30 January 2014

Why Ostriches and Arrested Development are a Perfect Match

There was a lot going into the highly anticipated Fourth Season of Arrested Development when all fifteen episodes launched simultaneously on Netflix six months ago. Would they be worthy successors to the impeccable first three seasons? Would they managed to maintain a high level of twisty plot while separating the primary cast into their own individual-centric episodes? Would there be a heady amount of symbolism centered around a certain enormous flightless bird?

We probably weren't thinking about that last one when we went into this whole thing. One of the stranger bits about the Netflix-only episodes of Arrested was the ubiquitous presence of ostriches. It seemed like such a bizarrely random animal to include in almost every episode appearing to almost every character. I couldn't really find a good explanation online, so as a proud American, I did my own research and looked up three possible reasons along with the proper instances of each. Bluck bluck.

1) An Ostrich is Commonly Known to Bury its Head in the Sand

One of the more common ostrich stereotypes is that the large flightless bird, perhaps due to its purportedly tiny brain, buries its head in the ground at the first sign of danger, thus thinking it's safe because if it can't see danger, there must be no danger, despite the huge awkward body exposed for everyone to eat. Now, this isn't really true at all, ostriches more commonly run at the first sign of danger - because they're really fast. Still, the cultural understanding of ostriches as representative of ignorance or delusion persists. This sums up most of Arrested Development pretty well, but here are some specific instances of characters exhibiting ignorance or delusion:

At the end of "Flight of the Phoenix" (S4;E1), Michael is nearly run over by an ostrich upon entering his mother's (former) apartment at the Balboa Towers. This is after incorrectly guessing that the destruction of the interior was caused by Buster or Gob when it was really Lindsay. In turn this is representative of Michael's continued feeling of superiority, when really, he has no idea what's been going on with the rest of the family.

In "Indian Takers" (S4;E3), Maebe, while disguised as the Indian shaman, literally tells Lindsay to pull her head out of the sand. At the time, Lindsay was on a "quest for self-discovery," although she isn't acting any differently. Likewise, Shuturmurg, India is hindi for "ostrich," which fits in every category we'll present today. When Lindsay, Tobias, and Maebe are all there at the same time, no one realizes that anyone else is there.

There is a very quick moment in "Queen B." (S4;E10) where Lucille admits that the last time she cried was when she found her dead ostrich. She's cut off due to Tobias' own ignorance - the one time where she actually has the breakthrough he's been trying to pry out of her, Tobias is caught up in his own delusions of theater stradom as well as forming a doomed relationship with DeBrie.

In "Señoritis" (S4;E12), it's revealed in a quick shot that the mascot of the high school that Maebe is currently attending is the "Ostriches." While Maebe was always fairly successful, if not just conniving in the original run of Arrested Development, she begins Season Four stuck in a rut in High School. As years go by before she realizes just how far behind she's fallen, there's no better representation of her arrested development in high school then an ostrich, who would rather pretend everything is fine than do anything about it. Hey, that's the name of the show.

There is also this bit from "Off the Hook" (S4;E14), which presents a joke ostrich that looks a whole lot like Buster, along with the manipulation of Lucille Austero. Lucille 2 uses Buster's weakness to juice to cause him to miss his mother's trial, to the detriment of her rival Lucille. Buster's whole life is delusional and sheltered without any real world skills or means to support himself, a perfect ostrich.

2) Job 39: 13-18 - the Disregard of Children

I will also give Reddit credit for this - but there is also some heady Bible symbolism concerning ostriches. Job (of course) 39: 13-18 in the NRSV reads:
'The ostrich's wings flap wildly, though its pinions lack plumage. For it leaves its eggs to the earth, and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them, and that a wild animal my trample them. It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own; through its labor should be in vain, yet it has no fear; because God has made it forget wisdom, and given it no share in understanding. When it spreads its plumes aloft, it laughs at the horse and its rider.'
There are plenty of moments in Arrested Development in general where parents deal cruelly with their children, and in the case of both Lindsay and Buster, they are not even the offspring of George Sr. and Lucille. Season Four also explores in more detail the strained relationship between Michael and George Michael, based on a complete lack of understanding on the part of the selfish parent "ostrich." There are a few specific instances:

In "Indian Takers," Maebe's appearance as a shaman to her mother, Lindsay is mostly to get her delusional mother to pay attention to her. When she is seemingly replaced with an ostrich near the episode's end it captures the idea that she has completely (as is typical) forgotten about her child.

