Tuesday, January 29, 2013

2013 Best Picture Nominees: Nine Movies You May Have Actually Seen

Just realized two things: 1) I haven't handicapped the Best Picture candidates for the 2013 Oscars yet, and 2) I handicapped the Worst Picture candidates for the 2013 Razzie Awards first. That's backwards. I was probably preoccupied or something, but it's kinda telling. Also, I've only seen three of the nine nominated films-- but the three I saw were quite amazing, so I can tell picking a Best is going to be tough sledding this year. I'll venture a guess that this is going to be the first year in a long time where Best Picture and Best Director are going to be split.

Anyhoo, here are the noteworthy nine:

Amour - Didn't see it. Hardly anybody saw it. However, Michael Haneke got a Best Director nod, so if you believe in the conventional wisdom it has a better chance of netting the big tamale than Argo, Django and Zero Dark Thirty.

Argo - Very enjoyable, hyper-tense and pitch-perfect storytelling. Not sure why Ben Affleck didn't get the director nom. Maybe because he's the star as well, and the Academy voters found it too… I don't know, Afflecky. (A measure of quantity, not quality: he was fine in both roles.)

Beasts of the Southern Wild - Didn't see it. The members of AMPAS have gone for low-budget, little-seen films before (as in last year's The Artist), and they could do it again.

Django Unchained - I get to walk away from objectivity here and say, once again, I hope Tarantino's hitless streak continues. He's still purveying his uniquely unoriginal brand of warmed-over 70s exploitation-film faux junk.

Russell Crowe in Les Misérables, singin' his ass off,
live and mere inches from both Hugh Jackman and the
protective anti-spittle filter on the camera lens.
Les Misérables - There was fascinating article in the New York Times about this film, and why so many critics have savaged it AND the audiences who loved it. It has something to do with Tom Hooper's technique of having the actors singing live and in super-close up. It's so intimate that the audience cannot pull away, to get some emotional distance from the subject. this approach makes it absolutely sincere, emotionally raw and true, which makes viewing and evaluating Les Misérables in way-too-typical ironic detachment mode difficult, if not impossible. Irony is the inch-deep sea most critics swim in these days. Hence the brickbats.

Life of Pi - Didn't see it. But Ang Lee got the nod, and I have a strange feeling this one may just take it.

Lincoln - Saw it and loved it. makes you proud to be an American-- in a good way, not a somewhat guilty Zero Dark Thirty way.

Silver Linings Playbook - Did not see it. Close second in best picture race, I think. David O' Russell has been a player for a while, and he may well get his due.

Zero Dark Thirty - Just saw this, and it is amazing, mature and complex. Far from taking sides on things like torture or detainee interrogation it showed the moral complexities involved in it, issues that go deep into the psyche of the intelligence community and post-9/11 America in general. Unfortunately, Kathryn Bigelow took home statues two years ago for The Hurt Locker.

Interesting note: the three Oscar-nominated films I saw - Lincoln, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty-- are of the exact same genre: historical fiction. They're dramatized enactments of important but either obscure or classified moments of American history. In fact, anyone with a reasonable good knowledge of history knows how each film ends. But each of the three was compelling and surprising, telling their stories with such skill that I didn't care that I knew how the curtain falls on each one.

Which is why movies are, even in this big effects tentpole and comic book obsessed era of cinematic history,  still so damned great.

More fun Oscar observations after the Stewie Griffin-hosted awards ceremony!

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Daily Variety for the numbers, kids!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Variety finds the numbers for me! Go to Variety.com and look at 'em yourself, tonight, when they're final!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks, you Variety.com guys!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Six Million Things To Watch For

Every January in Los Angeles, another digital sub-channel appears with a slate of reruns from a quarter century ago. I have gotten used to THIS-TV and ME-TV and ANTENNA-TV. Now I'm shocked to see a new one, nestled just under NBC-4: COZI-TV. Like the other stations is basically an outlet for a particular studio library. THIS TV is mostly MGM, Antenna is Columbia product. Cozi serves up Universal Studios properties. And it was on it that last night I became reacquainted with Steve Austin, a man barely alive, rebuilt; made better than he was. Better, stronger, faster. The Six Million Dollar Man.

Your enjoyment of Six Million Dollar Man episodes may be enhanced by this fun guide of things to watch out for in each episode.

Harve Bennett. Bennett produced the show; he was also associated with the early Star Trek movies. Star Trek and he are pretty bundled up, which is probably why so many TOS actors wound up doing guest shots on 6MDM. Shatner, for example, played an astronaut with a mysterious brain problem in Burning Bright; George Takei appeared in The Coward. It's also Harve Bennet's voice you hear in the credits, intoning "Steve Austin: a man barely alive". The story is they added the line when Richard Anderson wasn't available.

