I mean A LOT of people, are googling "Open it, Steve."

4:10AM – Istanbul/6:10PM – L.A.

They’ll be doing a 2008 movie yearbook thingy this year apparently. A montage of a whole bunch of animated films including, inexplicably, Space Chimps.

Jennifer Aniston (ooh, she is the same room as Brangelina, the controversy) and Jack Black present the best animated film award, and it goes to Space Chimps.

And they're not done yet apparently - they still have to give out best animated short. Fuck - it doesn't go to Presto! La maison en petits cubes wins.


4:03AM – Istanbul/6:03PM – L.A.

Simon Beaufoy wins the best adapted screenplay Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire. It’s going to be a Slumdog sweep tonight.

3:58AM – Istanbul/5:58PM – L.A.

Tina Fey and Steve Martin are about to present the writing awards. And then they make a Scientology joke!

Dustin Lance Black wins for Milk.

3:50AM – Istanbul/5:50PM – L.A.

Penelope Cruz wins for Vicky Cristina Barthelona. It's not a good film, and Viola Davis should have won here, but I am happy for Cruz. She mirrors Javier Bardem from last year, and says something in Spanish. I think she just swore at Portugal.

Just before, Eva Marie Saint, Whoopi Goldberg, Angelica Huston, Goldie Hawn, and Tilda Swinton each did a bit on the five actresses nominated for their supporting work. And I threw up a little bit inside my mouth.

By the way, Philip Seymour Hoffman is looking like Norma Desmond tonight.

3:42AM – Istanbul/5:42PM – L.A.

This is glorious – they’re messing up left, right and centre.

Just before the supporting actress montage, there was a feed from the control room: “Steve, open it.” Referring to the stage curtains. Or Steve’s legs.

3:39AM – Istanbul/5:39PM – L.A.

Standing ovation for the opening number. Seriously, you're all on crack.

Funny joke about how nobody’s seen The Reader. Me included. I was supposed to see it today, but I went to bed at seven instead.

3:36AM – Istanbul/5:36PM – L.A.

Cringe-worthy opening number.

This is on a level with the infamous Rob Lowe/Follow The Hollywood Starts bit.

There is something heart warming about Hugh Jackman’s singing it’s alright to be gay. If you believe the rumours, that is.

3:32AM – Istanbul/5:32PM – L.A.

G’day mate.

I’ll give them this – the stage looks great.

3:27AM – Istanbul/5:27PM – L.A.

Go Richard Jenkins!

I hate to be noticing these things but Marisa Tomei and Anne Hathaway are both wearing white.

By the way, the trailer for Funny People is out, and it looks great. I especially love the jokes at the doctor’s office.

Anyway, get ready to hit snooze, cause it’s all about to kick off.

3:15AM – Istanbul/5:15PM – L.A.
There seems to be a problem with the stream from the red carpet. The sound is acting up (fitting, if you think about it).

Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are doing their best to remind me why I dislike them so. The Achy Breaky Heart guy's daughter is here, too, so tonight is probably going to be a lot tweenier than usual. Spare me.

Robert Downey Jr and Mickey Rourke always look very, very uncomfortable doing these interviews. Today is no different.

3:10AM – Istanbul/5:10PM – L.A.

Oh, goody. Here we are again. Three o’clock my time. Every year I get excited for the Oscars, and every year I say to myself (I talk to myself fairly frequently) I should reconsider the wisdom of getting up at three in the morning on a Monday. Thing is, I am usually quite stoked, but this year the allure of my warm bed is particularly strong. It’s safe to say that bitching this year’s pack of movies is going to be a running theme tonight.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

ANNOUNCEMENT: Oscarcast Live Blog + Final Oscar Predictions

Now this is a hard one.

As has been my custom for the past two years, I will be live blogging the Oscars this Sunday. This is a big thing for me – the time difference between Istanbul and LA means I have to get up at half two in the morning (I might even get up at one this year, but don’t count on it), compose myself (not like that, you perverts), get into the right frame of my mind, and start blogging away. No mean feat, since I discard most of the posts or reviews I begin writing half-way through.

This year’s ceremony is going to be an interesting one, in that it’s the first time in my life where I couldn’t care less about any of the flicks up for best picture. It’s not been a terrible movie year for me, but it’s most certainly not been a stand-out one, like last year so obviously was. The one word that immediately pops to mind is lacklustre. I am reminded of the immortal line from This Is Spinal Tap. Describing the band, and the roles played by Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins within it, Derek Smalls expounds, “They're two distinct types of visionaries, it's like fire and ice, basically. I feel my role in the band is to be somewhere in the middle of that, kind of like lukewarm water.” That’s exactly what this year’s Oscar season feels like: tepid, pedestrian, and frustratingly uncontroversial.

Anyway, here are my final Oscar predictions. See you on Sunday.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: Gus Van Sant

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke

Best Actress: Kate Winslet

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis

Best Original Screenplay: WALL-E

Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Animated Film: WALL-E

Best Foreign Language Film: Waltz With Bashir

Best Animated Short: Presto

Best Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Cinematography: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Costume Design: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Documentary: Man on Wire

Best Documentary Short: The Final Inch

Best Film Editing: The Dark Knight

Best Live Action Short: Toyland

Best Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Best Score: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Song: Down to Earth (WALL-E)

Best Sound Editing: WALL-E

Best Sound Mixing: WALL-E

Best Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

And I predict Jerry Lewis will win the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Call it a hunch.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Pinchbeck Parable

Six more weeks of winter, I see...

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tells the story of a man who is born in his eighties and ages backward. Or that’s what everyone says it does, because it’s not quite true. Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt, as well as a whole bunch of zeroes and ones) is born, like most, if not – and I’m going out on a limb here – all men, a baby. He is ailed with the infirmities of old age, but he is not born an old man. He is an old fricking baby.

I realise that this is far too literalistic a take on what’s supposed to be a parable, but, Miss, David Fincher and Eric Roth made me do it. The respective director and writer of the film have fashioned from a satirical and sui generis Fitzgerald short story such trite Oscar bait of a picture that it’s hard not to let yourself wander the depths of reality. It’s always a bad sign when your film starts with the bizarre story of a blind watchmaker, and your audience’s mind turns immediately to Richard Dawkins.

Benjamin Button is born on the last day of the First World War in New Orleans. His father is disgusted by his outwardly appearance and abandons him in front of an old people’s home run by Queenie (Taraji P. Henson, in the only performance worth a damn), who summarily decides to raise him as her own. Considering his condition, a convalescent home is a good place for Benjamin to grow up, and it is there that he meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), the love of his life, whose grandmother lives in the nursing home. The two have an on-again/off-again relationship as the audience has an on-again/off-again relationship with sweet, sweet slumber.