In "Double Crossers" (S4;E6), Gob dooms Father B.'s colony because he had to swerve to avoid an ostrich, which tipped over his box of sick bees. This is not only symbolic of the continued disappointment he brings to his father, but since George Sr. wasn't even involved in asking for Gob's help (Lucille told Oscar, who was impersonating George at the time), it's another case of a parent having no idea what their child was doing.

3) Ancient New Life Symbolism

According to mostly this, ostriches mostly lay their eggs between January and March. In Ancient Egypt, this was associated with the end of the Winter Solstice and the new year. Thus ostrich eggs began to symbolize the changing of cycles or new life. When you started seeing ostrich eggs on the ground, you new spring would be around the corner. It's like the Egyptian version of Groundhog Day.

The Fourth Season of Arrested Development is primarily about new beginnings and new chances at life. This then offers the richest text for symbolism. Starting with "Flight of the Phoenix," which itself represents new birth after life both in its title and Michael's journey to begin anew in Phoeni, AZ, when Michael is attacked by Cindy the ostrich in Lucille's penthouse, it's representative of his new direction, to be explored in "The B. Team" (S4;E4).

One of the more crucial changing moments in the show happens in "Borderline Personalities" (S4;E2) when a spiritual shaman (later revealed to be Marky Bark) appears as an ostrich to George Sr. and Oscar and proclaims that "The strong shall become the weak and the weak shall become the strong." Afterwards George and Oscar seem to switch personalities. The ostrich here again, symbolizes the new life for both characters.

"Indian Takers" is full of this kind of stuff. Shuturmurg, India represents an attempt at a new start (see the delusions, above) for Lindsay and Tobias. Likewise, Marky Bark's ostrich farm serves as a more tangible new direction for Lindsay, away from her husband and family (for a time, at least). When Marky's ostrich, Cindy follows them to Lucille's penthouse in "Red Hairing" (S4;E8), it's the same deal. In fact, it's also explicitly the ostrich which runs Maebe out from the same apartment in "Señoritis."

Michael's something car - "the ostrich," represents both a new classic AD car as well as his new life direction in "The B. Team."  In "Queen B." Lucille is moved by an ostrich piñata she sees at Cinco de Quatro, which possibly merely reminds her of the breakthrough she almost had with Tobias and causes her to actually complete therapy. It causes a huge new change in her where she refuses to play the villain any more. Arrested Development in typical fashion brings this subtext directly to the forefront where she also very literally chooses to no longer play the villain in Tobias' awful Fantastic Four musical. Needless to say, Tobias understands none of the subtext.

A similar event happens with Gob in "A New Attitude" (S4;E11), where he sees an ostrich shadow while contemplating revenge on Tony Wonder that reminds him of his time as a Feral Jesus trapped in a storage locker. That's possibly one of the most insane sentences ever written. Gob deals with lots of crazy feelings, from misunderstanding his own feelings of friendship for homosexual interest to his growing love/hate relationship with Wonder himself. It's all a new life.

Finally, in "A New Start" (S4;E5), Lucille 2 offers Tobias a new job at Austerity after he helps her after being attacked by an ostrich. This shapes the remainder of Tobias' narrative in the show. Cindy essentially becomes a pretty heady plot device that causes many characters to take inventory of their lives and create some kind of new beginning.

There are some notable episodes that don't feature ostriches, which is crazy to think that there are fewer episodes without this long running symbolic gag that episodes that contain it. These are "Colony Collapse" (S4;E7), "Smashed" (S4;E9), and the two George Michael episodes, "It Gets Better" (S4;E13), and "Blockheads" (S4;E15). This is despite many life changing moments for George Michael, in particular in "Blockheads." Perhaps this is also because George Michael is, despite his naivety, one of the more well-rounded and less delusional characters in the show.