Universal Studios. Even if the show hadn't been a hit, Universal might have kept it going as a way to amortize already used assets. Just about every inch of the Universal backlot wound up as an exterior in some episode. In one particularly egregious case, the studio had built a rotating ice tunnel for a section of the tour based on The Eiger Sanction. 6MDM wrote an episode around the tunnel, featuring perhaps the only character that was bigger on lunchboxes at the time than Steve Austin. Bigfoot! Bigfoot was played by Andre the Giant. And why not.

Lee Majors - can he act? Depends on the episode. Sometimes he can, sometimes not. Sometimes it matters, usually it's completely beside the point. My best guess is he could act but only if everyone involved thought it was necessary.

Dude always dressed like an action figure
Adults or Kids? Like Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, 6MDM was conceived as serious science fiction but gradually drifted into kiddie show territory as the numbers came in. It's fun to watch them dancing around who they think their audience is THIS time. Pro tip: the Bigfoot episode probably isn't for adults, so much.

Physics. This is old ground but it still bugs me. I can understand the Bionic eye, sure. But if you take that little computer diagram in the credits as accurate, Steve Austin had a super strong bionic arm and leg installed. Which is fine until he attempts to throw a  Range Rover at someone. Because he DOESN'T HAVE A BIONIC PELVIS AND SPINE. You'd expect those things to snap like a twig, right?  And how much more would it have cost to spruce up the ol' johnson, know what I mean? It's not like it wasn't damaged in the crash. That kind of accident would tear up a guy's schmeckel pretty good, I bet. Well, you only saw him once a week... maybe they dealt with this question on one of the other six days.

What Would He Cost Now? Interesting question, my friend. CNN asked that question in 2008 and determined that he would be the Up-To-100-million-dollar man. While it's true that inflation would indicate a $26 million price tag, don't forget that none of this stuff is off the shelf parts. R&D ain't cheap

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

33rd Razzie Awards Noms Announced

Taking their usual place of (dis)honor the day before the Academy Awards nomination announcement, the snarkmeisters behind the Golden Raspberry Awards announced the 2012 candidates this morning. Most of 'em are the usual suspects-- but I have to admit this year's five ignominious Worst Picture Noms movies are unusually novel.

Those Worst Movie nominees (and bear in mind, I have seen none of these films):

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
- Alright, it made over $800 million dollars in total BO, but I'll agree that's no reason not to believe it's terrible. It also nailed ten other nominations. There is a reason the Razzie people go after a film like this, one that is crafted for the low expectations of a YA-oriented audience: it has to do with the fanboy nature of the Razzie nominating body. As I have noted before, these are the same folks that thought that The Last Airbender was a worse cinematic affront than Sex in the City 2.

Battleship - Well-deserved. It's one thing to take a line of toys and fashion a franchise of brick-stupid movies out of them. It's quite another thing for an injection-molded plastic board game to be the inspiration for an insanely overproduced effects epic. Okay, they're not different at all, really. Still: why?

Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure - This prefabricated Teletubbies rip-off went down as one of the biggest bombs of 2012: made for $20 million, it took $445,000 opening weekend. It sounds absolutely ghastly, and it garnered some of the funniest reviews I've read in a while.

That's My Boy! - I've mentioned elsewhere that Adam Sandler is getting a bit too old and sour to do his mugging act in his movies anymore. I was proven right and wrong in 2012: he played Jack and Jill in Jack and Jill, so he could both shamelessly mug and be his own dour straight man. In That's My Boy! Sandler plays the estranged, degenerate jailbird dad of Andy Samberg. Adam trots out his gross-out Party Boy persona for this character-- but the problem here is the puckish charm that made this persona at least palatable in past movies is all but gone now. In cases like this, you're supposed to compensate for having a charmless protag with superb, witty writing (i.e. Bad Santa). Nope.

A Thousand Words - This long, long, long-delayed Eddie Murphy film garnered an amazing rating of ZERO percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It was the effective and anticlimactic end of the High-Concent Redemption Comedy sub-genre (Liar Liar, Groundhog Day, Click, etc.).

Back to the Razzie Awards Press release: I read the 2012 noms on the LATimes website, then tried to follow the link to their website. Razzies.com is a terrible, terrible place: crowded, ugly layout, counter-intuitive navigation, infested with ads and pop-ups. I would almost believe it was created to be awful on purpose.

Regardless of the remarkable fecklessness of their web presence, the Razzies serve an absolutely vital function: they're one of the few checks on unbridled ego and hype-induced delusion left in the motion picture industry. The AMPAS, the AFI and MPAA should underwrite the damn thing.