Imagine how the film could have been developed in a slightly more screen-palatable way, i.e. also doing away with Fitzgerald’s original conceit of Benjamin’s being a 6 foot geezer, while keeping the unique nature of the story. Benjamin is born an old baby, but with the intelligence and knowledge of an old man, something which becomes clearer to the rest of the world as he, for examples, says his first word: instead of “daa-daa” or “goo-goo,” the tyke recites William Blake. Then the villagers burn him at the stake.

But, no, Fincher and Roth don’t just want to have their cake and eat it, they also want us to pay for it, and then go out and get them some bloody lemonade – like, pronto! The film is supposed to be a dereistic allegory on mortality, star-crossed lovers, miscommunication, well, any Issue you can think of, but it is played so straight and so literally that it’s impossible to suspend disbelief. But allegories are supposed to have a moral – they are supposed to teach us a lesson. Good luck finding one here. You do get a lump in your throat quite often, only it's not a surge of emotions, it's lunch.

The film lacks the courage of its own convictions. It is also completely bereft of whimsy. We are never treated to how the young Benjamin felt being trapped in an old man’s body – a brief shot of his looking wistfully at a couple of kids skipping rope feels like an afterthought thrown in for no good reason. In a film nearing three hours, you’d think it might be an important part of the main character’s story, but not in this film. His first sexual encounter is with a prostitute, and he hammers away into the wee hours of the night: but hang on, isn’t he supposed to be a 70-year-old man at this point? Fincher squanders another opportunity here – rather than going for a cheap laugh, it would have been much wiser, and truer to the film itself, to have Benjamin unable to perform on that first night. His mind is ready – his body is not. Think of the trauma.

Similarly, the most interesting parts of Benjamin’s tale are skipped over. We never see how a sixty-year old Benjamin, with the body of a twenty year old Brad Pitt, fares in the world. Nor do we witness the decline of his mind as his body keeps getting younger. How did he deal with this most horrid irony? We never find out. Obviously, before he writes his next movie, Roth needs to re-read Flowers for Algernon.

And, boy, everyone has wacky stories - one guy tells of the seven times he was struck by lightning, one woman eulogises about her failed attempt at crossing the English channel, old Blanchett drones on and on about a clock maker – all of which is just drivel. This sort of "wacky side stories in the middle of the narrative that serve no fucking purpose except to show off the writer's sense of self-importance" might have played ten years ago (think Magnolia - an infinitely better movie) - but we are not that cynical anymore. And we’ve also realised how shit American Beauty really was.

Benjamin also gets a piece of the extraneous story action during an interminable ten minute ramble where he relates the story of the seemingly unconnected events that led to Daisy’s being run over by a Parisian taxi driver, leading her to quit her calling, modern dance. Apart from the fact that it is completely unfathomable to even imagine Benjamin could know about all the minutiae that apparently caused the car accident, it is one of the silliest, most meaningless, sequences in the history of cinema. It’s supposed to showcase how destiny has a funny way of sneaking up on you; but instead it just comes across as pleading. If she had not forgot her coat, if he had not stopped for coffee, if I had been there… Whatever, pal. If my aunt had bollocks, beggars would ride.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

From Touch of Evil to Dark City: A Grand Appreciation Of Film Noir

Kevin Olson’s Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies is one of the blogosphere’s best kept secrets. It is insightful, witty and always a pleasure to read – one of my daily stops. Well, Kevin has just published a monster of a piece on film noir as an evolving genre, and it’s an utter joy. Here is an excerpt from Neo, Cyber, and Postmodern Noir: A Look at Film Noir as an Evolving Genre :
Loneliness is at the heart of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. At one point Detective J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is asked “Are you alone?” by a voice on the phone; “aren’t we all?” he replies. Chinatown is a film noir in the traditional sense (the nostalgic opening credit sequence reminds you of that fact) with its private eye, femme fatale, hidden truths, and shadow lands; however Polanski takes these classic noir tropes and plays with them. The shadows of alleyways and seedy locations have been replaced by stark, glossy 1940 Los Angeles business buildings -- seedlings for what would grow into the metropolis we recognize today. Polanski also removes the traditional femme fatale role from his film, as Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) is the victim, not the seductive siren. Gittes is a private detective, but Polanski has some fun with this particular trope as he has his Tec’s nose sliced in half. Gittes even says at one point that he is a snoop, and what good is a snoop with only half a nose.
Now, head on over to Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies to read the rest of this excellent essay.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Please, please, let this be good

- Any chance I get, flatten Paul flipping Madeley.
- Good lad.
Even though I disliked Frost/Nixon, that doesn’t change the fact that The Queen was my favourite film of 2006, or that I simply cannot wait for The Special Relationship. Peter Morgan is an excellent writer, with a paradoxically great ear for real-yet-affected dialogue, and a deft touch for seamlessly bringing together the mundane with the extraordinary to create wholly fulfilling works of art. Morgan’s next film, directed by Tom Hooper, is The Damned United, an adaptation of David Peace’s best-selling novel of the same name. Here is what Wikipedia says about the book:

Told from Clough's point of view, the novel is written as his stream of consciousness as he tries and fails to impose his will on a team he inherited from his bitter rival, Don Revie, and whose players are still loyal to their old manager. Interspersed are flashbacks to his more successful days as manager of Derby County. Described by its author as "a fiction based on a fact," the novel mixes fiction, rumour and speculation with documented facts to depict Clough as a deeply flawed hero; foul mouthed, vengeful and beset with inner demons and alcoholism.

The film stars the almost always reliable (cheap Frost/Nixon dig, I know) Michael Sheen as Clough, as well as Jim Broadbent, Colm Meaney, and Timothy Spall. You can’t judge a film by its trailer, but a trailer can get you excited for a film. I am very excited for The Damned United.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ramblings on Lost

"They elected a black guy?"

Having watched the first four episodes of Lost’s fifth season, here are a few random thoughts:

- I think I might be the only person in the known universe to prefer episodes that deal primarily with the original castaways. That might have something to do with the exceptionally good actors, like Matthew Fox, Terry O’Quinn, and Josh Holloway – or, in the case of Kate-centric stories, with the fact that I am a sucker for a gorgeous face, and by golly, does Evangeline Lilly have one.

- Talking about Evangeline Lilly, was it me or did her Canadian accent sneak in during the scene in the hotel room where she tapped out Aaron’s ketchup. She can tap out my ketchup.

- I am still not exactly sure if I am happy with the way things are progressing. This time-travel schtick of a loose narrative with strands dangling in the air like Michael Bolton’s mane is all good and fine – and they seem to have an endgame in place, which will make the whole thing all the more rewarding eventually. But, still, the sense of a pervasive mystery has all but disappeared. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse seem to be running the tightest of ships, especially when it comes to making sure everything has some sort of an explanation. In “The Little Prince,” the way they, and the writers, incorporated the batsignal from the hatch from the first season was a nice touch – especially the meta moment where the writers, vicariously through Locke, admitted that it was nothing but a cool gimmick to end the episode on at the time. Still, though, I get the sense that they are trying to explain too much. It’s as if Lindelof, Cuse and the writers realised they let way too much hanging in the second and third seasons, and now they are trying to literalise the fuck out of it. Some things should be left unexplained. What are the numbers? What’s the deal with the skeletons they found in the caves? What the hell was the black smoke? Oh, who gives a fuck! In the wise words of Mother Mary, let it be.