The fourth season was somehow far richer and dense than anything Hurwitz had given us before. Part of that stems from the nature of the show closely following each character individually rather than as a group. Running gags still abounded, and the random ostrich running across the screen in "Flight of the Phoenix" didn't garner an immediate payoff, but understanding the series as a whole and embracing its change is crucial to enjoying the densest comedy of all time. At least that's what the new life ostriches represent. So get your head out of the sand and get a Netflix account.

23 January 2014

2014 Oscar Nominations and Predictions - Let the Crapshoot Begin!

After sitting on the Academy Award Nominations for a week I think I'm really on to something here. No, it will be a crapshoot as always. My best year predicting winners was 2012, where I scored 16/24. Last year I got 14 correct. But this year! This year, my friends, I am going to bat 1.000. I swear.

The Oscars are kind of pointless, though, you know? The best film of the year doesn't win - the film that best positions itself in the hearts and minds of voters wins. And honestly, how many of you are out there re-watching, quoting or even still thinking about The King's Speech (2010), The Artist (2011), or even Argo (2012)? Oscars don't prove quality, longevity, or cultural significance. Then why bother with this at all? Because of huge heapings of arbitrary self-importance, that's why - and for the slim chance that future DVD releases Bad Grandpa can label it as an Oscar-winning film. Let's begin.

Best picture
12 Years a Slave
The Wolf of Wall Street
Captain Phillips
American Hustle
Dallas Buyers Club

Predicted Winner: 12 Years a Slave

This is ending up being a pretty heated race between Slave, Hustle, and Gravity. I may be more inclined to suggest Hustle as the forerunner right now based on its impressive runs at he SAG. Then again, you've got Slave tying Gravity at the PGAs. It's a mess. I'm inclined that the large acting section of the Academy leans towards 12 Years a Slave more than Cuaron's film. It's also had the most buzz since September. Still, this is wide open.

Best director
Steve McQueen: 12 Years a Slave
David O. Russell: American Hustle
Alfonso Cuaron: Gravity
Alexander Payne: Nebraska
Martin Scorsese: The Wolf of Wall Street

Predicted Winner: Alfonso Cuaron

We'll have a better idea of this after the DGAs this weekend. I am predicting a split between Best Picture and Director, with Cuaron nailing this for the complex filmmaking experience of Gravity, as well as a bit of a consolation prize for losing Best Picture. This could easily be completely reversed.

Best actor
Bruce Dern: Nebraska
Chiwetel Ejiofor: 12 Years a Slave
Matthew McConaughey: Dallas Buyers Club
Leonardo DiCaprio: The Wolf of Wall Street
Christian Bale: American Hustle

Predicted Winner: Matthew McConaughey

We're truly in an age of McConaughey. Not only is the dude playing exactly the kind of role the Academy digs (historical biopic tangling a tough issue that also involved a ton of weight loss), he pulled it out of his own recently resurgent persona. Despite some damn good competition, he's also been rolling in the awards like the good ol' boy he is. Let the McConaissance reign.

Best actress
Amy Adams: American Hustle
Cate Blanchett: Blue Jasmine
Judi Dench: Philomena
Sandra Bullock: Gravity
Meryl Streep: August: Osage County

Predicted Winner: Cate Blanchette

This may be the oldest batch of Best Actress nominees in years, and so it comes with some tremendous pedigree. Everyone here except for Amy already owns a gold statue, although Cate and Judi don't have a Best Actress one. This is looking more and more like Cate's race to lose, though it's really one of the movies with a lower profile on this list.

Best supporting actor
Barkhad Abdi: Captain Phillips
Bradley Cooper: American Hustle
Jonah Hill: The Wolf of Wall Street
Jared Leto: Dallas Buyers Club
Michael Fassbender: 12 Years a Slave

Predicted Winner: Jared Leto

After an awkward Golden Globes acceptance speech, Leto has righted his ship a bit after the SAGs. There isn't a ton of suspense here, although Fassbender deserves to sneak in for the upset. I still think Jonah Hill deserves this one for going absolutely crazy, and his analogous character in Goodfellas (1990) did earn Joe Pesci a statue. I think this still has a bit of wiggle room, but for now Leto is the safe bet.