The Razzie Award ceremony is apparently a fun, low-budget affair-- one where actual, A-list nominees sometimes appear. Sandra Bullock showed up for the 2009 awards, accepting her Golden Raspberry for All About Steve. The hilarious part: apparently Sandra walked out toting the original Golden Raspberry Award prototype. The Razzie officials eventually had to ask for it back, in exchange for the standard $1.98 gold spray-painted plastic award.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Weekend Box Office Figures

Thanks to Variety.com for the figures

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Downton Abbey Spoiler Challenge

•••NOTE: there are NO Spoilers in this article.•••

Shirley MacLaine, as Fran Kebelik in "The Apartment"
(1960). I just caught this on TCM a few days ago, and
it's still a huge favorite of mine. MacLaine was never
after quite as adorable as she was in this film, short
hair and all. Has anyone ever written a scholarly thesis on
the semiotic meaning of Miss Kubelik's boy-like bob?
The long-awaited Season 3 of "Downton Abbey," ITV's extremely popular 1920s melodrama/ meditation on class harmony/ Edwardian nostalgia fest, aired in the US last night, introduced by an overly excited Laura Linney. Special guest Shirley MacLaine showed up as Cora's mother, American-ing the place up for a spell. The familiar storylines started up again, and a few new ones cranked up as well.

I forgot who pointed this out, but there is an aspect of "Downton Abbey" that should be noted by every aspiring film writer, director and editor-- a trick Julian Fellowes uses throughout the show that sets it apart from most others, something that adds energy to a potentially dull subject. As you watch the show (and you should!) make note of how long an average sequence lasts. They rarely last longer than one minute. There are something like fifty sequences in each hour-long episode-- each one dense with plot. An effective editing trick: the viewer becomes a restless eye, hovering ghost-like throughout the humongous estate, flicking upstairs and down, taking in all events occuring therein. This minute-sequence editing gimmick also pays off in reverse: in scenes where something truly momentous happens, the clock gets turned off. The extra time spent in these big sequences registers at a subconscious level, underscoring their importance.

It's a nifty show, even an important one. And I've seen every single episode of Season Three. Through the incomprehensible scheme of airing the season premiere of "Downton Abbey" in the US a week and half after the conclusion of the same season in the UK, combined with the magic of the Internet, we were able to enjoy the series on the UK schedule. So I have the power and ability to thoroughly ruin it for all of you.

I won't do it, of course.

But this brings up something else, a notion that has been batting around on sites like Slate and Vulture and elsewhere: Spoiler Etiquette.

"It's the story... of a man named Crawley...
who was bringing up three very lovely girls..."
We've all been in a situation at work or a social gathering when someone is about to discuss a recently seen TV show.* "Spoiler Alert!," someone will say. "Shush! I DVR'd it! Don't give anything away!" The potential spoiler, so eager to share a good show, is quashed, and the subject is awkwardly shifted to something else.

The question at hand: who is the villain in this little scene?

 It would seem like the "spoiler," is the social transgressor-- but he or she just wanted to share thoughts on something, to join in what likely is the national water-cooler discussion topic.

The new realization is the villain is actually the "shusher," the one who didn't see it. After all, the "spoiler" made the time for a viewing appointment-- and actually watched the show as it was being broadcast. This is how the creators of the show, the broadcasters of it and even the advertisers who paid for it want you to watch it. Even the "water cooler" discussion the next morning is a strong social positive, playing up the cultural commonality of every participant.

The "shusher," on the other hand is, intentionally or not, selfish. He or she is obviously enthusiastic about the show about to be discussed (or else why bother shushing, right?) but has recorded the show for later viewing at their own convenience. Sometimes, they don't even do that (it is cheaper, after all, to watch "Boardwalk Empire" nine months late on Netflix than subscribe to HBO). Not too long ago it was impossible to "time-shift" viewing: If you missed the last episode of "M*A*S*H" or the "Chuckles Bites The Dust" episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" you just had to patiently wait for summer reruns. Technology has changed all that, of course-- but it has not changed the nature of storytelling, hence the ever-spreading spoiler etiquette crisis. Shushing stifles open discussion, smothers cultural commonality, and drowns the water cooler conversation.

Yet we are a painfully polite sort of people (well, most of us are) so we make a strenuous effort not to spoil anyone's potential enjoyment. We back down from spoiling every time. The problem is, by doing so we spoil our own enjoyment.

 So please, watch every superbly edited minute-long sequence of "Downton Abbey"-- safe in the knowledge I, for one, won't give away any of the absolutely shattering, mind-blowing events that will unfold in the yet-unaired episodes. I'll take one for the home team.

*I'm talking about the phenomenon of TV Show spoilers here, one that has been abetted by new technologies like DVRs and DVDs. Movie-ending spoilers have been around for a hundred years, and I think there is a special level in cinematic hell for those who chronically spoil movies.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Weekend Box Office

Thanks to Variety.com for the numbers. Click through and see 'em yourself!