- Has Sun all gone all Sun-ti-Mental or is it just me? Will she try to exact revenge on Jack and Kate, and, god forbid, maybe Aaron? The scene where she was left alone with the kid was terrifying – harkening back to the former days of the show where, once again I must mention this, the mystery creeped the fuck out of you (Oh, I must say Microsoft Word's spell-check is just dying to replace “creeped” with “creped.” Yet people, like moi, still use it – go figure).

- Michael Emerson’s run in Lost should be analysed by all bit-parters/guest-actors as to how an apparently short gig can be transformed into a full-time position. The guy was signed on for a few episodes, but he was so fricking good, that the story was written around him. And now, Emerson is simply doing sterling work, rocking the house every time he’s on screen. He has become one of the core characters.

- Charlotte is Daniel’s daughter. Probably. If so…lame.

- Also rocking the house this season is Josh Holloway. He is simply brilliant. Just look at the aftermath of the scene where he witnesses Aaron’s birth – some of the best work he’s done on the show. I disagree that he was underused last season – he was merely unlucky in not being one of the six that got out. But, it just goes to show how great the initial casting was that you can leave one of your star players on the sidelines for an entire season, and yet, they bring in their A-game when it’s, once again, their moment. I’d like to think that it was Holloway’s sojourn to Turkey last summer to shoot an ice-cream commercial that brought out the best in him. I am nothing if not able to cite my country as inspiration for greatness.

- Jin’s comeback? How are they ever going to tie that in with the established mythology of the show? During the last four seasons, has Jin ever run into Rousseau? Has she ever recognised him? All questions waiting to be answered. Do I care? No, I do not. Still, it’s good to see Jin back.

- And talking about those people who believe in plans and all that shit, it was obvious from the get go in the first season that Jin was going to – SUDDENLY – turn out to be an Anglophone (which is a long word for having a telephone bought in England). Just look at the reaction shots. Anyway, I am so glad they ended up diverting from that route. Jin has turned out to be one of the most interesting characters.

- Wolverine Sayid of the past two seasons is a much better approach towards the character than the tortured torturer approach of the former seasons.

- This has nothing to do with Lost, but isn’t it funny how Heroes is so shit? It’s simply the worst show on network TV. When you find your audience preferring the delights of According to Jim to your show, you know you have messed up plenty somewhere (and it has some really likeable characters, and a few great actors, so what the heck’s going on).

- In the scene where Sawyer et al were being shot at by the other others in the other others’ canoo – am I right in thinking that the other others are the Oceanic Six making their way back?

- I still love this show, and think it even better than even Mad Men, which is my favourite show on TV right now. How is that for inverse illogic?

Eli's coming, hide your heart boy!

Die fehlende Liebe, das ist ein solcher Schmerz.

In one of the best scenes in Werner Herzog’s excellent Nosferatu The Vampyre, Count Dracula (Klaus Kinski) slowly sneaks into the bedchamber of Isabelle Adjani’s Lucy Harker as she sits in front of a mirror combing through her hair. As the door creaks open ever so slowly, the camera’s point of view is the same as Lucy’s, looking into the mirror. Lucy feels a presence in the room, hears footsteps, sees an approaching shadow, yet she is too terrified to turn around, transfixed as she is by this otherworldly reflection (appropriately enough, this scene is a mirror homage of the one in the original Nosferatu). Suddenly, the Count appears next to Lucy, introduces himself, and Lucy confronts him for what he’d done to her husband Jonathan (by the end of the movie, he will have turned into one of the undead – I love that word). He won’t die, says the Count, before adding “It is more cruel not to be able to die.” Lucy is unimpressed, and declares the bond between her and Jonathan immortal. Dracula’s grief is all too real: “The absence of love is the most abject pain.”*

Let The Right One In is of the same ilk as Werner Herzog’s film, as well as F.W. Murnau’s original 1922 adaptation of Dracula, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. It understands perfectly that the vampire mythology is one of intrinsic pathos and loneliness. Some have hailed it as transcending the vampire genre, they’re wrong: it doesn’t. On the contrary, it penetrates the very heart of what it would feel like being a vampire, consumed with madness and malice; sorrow and solitude.

Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the film is written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his own novel of the same name. Set in a snowy suburb of Stockholm, the film opens with the shot of a winter night – the left part of the frame is completely immersed in the shadows, and the right is slightly more illuminated, not so much by the light, as by a slow yet steady fall of snow. This is the world of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) – even when it isn’t totally dark, it’s still pretty grim. A 12-year-old boy on the edge of pubescence and self discovery, Oskar dreams of finally standing up the bullies at school who make his life a living misery (there is a subtle subtextual theme of school violence, which is bound to be amplified in the Hollywood version already in the works) by practicing with his switchblade against trees or standing in front of the mirror (Roger Ebert notes the prevalence of reflection, literal and metaphorical, within the movie). He has no friends at school; his parents are divorced: mum is inattentive, and dad just wants him to leave as soon as possible so he can jump his hirsute lover. One night, Oskar spots an older man called Hakan (Per Ragnar, brilliant) moving in next door, and is soon confronted on the jungle gym by a strange “girl” called Eli (Lina Leandersson), whom the man cares for (the nature of their relationship is not immediately clear, but more on that later). She looks and acts like a child, yet there is a strange detachment in her eyes, and a putrid stench that envelopes her. Oskar doesn’t take too long to realise that Eli is a vampire – they decide to “go steady,” but not before Oskar finds out that Eli is in fact a castrated boy.

On the surface of it, this is a tale of a 12-year-old vampire making friends with a mortal boy. Even though moments of horror never take a back seat, nonetheless, it would be hard to describe the film as a vampire movie in the customary sense. Gone are the angst-ridden teens of Buffy, the hedonistic rock stars of the Anne Rice novels, the horny teens of Twilight, or the bloodsucking monsters of, well, all other vampire movies. Moments of traditional vampire lore are mentioned, others revised, and new ones introduced (in a hilarious scene where I was even more proud to call myself a cat lover). We find out exactly why a vampire cannot enter a home without invitation in one of the most effective uses of special effects of the past few years (the special effects are sparse, but when they are used, they are seamless, and sort of glorious) .

But the heart of the film is the relationship between Eli and Oskar. They are both victims of child abuse, in a manner of speaking, and they are both so incredibly lonely. The young Hedebrant does an extraordinary job of conveying Oskar’s frustration in the face of being unwanted, and Leandersson’s tragic take on being a vampire would give Kinski a run for his money. One of the most effective scenes involves Oskar’s sharing some candy with Eli, only for the vampire to get terribly sick and puke it all out. Blood is not just what she craves – it is the only thing that she can crave. Whereas most other vampire films and TV shows (which, frankly, bore me to tears) can’t even come close to selling the tragedy of the situation, in this one little moment Alfredson shows perfectly the hellish existence that plagues Eli.