Best supporting actress
Jennifer Lawrence: American Hustle
Lupita Nyong'o: 12 Years a Slave
June Squibb: Nebraska
Julia Roberts: August: Osage County
Sally Hawkins: Blue Jasmine

Predicted Winner: Lupita Nyong'o

This is really coming down to Nyong'o vs. J-Law, and they couldn't be happier. Seriously. Nyong'o gave the sort of breathless performance that is really deserving of this, and it's tough to argue that Lawrence did a better job here than in Silver Linings Playbook (2012), which you have to compare her to. Then again, Christoph Waltz basically turned in two identical characters (albeit on different sides of good and evil) that earned him two statues, so you know the Academy likes cozying up to people it likes. This goes back and forth a bit, but right now it's Nyong'o's to lose.

Best original screenplay
American Hustle: David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer
Blue Jasmine: Woody Allen
Her: Spike Jonze
Nebraska: Bob Nelson
Dallas Buyers Club: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Predicted Winner: American Hustle

I think that this will serve as a nice consolation for Hustle after it loses Best Picture and Best Director, although despite its recent gains, it's headed in the opposite direction of positive attention online lately as it something like Her, which both nabbed this award at the Golden Globes and just had this nifty documentary put out by Lance Bangs. I think that Her is a much more interesting film, one that will stand the test of time better, and even one that is better written, but like I said, none of that matters.

Best adapted screenplay
12 Years a Slave: John Ridley
Before Midnight: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater
The Wolf of Wall Street: Terence Winter
Captain Phillips: Billy Ray
Philomena: Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope

Predicted Winner: 12 Years a Slave

This isn't that difficult to figure out. Although Wolf is probably the steepest competition, the praise (or hate) of this film hasn't really been in the writing. Slave is slow and meditating, but the dialogue is punctured and real, which is impressive considering it takes place 170 years ago.

Best animated feature
The Wind Rises
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Croods

Predicted Winner: Frozen

If the Academy leans towards Miyazaki, who has never really been acknowledged by the organization, I can see The Wind Rises grabbing this. Frozen, however, is just far to easy to nominate and adore for it to go home in this category empty-handed. Notably absent is Pixar's effort for 2013, Monsters University, which perhaps signifies that their dominance in this category is truly over.

Best foreign feature
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
Omar (Palestinian territories)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

Predicted Winner: The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty is getting more praise and buzz than anyone else in this group, and after it won over Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) at the Golden Globes it's almost a sure thing here. Of course, I know nothing about the rest of these nominees to even guess a possible upset, but shouldn't that suggest that The Great Beauty is destined for more greatness?

Best documentary feature
The Act of Killing
20 Feet From Stardom
The Square
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars

Predicted Winner: An Act of Killing

I was also surprised that Blackfish (2013) was snubbed here after it actually made some waves (oh ho!) in people's actual lives and attitudes like few movies, let alone documentaries actually do on a wide level. Maybe after The Cove (2009) the Academy thought it had already honoured enough documentary subjects concerning people endangering aquatic mammals. I say, it's never enough. An Act of Killing has the second most buzz of any doc this year. Let's go with that.

Best production design
12 Years a Slave: Adam Stockhausen and Alice Baker
The Great Gatsby: Catherine Martin and Beverley Dunn
American Hustle: Judy Becker and Heather Loeffler
Gravity: Andy Nicholson, Rosie Goodwin and Joanne Woollard
Her: K.K. Barrett and Gene Serdena

Predicted Winner: The Great Gatsby

Many are predicting Gatsby here, which is shaping up to be that weird kind of shitty movie that racks up bizarre quasi-technical awards like this and costuming. If Gravity or Slave start rolling, though, this is an easy pick-up on the way to a sweep.