I must discuss the ending in order to put everything in context so please stop reading if you have yet to see the film. Now, the film ends with Oskar running away with Eli, as he taps little kisses to him from inside his coffin in Morse code, the two of them riding on a train to nowhere. Oskar will take care of Eli just like Hakan used to – eventually he will have to hunt for him, and eventually he will grow up. Was Hakan another childhood lover of Eli’s, consumed so much by his love when he grew up that he was unable to let go? It certainly feels that way when you consider an earlier scene in the film where Eli berates Hakan for coming home empty handed. Will Eli find another boy, or girl, to love? And how will Oskar cope? This was the best film of 2008.

*The League of Gentlemen also made use of this line in their Christmas special.

Here is the scene from Herzog’s Nosferatu:

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Problem with Frost/Nixon

"Pull my finger."

If you ever find yourself searching for an instance of one single creative misfire derailing an entire enterprise, then look no further than the talking heads in Frost/Nixon. At first they are simply bizarre – they pop up like mushrooms at the beginning, the look of the scenes determinedly different from the rest of the movie: pale, over-lit, and detached. It’s an interesting directorial choice by Ron Howard, but a gimmick, nonetheless – a workmanlike way to differentiate what are supposed to be reflective testimonies from the men behind the scenes of the infamous Frost-Nixon television interviews of 1977 . Later, they serve to underline every single subtext of the film, and become annoying winks at the camera. I was reminded of the old He-Man cartoons, where Mekaneck would show up at the end of the episode to tell the audience the moral of the story: “This week, Richard Nixon lied to the people of Eternia that he had nothing to do with Stinkor or Kobra Khan. But truth always comes out. Good night, kids, and never talk to strangers.”

But for the initial WTF interviews, Frost/Nixon sets the stage relatively well. When the film starts, it’s already been a few years since Richard Nixon (Frank Langella, in a wonderful performance) has resigned from the presidency in total shame, and the British satirist/journalist/alleged Peter Cook plagiarist David Frost (Michael Sheen – if only it were Charlie Sheen) is in his own outback wilderness, doing his best Roger Moore impression on Australian TV. Realising that an on-air interview of the disgraced former President would make for fascinating – not to mention lucrative – television, Frost decides to contact Nixon, and, since he is unable to get financing from any television network, eventually invest his own money in the whole thing. Finally, the interview’s on (the build-up seems to last forever), and both parties go into debate camp – think Rocky IV training montage sans Brigitte Nielsen.*

By the time Frost and Nixon are facing off on camera, the whole interminable saga to get them there has been so fervid that we expect the same sort of intensity from the actual interviews themselves – which never comes. Nixon smacks Frost around until the last interview when he kinda, sorta admits wrongdoing but the moment never manages to pack that final punch to knock down not just Nixon but the audience, too. Yeah, he pussyfoots around an apology, and it’s pathetic in a way. But we are so used to disgraced politicians’ FUBAR moments on TV these days – I am writing this as Jay Leno roasts Rod “The Haircut” Blagojevich’s bizarre interview where he compares himself to Mother Theresa – that the film fails to recapture a moment that sent an entire generation of baby boomers grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Apart from the annoying talking heads (during some of which the otherwise reliable Sam Rockwell is especially grating), Ron Howard and the writer Peter Morgan make a few other questionable choices. Nixon is portrayed as a bit of a perv, the supposed ying/yang relationship between him and Frost feels reaching, as does the vicarious pleasure Tricky Dick takes in Frost's urban haute bourgeois playboy lifestyle. There is also a pivotal scene where a drunk Nixon calls Frost in the middle of the night and voids his conscience over the phone – it’s obviously fictitious, and, yes, this is a film, and, thus, a fictionalised account of real events. But it’s so crucial to the way that final, fateful, confrontation plays out that its lack of authenticity drains Nixon’s pseudo-confession of all its oomph.

Eventually, Frost/Nixon tries to juggle too many balls at once: redemption, salvation, repentance – all the while trying to be a solemn paean to the power of television in cutting through the bullshit. I liked it more when it was called Good Night, and Good Luck.

*Nice, topical pop-culture references there, you hepcat, you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mon Oncle Oscar

Has there been a more lacklustre Oscar season in living memory? I certainly don’t recall one. This is not just the lethargy of a Hollywood that was crippled by an operose writers’ strike last year. The approaching storm of the writers’ strike affected many studios’ summer stock last year rather than their prestige pictures, and was also the reason why, for example, there was an X-Files sequel (and why we almost got a half-baked JLA movie). Coming as it does in the wake of an exceptional movie year in 2007, 2008 was always going to fell a bit lame. But there’s always an excuse (just ask Shane Hurlbut).

Contrary to popular, and rather cynical, belief that films nominated for an Oscar are all nothing but tawdry Hollywood product, the Oscars can, and usually do, showcase some of the best American films of any given year. They usually evoke excitement, even if the previous year was less than stellar. Some years are magnificent all round – last year was one, as was 1999. But this year’s Oscar nominees all seem to be lacking that oomph factor, which incites enthusiasm in even your most blasé moviegoer. I have yet to see all of them, but that should be remedied by this weekend when The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Reader both open locally. I am not saying that this year’s best film nominees are bad – Frost/Nixon, Milk and Slumdog Millionaire are all flawed, to varying degrees, but one would be hard-pressed to call them all egregious (mind you, Jim Emerson over at Scanners, makes a great case for the ultimate failure of Slumdog, a film he hilariously describes as “Charles Dickens, written in the style of Jackie Collins”). It’s just that, among the nominees, there is not one single film that fills me with unadulterated cinematic passion and joy (o-hoo tidings of passion and joy - passion and joy). Allow me a moment to reflect on the best film nominees of this decade so far before I do like Nostradamus and predict the winners weeks in advance (I'm awesome):

No Country for Old Men (winner)
Michael Clayton
There Will Be Blood (piss off)

A great list of films in a truly amazing year with only one bad apple among them, and even that one can be excused because it is so loud and so boisterous and so fricking quotable (not since the original Star Wars have so many pop-culture phrases emanated from one single movie). Juno was adorable, Michael Clayton was solid, Atonement was sad, and No Country for Old Men was, and is, the best film of the decade. Yes, I disliked There Will Be Blood, but at least it had a sort of feistiness and fervour going for it – an observation that cannot be extended towards this year’s bunch of anaemic nominees.

The Departed (winner)
Babel (Crash 2: Crash World)
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen (Should have been the winner)

Letters from Iwo Jima is one of the truly great Clint Eastwood films. The sheer brilliance of The Queen only grows with hindsight – that Michael Sheen was not even given a nod for his exceptional portrayal of Tony Blair must have been what compelled him to play David Frost as a clone of the former PM – at least, outside of the interview room. The Special Relationship, the final chapter in Peter Morgan’s unofficial Blair trilogy, is set for 2011, and will chronicle the close relationship between Blair and Bill Clinton between 1997 and 2000.

Trash (winner)
Brokeback Mountain (Should have been the winner)
Good Night, and Good Luck
Munich (Should have been the winner)

Another excellent choice of nominees with one piece of populist tripe masquerading as art. Shame it won. And that whole central thesis about how people are so numb and that they crash into each other just have some sort of humanly contact is just the sort of screenwriter’s tripe that passes for imagery. It’s like Wes Bentley’s “so much beauty in the world, just look at this floating dishcloth” monologue. Pretentious piffle.

Both Munich and Brokeback Mountain are exceptional pieces of filmmaking, with their respective auteur at the top of his game, but if one must pick a winner, and then it would have to be Brokeback. That final shot is heartbreaking.

Million Dollar Baby (winner)
The Aviator
Finding Neverland
Sideways (Should have won)

Another year that was less than stellar, but all the films were solid, nonetheless. Sideways, in particular, is a masterpiece of sorts that stands the test of time – which I really didn’t think was possible. Finding Neverland has lost some of its power over time, but it’s Hollywood sentimentality done right. Nothing wrong with it as long as it’s done right – something Roger Ebert says about Will Smith’s underrated Seven Pounds.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (winner)
Leaving Las Tokyo
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Mystic River

City of God was the best film of the year, with American Splendour, In America, and The Barbarian Invasions close behind though none was nominated – the last one did win best foreign film, mind. Of the five films above, Mystic River was a better film than Neverending Story Part III, but, you know, these things happen. Still, not a bad list – and quite an interesting one when you think that they just don’t make films like Master and Commander or Seabiscuit anymore. (The latter was a hit at the box office – good luck breaking 40 mil. Domestic with a film like that nowadays, let alone crossing the century mark)

Chicago (winner)
Gangs of New York
The Hours
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Pianist (should have won)

Once again – not a tremendous selection but it still contained a Scorsese dream project, and a Roman Polanski film! Enough to get any cineaste wet.

A Beautiful Mind (winner)
Gosford Park (should have won)
In the Bedroom (or maybe this one should have won)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Moulin Rouge! (4 “bad-ass chicks” inc.)

People bitch about how A Beautiful Mind stole the award from the first Rings flick, completely dismissing the magnificence of Gosford Park, which was clearly the best film of the year. I only watched it a few weeks ago – wonderful.

Gladiator (winner even though it’s bollocks)
Chocolat (chocolate bollocks)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Erin Brockovich
Traffic - USA Films (should have won)

There are two types of people in this world: people who realise how shitty Gladiator is, and those who will one day see the light. There is a third group, who, after almost a decade, still quote the film’s terrible tagline (“what you do in life, echoes in my pants” or whatever it is), but the rest of us do our damn hardest to ignore them. Traffic was a stellar achievement, and it should have walked away with the award.

Anyway, you see my point. This decade has seen a few wonky years, sure, but none has been so devoid of charm and passion as this year obviously is. Anyway, here is a list of all the Oscar nominees for 2009, as well as my my predictions - which are subject to change nearer the time of the actual ceremony. Come back on Oscar night for my Third Annual Academy Awards Ceremony Live Blog. I must capitalise it for it is trés importante.

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor" (Overture Films)
Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon" (Universal)
Sean Penn in "Milk" (Focus Features)
Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler" (Fox Searchlight)

Will win: Sean Penn
Should win: Richard Jenkins

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Josh Brolin in "Milk" (Focus Features)
Robert Downey Jr. in "Tropic Thunder" (DreamWorks, Distributed by DreamWorks/Paramount)
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight" (Warner Bros.)
Michael Shannon in "Revolutionary Road" (DreamWorks, Distributed by Paramount Vantage)

Will win: Heath Ledger
Should win: Brad Pitt (Burn After reading)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Angelina Jolie in "Changeling" (Universal)
Melissa Leo in "Frozen River" (Sony Pictures Classics)
Meryl Streep in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Kate Winslet in "The Reader" (The Weinstein Company)

Will win: Kate Winslet
Should win: Anne Hathaway

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Amy Adams in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Penélope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" (The Weinstein Company)
Viola Davis in "Doubt" (Miramax)
Taraji P. Henson in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.)
Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler" (Fox Searchlight)

Will win: Viola Davis
Should win: Marisa Tomei

Best animated feature film of the year
"Kung Fu Panda"

Will win: Wall-E
Should win: Not Wall-E.

Achievement in art direction
"Changeling" Art Direction: James J. Murakami - Set Decoration: Gary Fettis
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Art Direction: Donald Graham Burt - Set Decoration: Victor J. Zolfo
"The Dark Knight" Art Direction: Nathan Crowley - Set Decoration: Peter Lando
"The Duchess" Art Direction: Michael Carlin - Set Decoration: Rebecca Alleway
"Revolutionary Road" Art Direction: Kristi Zea - Set Decoration: Debra Schutt

Will win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Should win: Revolutionary Road

Achievement in cinematography
"Changeling" Tom Stern
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Claudio Miranda
"The Dark Knight" Wally Pfister
"The Reader" Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
"Slumdog Millionaire" Anthony Dod Mantle

Will win: Chris Menges and Roger Deakins
Should win: Tom Stern (I might revise this later)

Achievement in costume design
"Australia" Catherine Martin
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Jacqueline West
"The Duchess" Michael O'Connor
"Milk" Danny Glicker
"Revolutionary Road" Albert Wolsky

Achievement in directing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" David Fincher
"Frost/Nixon" Ron Howard
"Milk" Gus Van Sant
"The Reader" Stephen Daldry
"Slumdog Millionaire" Danny Boyle

Will win: Oh, Danny Boyle.
Should win: Tomas Alfredson for Let The Right One In

Best documentary feature
"The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)" Ellen Kuras and Thavisouk Phrasavath
"Encounters at the End of the World" Werner Herzog and Henry Kaiser
"The Garden" Scott Hamilton Kennedy
"Man on Wire" (Magnolia Pictures) James Marsh and Simon Chinn
"Trouble the Water" (Zeitgeist Films) Tia Lessin and Carl Deal

Will win: Man on Wire
Should win: Encounters at the End of the World

Best documentary short subject
"The Conscience of Nhem En" Steven Okazaki
"The Final Inch" Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant
"Smile Pinki" Megan Mylan
"The Witness - From the Balcony of Room 306" Adam Pertofsky and Margaret Hyde

Will win: No idea.
Should win: No idea.