Best cinematography
Gravity: Emmanuel Lubezki
Inside Llewyn Davis: Bruno Delbonnel
Nebraska: Phedon Papamichael
Prisoners: Roger Deakins
The Grandmaster: Phillippe Le Sourd

Predicted Winner: Emmanuel Lubezki

I would have immediately thought this one would go to Sean Bobbit for 12 Years a Slave for the gorgeous way that picture looked, but he's no where to be found. There's a nice nod to Roger Deakins here, who hasn't won an Academy Award in 11 nominations, including his favored work last year for Skyfall (2012). Lubezki, though, isn't really a slouch either, with five nominations and no wins. If the Academy really feels like they slighted Deakins last year he may walk away with this, but if you play the odds, he's got to lose, right?

Best costume design
The Great Gatsby: Catherine Martin
12 Years a Slave: Patricia Norris
The Grandmaster: William Chang Suk Ping
American Hustle: Michael Wilkinson
The Invisible Woman: Michael O'Connor

Predicted Winner: American Hustle

This is another one of those categories that Gatsby may walk away with, especially because it's looking to turn into one of those doofy Anna Karenina (2012) - kind of flicks that dominates these categories. It's just good enough to be popular and respected, but not really of the cut for Best Picture. Even with all that, though I'm going out and suggesting that Hustle pulls a mild upset here and gets some recognition for the all-around insanity that was their hair, make-up, and outfits. No hair and makeup nods, so here you go.

Best film editing
Gravity: Alfonso Cuaron, Mark Sanger
12 Years a Slave: Joe Walker
Captain Phillips: Christopher Rouse
American Hustle: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten
Dallas Buyers Club: John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa

Predicted Winner: Gravity

I don;t think there is much competition here - Gravity could win really from its lack of editing, as Cuaron likes to do. He could be one of those rare individuals to go home with two separate statues on the same night, which seems likely. Really, Cuaron has been making crazy good films for years, mostly thanks to his editing style, and this should serve as a nice acknowledgement for that.

Best makeup and hairstyling
The Lone Ranger: Joel Harlow and Gloria Pasqua-Casny
Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa: Stephen Prouty
Dallas Buyers Club: Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews

Predicted Winner: Dallas Buyers Club

So, yeah, Bad Grandpa needs to win this and Johnny Knoxville needs to collect the award as Irving Zissman. The much safer bet is the more prestigious Dallas Buyers Club, though, with the other films being a bit lowly for the Academy to acknowledge in its stead. Still, I have said for years how surprisingly good the Jackass old people make-up is and how much studios can learn from them. Will that be credited? This is the biggest award of the night.

Best music (original score)
Gravity: Steven Price
Philomena: Alexandre Desplat
The Book Thief: John Williams
Saving Mr. Banks: Thomas Newman
Her: William Butler and Owen Pallett

Predicted Winner: Gravity

There's no obvious great score from this list, but Gravity is certainly the film with the highest profile. It's tough to picture Her leaving with nothing, though, and if Hustle succeeds in snatching its Original Screenplay award, I can see it pulling a little upset here. How many points do I get for conditional picks?

Best music (original song)
Frozen: "Let it Go" by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom: "Ordinary Love" by U2, Paul Hewson
Her: "The Moon Song" by Karen O, Spike Jonze
Despicable Me 2: "Happy" by Pharrell Williams
Alone Yet Not Alone: "Alone Yet Not Alone" by Bruce Broughton, Dennis Spiegel

Predicted Winner: "Let it Go"

C'mon "Let it Go"....Bono doesn't need another award. "Let it Go" is actually the perfect Oscar song - it's important in the context of the film, stands as an integral character and plot moment, and is actually fun to listen on its own weeks after the film hit theaters. It was also on the number one album in the country for a bit there - upstaging Beyonce deserves an Oscar, folks. I am scared to death that this goes to Bono, basically because he's the New York Yankees of Awards Winning. And such a piece of shit.

Best sound editing
All Is Lost
Captain Phillips
Lone Survivor
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Predicted Winner: Gravity

So we're approaching "default to Gravity" mode with these technical categories. The arrangment of sound is pretty spectacular in the space epic and this is definitely in the vein of other winners that were pretty epic in scope like Skyfall, Inception (2010), and The Dark Knight (2008). Thank goodness the Academy finally got a big accessible sort of sci-fi movie that wasn't really trying to be a blockbuster to through all these kinds of awards at this year.