Achievement in film editing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
"The Dark Knight" Lee Smith
"Frost/Nixon" Mike Hill and Dan Hanley
"Milk" Elliot Graham
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Chris Dickens

Will win: The Dark Knight
Should win: Frost/Nixon

Best foreign language film of the year
"The Baader Meinhof Complex" - Germany
"The Class" - France
"Departures" - Japan
"Revanche" - Austria
"Waltz with Bashir" – Israel

Will win: Waltz with Bashir (if it’s its night, if not then The Class)
Should win: The Edge of Heaven or Three Monkeys. (I am showing my true colours here…)

Achievement in makeup
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Greg Cannom
"The Dark Knight" John Caglione, Jr. and Conor O'Sullivan
"Hellboy II: The Golden Army" Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz

Will win: Benjamin Button
Should win: Probably Benjamin Button. Haven’t seen the flick yet, as I said, but from what I have seen, Cannom’s work is amazing.

Original Score
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Alexandre Desplat
"Defiance" James Newton Howard
"Milk" Danny Elfman
"Slumdog Millionaire" A.R. Rahman
"WALL-E" Thomas Newman

Will win: Thomas Newman
Should win: Danny Elfman (with what may be his best work)

Original song
"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E" Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman Lyric by Peter Gabriel
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Music by A.R. Rahman Lyric by Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam

Will win: Thomas Newman and The Gabriel
Should win: Jason Segel for Dracula’s Lament

Best animated short film
"La Maison en Petits Cubes" Kunio Kato
"Lavatory - Lovestory" Konstantin Bronzit
"Oktapodi" Emud Mokhberi and Thierry Marchand
"Presto" Doug Sweetland
"This Way Up" Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes

Will win: Presto
Should win: Presto

Best live action short film
"Auf der Strecke (On the Line)" Reto Caffi
"Manon on the Asphalt" Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont
"New Boy" Steph Green and Tamara Anghie
"The Pig" Tivi Magnusson and Dorte Høgh
"Spielzeugland (Toyland)" Jochen Alexander Freydank

Again, not a clue (not my fault - shorts, the kind you watch, are incredibly hard to find in Istanbul). But Auf der Strecke is apparently an Academy of Media Arts Cologne Production so, just because I used to live there, I will be rooting for Caffi.

Achievement in sound editing
"The Dark Knight" Richard King
"Iron Man" Frank Eulner and Christopher Boyes
"Slumdog Millionaire" Tom Sayers
"WALL-E" Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
"Wanted" Wylie Stateman

Will win: Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood
Should win: Ben Burtt and Matthew Wood

Achievement in sound mixing
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Mark Weingarten
"The Dark Knight" Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo and Ed Novick
"Slumdog Millionaire" Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke and Resul Pookutty
"WALL-E" Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
"Wanted" Chris Jenkins, Frank A. Montaño and Petr Forejt

Will win: Tom Myers, Michael Semanick and Ben Burtt
Should win: Anything but, you know, that film, so I’d go for WALL-E.

Achievement in visual effects
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Eric Barba, Steve Preeg, Burt Dalton and Craig Barron
"The Dark Knight" Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Tim Webber and Paul Franklin
"Iron Man" John Nelson, Ben Snow, Dan Sudick and Shane Mahan

Will win: Button, if he’s lucky. Batman, if he is not.
Should win: The other one.

Adapted screenplay
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" Screenplay by Eric Roth Screen story by Eric Roth and Robin Swicord
"Doubt" Written by John Patrick Shanley
"Frost/Nixon" Screenplay by Peter Morgan
"The Reader" Screenplay by David Hare
"Slumdog Millionaire" Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy

Will win: Simon Beaufoy for Jackie Dickens.
Should win: John Ajvide Lindqvist for Let The Right One In.

Original screenplay
"Frozen River" Written by Courtney Hunt
"Happy-Go-Lucky" Written by Mike Leigh
"In Bruges" Written by Martin McDonagh
"Milk" Written by Dustin Lance Black
"WALL-E" Screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon Original story by Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter

Will win: WALL-E or Milk (yeah, cheating, but what are you gonna do?)
Should win: Happy-Go-Lucky or In Bruges. (yeah, cheating, but what are you gonna do?)

Best motion picture of the year
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Reader"
"Slumdog Millionaire"

Will win: Slumdog Millionaire
Should win: Let The Right One In. It was the best film of the year. By far.

He is the Dark Knight - He is professional

With a tip of the hat to my friend Keith Uhlich at The House Next Door, comes the next song in the Christian Bale saga.

Devin Faraci at Chud has written an interesting piece on how Christian Bale can get out of this “Bale Out” mess. He mentions that Bale should take the Tom Cruise route, and make fun of himself. While I generally agree, it should be noted that the place where Tom Cruise found himself after jumping the sofa/shouting at Matt Lauer/channelling Xenu came in the wake of a twenty or so year career as a bona fide movie star. As Devin says, Bale is not a star, and he can’t “open” a film, though his decision to shoulder reimaginings of, not one, but two fanboy-favourites seem to belie his I-am-a-thespian-and-I-care-only-for-my-craft-general-moroseness. I just don’t think it will be as easy for him to come out of this mess. Look at Cruise – he is nowhere near the star he used to be five years ago, and that’s after the kind of damage control reserved for high-ranking politicians, not star actors, from whom the public expects a certain amount of diva behaviour. Besides, Tom Cruise has a much more likeable persona (and is an infinitely more talented actor than Bale – until the latter proves otherwise by showing us he has the ability to smile).
Anyway, the best thing for Christian Bale’s people to do right now is to get on the phone with the producers of this year’s Oscar broadcast, Bill Condon and Laurence Mark, and get him a gig as a presenter at the Oscar ceremony. He could get up to present a minor award with Kevin James, who’d then “fuck up,” to which Bale would “react,” mimicking his Bale-out performance. It would be a YouTube moment, and it would show the world that the actor can laugh at himself. Lots of LOL’s and ROFLMAO’s. Everyone’s happy.

You’re quite welcome, Christian.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Ebony and Ivory

I bring you news today of the return of two particular blogosphere favourites from last year. Benjamin Lim’s White Elephant Blog-a-thon over at Lucid Screening and Odienator's Second Annual "Black History Mumf" at Big Media Vandalism.

This will be the 3rd Annual White Elephant Film Blogathon over at Ben’s blog. The rules are simple:

1) Submit the title of a movie that you want someone else to review (preferably something available via Netflix).
2) Review the movie that you get assigned and post the review on April 1st.
3) Have fun.

My assignment last year was Flash Gordon, the 1980 camp classic that is more famous for its soundtrack than anything else (with the possible exception of Brian Blessed’s gregarious turn as Prince Vultan, King of the Hawkmen: “GORDON’S ALIVE!” Indeed, Brian).
And the film I submitted, which Ferdy over at Ferdy on Films, etc. had to review was the seminal Whoopi Goldberg classic Theodore Rex, the film that so neatly captures the existential drama lying at the core of a truly Bergmanesque story involving a sassy female cop and an anthropomorphic dinosaur.
I have submitted my film for this year (not telling), and can’t wait to get my assignment.


Odienator’s Black History Mumf series features some of the wittiest pieces of writing on the blogosphere. Last year, I was especially taken by Odie’s review of a personal favourite:

The trio is standing outside a building on the Boulevard of Death in Queens, a building that, with the exception of an M made from arcs instead of arches, looks exactly like a McDonalds. It’s a hilarious sight gag for most people, but for Black folks it’s doubly hilarious. We’re used to knock-offs sprouting up in the ‘hood. On the corner of my brother’s block, for example, there’s a restaurant called Kantacky Fried Chicken. They sell a pail of chicken instead of a bucket. I bet in your ‘hood you can find a [fill in the blank with a place other than Kentucky] Fried Chicken. My cousin said she went someplace ghetto and they had Idaho Fried Chicken. “Their french fries were the shit,” she told me. I bet they were.

Anyway, this year’s Black History Mumf started on a different note than last year’s. But it’s still great.

Whenever my mother would tell me that I could be President if I worked hard, I would look at her as if she’d lost her mind. In our school history books, the only time the pictures had a tan were when they depicted cotton picking slaves, Sitting Bull, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., or George Hamilton. Every single president, from the wooden teeth of George Washington to the Log Cabin Republican called Lincoln, from the heft of William Howard Taft to the lustful heart of Jimmy Carter, from Tippicanoe and Tyler to the Forgetful Jones imitation who once had Bedtime for Bonzo—every single one of those pictures looked nothing like me. If you were a woman of any shade, they didn’t look like you, either. But one thing at a time.

Oh, and one last thing.

"He beat Joe Louis’s ass!"


“It’s my art. You are ruining my process!”

Christian Bale doesn’t utter those particular words, but he might as well have. By now, the recording of Christian Bale’s previously reported nutsoooo moment on the set of the new Terminator film(titled Terminator 4: Seriously?) has made the rounds on the interwebs for a good day, and most have had a chance to listen to Bale’s juvenile hissy fit as he makes the case for having the worst reputation of any actor in the industry by, first, cursing, and then, at one point, seemingly trying to physically assault, the movie’s DP, Shane Hurlbut. (And what’s going on with his accent, by the way, as his vowels do the tango through America, Wales and The East End?)

TMZ, which broke the original news and posted the recording, fills in the details:

It happened on the set after a director of photography accidentally ruined a scene by walking onto the set. Bale lost it, screaming, yelling and threatening to quit if the bosses didn't fire the dude.

Film execs sent the tape to the insurance company that insured the film in case Bale bailed.

It should be noted that if you listen to the file, it doesn’t actually sound like Shane Hurlbut walked into the set, but, instead, like he didn’t realise the cameras were still rolling, and proceeded to do his job, unaware that he was in Bale’s eyeline.

It is crucial, during a shoot, for an actor to be able to stay in the scene, and any distraction in their eye line, might rip them out of it. That’s funny because a sudden divertissement that destroys concentration is an ailment that is particular only to superstar actors. The rest of us mere mortals are such bastions of single-minded centralisation that we never, EVER, get distracted.

And of course if we did, we, too, would do like Antonioni and BLOW UP!

This is what I do not understand. A celebrity fit making the rounds is the kind of info nugget that usually invades my conscience but for a few minutes; however, reading some of the commentary (over at the Chud boards, for example, or Nathaniel’s excellent blog The Film Experience), I have come across a group of people who are, bizarrely, apologising for Bale’s petulance. Their central thesis is that acting is his lifeline, that Bale is an intense performer, and that all is fair in the pursuit of his craft.

These would all be valid were one able to transfer them to any other vocation save acting. You wouldn’t care that chopping meat was his only lifeline if you found yourself at the other end of a butcher’s spit-filled diatribe. You wouldn’t forgive an intense baker if he rocketed insults at you like a demented chimpanzee hurls its bowel movements. And you wouldn’t tolerate a candle-stick maker if he decided to use your most colloquial orifice as a snuffer.

Another reason to defend Bale seems to be the apparent clumsiness of the DP. In the file, Bale bitches about how this is the second time that he has ventured into the great thespian’s eyeline, and, like I said, that is one of the big no-no’s that Hurlbut should know better to avoid. That’s still no excuse to act like Nathan Lane’s Albert from The Birdcage – not everything can always go according to plan. People make mistakes. We all make mistakes. In fact, one of the unintentionally hilarious moments in the tape comes halfway through when Bale yells how unprofessional this is. For once, he’s right.

One of the crucial things when it comes to enjoying a piece of art is to dissociate one’s self from the artist, and enjoy the art itself. Your Christian Bales, your Ed Nortons, your David O. Russells make that very difficult indeed.

“Oh, but he’s so stressed!” Join the club, bitch.
UPDATE 2: This is awesome beyond measure. Hattip to John Lichman, who helpfully points out that the track is from the producer of RuPaul's new album.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Imagining Sisyphus Happy: A Groundhog Day Retrospective

For 16 years, Groundhog Day has been hailed as a meditation on self-redemption. But to pigeonhole it into one overarching theme would be an insult to the layered precision, and perfection, of Harold Ramis’s 1993 masterpiece, which ventures into the heart of darkness and despair to ultimately emerge unharmed, but not unmarked. This story of a man doomed to relive the same day over and over again is not concerned about tomorrow. A true absurdist triumph, it cares not what the destination might be, for it knows that the pursuit of meaning is itself meaningful whether or not that pursuit is eventually rewarded. Life might very well lack purpose, and it might very well be a struggle. But that doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole about it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

On yonder hill there stands a creature

You may or may not know that the recently departed poet/playwright/Nobel laureate Harold Pinter wrote a characteristically blunt poem before the Iraq war. It went like this:

The big pricks are out.
They'll fuck everything in sight.
Watch your back.

During a mail conversation just after Pinter died, a friend of mine fulminated in a Pinteresque rant himself:

I’ll miss him.

When normal people get old and go batty, people ignore them and put them in a home and start spending their inheritance. If you've written 29 plays and are considered famous and one of the Hampstead "we're socialist, honest guv" set, then people continue to listen to you. Hence the "big pricks are out" etc, etc. Had any normal granddad written that, he'd be dispatched like a shot to some out of the way Colditz-on-the-Wold and we'd all be riffling around under his bed for the reddies. It reminds of a Jeeves and Wooster novel, where one of Bertie's uncles was discovered in the drawing room "sticking straws in his hair". Also, an Evelyn Waugh short story which has some old major "hanging by his braces in the orangery". I daresay there is some small window of wisdom that comes just after youthful ignorance, and just before losing your marbles but, generally: you get old, you go weird.

Such is life.