Best sound mixing
Captain Phillips
Lone Survivor
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Predicted Winner: Gravity

There is some possibility that Inside Llewyn Davis saves face here after not getting any other nomination(Not even for "Please Mr, Kennedy"), but if no one liked it enough to be nominated, no one's going to like it enough for it to win anything. Winners for Mixing don't always match up with winners for Editing, but they usually do for the big blockbuster-y type films and Gravity ought to clean this out, too. And to think, The Desolation of Smaug may have actually stood a chance.

Best visual effects
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Star Trek Into Darkness
Iron Man 3
The Lone Ranger

Predicted Winner: Gravity

Speaking of Smaug, that's about Gravity's only competition here. The effects for everything else aren't even that good - at least Pacific Rim really wowed us. But if Gravity deserves any statue this night, it's for the absolutely mind-blowing special effects that made this a worthwhile film to see in theaters and only in theaters. Let's do it, Hollywood.

Best short film, live action
"Aquel No Era Yo" (That Wasn't Me)
"Avant Que De Tout Perdre" (Just Before Losing Everything)
"Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?" (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
"The Voorman Problem"

Predicted Winner: "The Voorman Problem"

Time for the super-crapshoots. I like that name, Voorman. Sounds good. Why is there so many foreign entries this year? Go Voorman.

Best short film, animated
"Get a Horse!"
"Mr. Hublot"
"Room on the Broom"

Predicted Winner: "Get a Horse!"

"Get a Horse!" played before Frozen and was actually a really engaging piece of meta-film that played with and contrasted black and white filmmaking with computer animated 3D work effortlessly, uniquely, and quickly. It was also pretty funny. It's almost too clever for its own good with the amount of creativity the characters display while using the strengths and limitations of their own medium to thwart or help each other. It rules and will win.

Best documentary short
"Facing Fear"
"Karama Has No Walls"
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"
"Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall"

Predicted Winner: "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life"


So there you have it folks. I guarantee this list to be 100% accurate come March 2nd. Actually just about everything can change. If I bat .500 I'm pretty excited. Now let's all drink to our own self-congratulation.

10 January 2014

First Impressions: Frozen

Quick - name a film who in its sixth week became both the #1 film in the country at the box office and whose soundtrack became the #1 selling album. Did you guess Frozen (2013)? Because that just happened. In honor of this flick's ridiculous legs, it's time for a spoiler-filled discussion of Disney's best film critically and commercially since The Lion King (1994). Seriously.

In many ways Frozen is a call back to that great Disney animation renaissance of the early 90s. It's really accessible to just about all ages, full of catchy songs, and gorgeous to look at. In terms of plot and character, though, it's got more in common with contemporary Pixar films, reaching deeper into relationships and hitting the heart in the sweet spot. It's also got a slightly subversive spin on many of the princess and true love tropes that Disney itself helped spawn.
Also one of the downright sexiest
Princesses ever. Damn, Dis!

Firstly, all the voice actors kill it, especially the co-leads, Kristen Bell as Princess Anna and Idina Menzel as Queen Elsa. Menzel's "Let It Go" is a dream song, a huge liberating character moment with a ton of snappy sass that provides the most important turn in the film. Bell duels her and holds her own in "The First Time in Forever" with all these quirks and genuinely human moments that lifts her character above the typical image of a stuffy, shallow Disney Princess character. It's really rich.

Between the sisters, there is a lot of pain and love that forms a pretty complex relationship. They both love each other, but Elsa shuts out Anna for her own protection because she can't control her crazy Mr. Freeze powers. Anna remains spritely, and in spite of Elsa's isolation, continues her support of her sister. Only when they're able to work together and express their love for each other, can Elsa learn to control her Sub-Zero moves instead of becoming a crazy hermit Ice Queen. Or Snow Queen, as Hans Christian Anderson would call her. The flick really nails this sisterly relationship with aplomb.