The person who came up with the above paragraph will soon be joining me in infrequently updating – or frequently not updating – the blog. He will be using a pseudonym. It is Hipparsus, which is marginally better than his original choice for a nom de plume, Benjamin Buttmunch. Hipparsus, by the way, was a student of Pythagoras who discovered the existence of irrational numbers (like Pi, or The Dark Knight’s domestic gross – SNAP). His name is more commonly spelled Hippasus, but Hipparsus is nothing if not unpredictable.

There is a chance another person might also join us in a few weeks. There’s a party in my blog, and everyone’s invited. It’s a pity party.

But back to that Pinter poem. In September 2004, The Private Eye did a send up of it in a section called “Harold Pinter’s Revised Book of English Verse.” And lucky you, dear reader, because you can find it below.

One caveat: In order to get the joke, one really should be familiar with the original poems.

Then again, one really should be familiar with the original poems anyway.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Ten Tunes of 2008

My list of the best songs of 2008 is up at The House Next Door. Here's a teaser:

"I think it was Lester Bangs who said listening to Pink Floyd is like wrestling with shit. Him or Spiro Agnew. Whoever it was, they were right. It’s a band I tried to like for a long time—“everyone says they’re great, so they must be”—but I have finally come to the dawning realization that theirs is the type of music that should be confined to history—or the dorm rooms of frowzy, flatulent frat boys with too much money, too much time, and too much homegrown. From what I understand, the sempiternal Dark Side of the Moon is supposed to be a musical masterpiece, but I wouldn’t know, because try as I might, I have never been able to listen past “Money” lest I die of ennui. And, fine, I will be the first to admit that “Wish You Were Here” is a pretty good tune. But so was “I’ve got the key—I’ve got the secret.” I don’t see anyone waxing lyrical about the euphonious delights of Urban Cookie Collective."

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our survey says...

Every year around Oscar time, Edward Copeland organises an Oscar survey. The first one in 2006 was on the best and worst movies to have won the best film Oscar. 2007’s survey was on lead actresses, and last year’s on lead actors.

Due to personal reasons, Ed is unable to run this year’s survey, but he says that, hopefully, he will be back next year. In the meantime, Brooke Cloudbuster at The Performance Review has agreed to conduct this year’s survey, which will be on the best and worst supporting actress Oscar winners. The deadline is February 10th.

Survey. I just wanted to say survey again. Survey. Survey. Survey.

Click here for this year’s survey.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"There's a nurse on duty if you don't feel right."

What’s your favourite bit from This is Spinal Tap? “This one goes to eleven” is wonderful, sure, and one of the few gags in the history of the cinema to retain its original brilliance, and oomph after nearly thirty years. Stonehenge is another one, not to mention Derek Smalls’s (Harry Shearer) comment during the post-gig group discussion – after the gigantic (or miniscule) fuck-up on stage – that they might want to restage the number the following night with different choreography. Or Smalls, again, but this time reacting to news that the record company is experimenting with the band’s new album cover: “They have monkeys opening it?”

Sure enough, those are all sublime moments from one of the greatest films of all time. Yet, what I find most delightful are the slightly less zany moments, the emotional heart of the film itself – the relationship between the bandmates. Michael McKean’s Christopher St Hubbins and Smalls at a roof party marking the end of Tap’s ill-fated American tour, and possibly their careers, babbling on about their long-abandoned dream projects (“You’re a naughty one, saucy Jack”). Or the sheer frustruation tinged with a sense of sudden loss and deep sadness as St Hubbins declares that he and Nigel Tufnell (Christopher Guest) shan’t work together ever again. Then there’s the single, most tremendous moment in the entire film as Tufnell comes to visit the band backstage before one last gig, and, after a confrontational exchange with St Hubbins, asks him to do a great show.

It is those little moments of character and emotion that resonate the most, and they have always been mainstays of Guest’s mockumentaries. Both Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show feature groups of people with questionable intellects, and Guest and his exceptional troupe of actors always approach the characters with sympathy and pathos, providing a genuine core of emotion to the enveloping farce. In A Mighty Wind, the pathos, for the first time in a Guest feature, takes centre stage, and it’s somewhat overwhelming. Roger Ebert, for example, wrote in his review, “(T)he key characters in "A Mighty Wind," especially (Eugene) Levy and (Catherine) O'Hara, take on a certain weight of complexity and realism that edges away from comedy and toward sincere soap opera.”

A Mighty Wind is, indeed, a somewhat uneven film. The parts that make it up are rather splendid, but they fail to cohere – the naïveté of the performers and folk music as a whole are too nice a target, especially the way they’re refashioned in the film. Guest approaches the people, as well as the songs, with such genuine compassion and tenderness that, by the end of the film, the satire aspect has gone right out the window. But, seeing these incredibly talented actors, with an obvious love for the project, perform at the top of their game – not just acting, but also performing the songs, including a brilliant little ditty chronicling the chronicles of a wanderer, who never quite managed to wander – I was unable not to fall in love with it. It’s my favourite of all Christopher Guest films.

The set-up owes a lot to This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. The death of a folk music mogul inspires his son, Jonathan Steinbloom, underplayed to subtle perfection by Bob Balaban, to organise a memorial concert in his honour, bringing together three of the more successful bands of the oeuvre during its 1960’s heyday: The New Main Street Singers (featuring, among others, Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins), reduced to performing their acoustic set under the pandemonium of a roller coaster with only one remaining member from the original line-up; The Folksmen (McKean, Guest and Shearer, together again), one-hit wonders, who partake in long and heavy discussions to conclude that their original look might now be considered retro, even though, in the sixties, it was nowtro; and Mitch and Mickey (Levy and O’Hara), former lovers scarred, not just by each other (and, in Mitch’s case, years of psychosis), but also their music. Pretty much everything one expects from such a set-up ends up happening, including temper tantrums, set-list problems, and one major issue with the floral arrangements in the lobby.

The film is not a laugh-riot, that’s for sure. But there are some belly laughs, mostly provided by three veteran actors from Guest’s previous mockumentaries. In his one brief scene, the late great Paul Benedict probably provides the film’s best one-liner (improvised, of course); and Fred Willard and Ed Begley Jr together steal the show, the former as a truly bizarre showbiz agent, and the latter as a Swedish TV producer with a penchant for Yiddish. And some of the songs give “Big Bottom” a run for its money (pay special attention to the last line of the eponymous tune).

Yet what we end up with doesn’t have anything further in common with Guest’s previous directorial efforts. There is an unsettling undercurrent to the leading couple from The New Main Street Singers, one of whom used to be in the, erm, adult movie industry, but is now a modern-day witch, with – this is genius – a cult based on the power of colour, and that aura of unease is always around them, but it doesn’t amount to much. The Folksmen are all too happy to be given a second chance, and one of them even undertakes a drastic change by the end of the film, one that mirrors a certain member of the real-life band Jethro Tull (I used to listen to them, and never heard the end of it from my friends at university). And Mitch and Mickey have such a sweet story, and such a beautiful song, that they leave no room for cynicism, or even true satire. That can only be a good thing.