As far as everyone else goes, the comic relief snowman Olaf is only slightly annoying, which is a good thing. Mountain Man and sort-of love interest Kristoff has some epic moments of Reindeer-speak that are brilliant subtle comic moments. There's also all these really blurry villains - for a Disney pic, nothing is ever that clear. Is the big bad the Duke of Weselton who is basically a dick who (understandably) wants to open up isolationist Arendelle for trade prospects? Or is it Queen Elsa who through a series of moments we see intimately becomes a stereotypical Evil Ice Queen? Or is it Prince Hans from the Southern Isles who seems like every girl's dream Prince until his evil turn at the end? The answer is that there really is no central villain, they're all just people.

With Prince Hans, it's almost a Beauty and the Beast (1991) thing here, where the dashing young prince is the real douchebag, and the "Evil Queen" is really just misunderstood. Elsa never wanted to hurt anyone, in fact, she tried really hard for years to maintain the status quo, but since she can't control her powers, things got out of hand when she was aroused and she left to form her own crazy kingdom, unaware of the havoc she caused. Naturally, the Prince takes advantage of this for his own ends. Instead of being a hero going against a great Evil Queen, though, he's a rat bastard. On that note, what's with Disney re-examining all their evil Queens this year? Between this and Maleficent (2014), everything looks to be somewhat subverted.

My thoughts then turn to what happens when we get too many subversions? These moves are all a reaction to the overdone cliches that Disney itself drove into the dust. Even the "true love" bit at the end - teh whole film hints that only an act of true love can thaw Anna's frozen heart that Elsa causes. So, it must be a kiss right! It's as if the whole cast is locked into the same tropes the audience is - suddenly the big MacGuffin is getting Anna her kiss but that's also totally subverted when it turns out a sisterly hug will do just fine. Even after that moment you sit there for a second thinking "Wait, how did that work? She didn't kiss anyone..." But of course it makes much more sense that the healing relationship between Anna and Elsa is much more important than any boy in the film.
That boy sure do love that Caribou. And carrots. And the quirky princess.
Speaking of which, the film also concisely deals with the idea that love at first sight is bullshit and in fact proves disastrous for Anna and Hans. Elsa seems like such a bitch when she denies them their engagement, but jeez she's right after it turns out that Hans manipulated Anna into loving him and wanted to kill Elsa and take the throne of Arendelle. Anna forms a much more natural relationship with Kristoff, but the film doesn't end with them embracing in true love, just you know, in to each other. Because they're actually human characters.

As far as the incidental bits, a lot of the supporting elements of the film are crazy good. The animation, especially the show and hair (and snow on the hair) is amazing. On that note, why is every animated film loving the norse people? From How To Train Your Dragon (2011) to Brave (2012), it's been nutty how many Viking / Medieval animated tales we've had. And they're all pretty good! Frozen has all these Norwegian-specific moments though, right down to lutefisk, fjords, stave churches, and trolls, though. And Dwarf Runes straight out of The Desolation of Smaug (2013). It's got to be like, later 17th or 18th Century, though, I think, based on the Balls and the fact that there are all these well-established kingdoms jostling for power.

Lastly, we ought to talk about this film's success. Everything about the timing of this thing was perfect - it's a great family film for the holidays, it focuses on the earth literally freezing over right as the actual world freezed over for just about the whole country north of Miami, and it's a very natural throwback to the sing-songy Disney flicks of olde. Frozen has also managed to culturally outlast a lot of competition, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) to the aforementioned Hobbit. It's as if viewers were willing to be patient for this one, and I suppose it's because it has the sort of timelessness that doesn't require immediate viewing to be part of the national conversation. It's a spectacular slow burn. Or freezer burn.

Even with plenty of other releases today, Frozen is the best and biggest one to catch in theaters right now. Go chill out.

Oof, I had to have that one pun in there, folks.

03 January 2014

It's 2014! Top Ten Most Anticipated Movies

Now, in 2012 we offered the twelve things were were most looking forward to. In 2013 this number jumped to thirteen. We're cutting that off right now before it gets ridiculous. No one's going to be looking forward to seventeen different things in 2017. That's stupid. Let's stick with ten. Maybe some more if we have time. Anyway, here are ten movies coming out in 2014 that have struck our fancy:

#10: Amazing Spider-Man 2 (05/02)
Half-Palpatine, Half-Soloist

Okay, this is more just because we live in Rochester, NY and saw this thing filmed live, but it could be good, right? The first in the unnecessary reboot featured great actors, a great director, an abysmal but much more "comic-book-y" story, and somehow a pretty terrible flick. So how are we pumped for this? More great casting, more uses of Spider-Man's horrible animal-themed villains, and most importantly, the idea that this whole thing is building to a Sinister Six movie. The villains assemblage idea sounds pretty damn intriguing and works well with the banks of characters Sony actually owns and could create the anti-Avengers we've always dreamed of seeing. Or it's just shit. Whatever.

#9: Dom Hemingway (04/04)

I'm not sure why this tickeld my fancy, maybe it's Jude Law riding some great Soderbergh and Sherlock Holmes waves out of overexposure and into likability again. Or maybe it's just because this movie looks damn wacky and cool. It's got some nice slick attitude and just enough bite to rise above the crowd. We hope.

#8: The LEGO Movie (02/07)

This is horrribl-omg look at that trailer. We have lots of trust here in Phil Lord and Chris Miller keeping up LEGO's integrity as well as a great does of wackiness, but still, aren't LEGOs more fun to play with and not watch? I never really understood that with like, LEGO video games and cartoon shows. Still, if it's funny and innovates the adaptation of its source material in some genuinely clever ways, all can be forgiven. Soon, too.

#7: Transcendence (04/18)

A mysterious, self-important movie from the cinematographer of The Dark Knight (2008) starring Johnny Depp as Bender from "Overclockwise" (S6;E25). Still, it'll be better than anything else coming out in April and Wally has a lot of goodwill that he's just leached from Chris Nolan. That always works out, right? Jeez I'm actually really harshing this at #7. Maybe it will be cool.

#6: Interstellar (11/07)

A mysterious, self-important movie from the director of The Dark Knight. Yeah, Nolan has yet to really make a bad movie. Even insomnia (2002) was pretty legit. As long as he's batting 1.000 we're looking forward to his next plate appearance, and McConaughey's star can't get any brighter right now in the yes of legitimate film fans. We're all in until we find out otherwise.

#5: Guardians of the Galaxy (08/01)

Marvel needs to get its wackness on. It's about time for them to put on a crazy space adventure starring the most random yet likable cast ever assembled and risk all the good will they've accumulated so far. This flick is really a shameless ploy to boost some unpopular characters into the mainstream, but who gives a shit, it's working. Anything to get away from their broad cookie cutter approach and heretofore inability to craft an effective sequel. Let's prove that space works. Thanos much?

#4: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (07/11)

Talk about a sequel to a movie everyone thought would suck. Off the heels of Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes this behemoth, still strutting around in Andy Serkis' perfect chimp mo-cap glory. Suddenly it's the "Fast and Furious" effect - the joke franchise gets a primetime July release date. What the hell? There's some good recycling and moving on going on - the flick trades Franco for Oldman as its go-to human with an intensity absent from the first pretty damn good go around. Still without the hype befitting it, Dawn is set to rock the hell out of a relatively quiet summer before 2015 explodes.

#3: 22 Jump Street (06/13)

What were we saying about sequels to films everyone thought would suck? How was 21 Jump Street (2012) the funniest movie of its year? Through meta-self-referential statements acknowledging its own awkwardness, the unrelenting passion of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and the latter's surprisingly apt comic chops. The first trailer leaves much to be hoped for with securing the tone for what could be an awkward and cumbersome comedy sequel. Can Phil Lord and Chris Miller do it again or will their fresh streak wear thin? Keep reaching for that rainbow, folks, as long as it keeps having fun with itself, it'll land.

#2: Godzilla (05/16)

Okay - one more film that has no right to be here. This should be such a joke. I mean, why remake Godzilla? And what kind of Zil are we getting? Didn't we already try an American Godzilla which sucked (ecept for the soundtrack - totes legit, bro)? Are we in the age of Kaiju Movies suddenly getting a big budget CGI treatment? Wait, wasn't that the whole point of loving old Godzilla movies -half-kitsch, half-adoration? What the hell is this shit?! It comes down to another one of those "look at that trailer!" moments - suddenly this thing could be cool if it sticks to its guns.

#1: X-men: Days of Future Past (05/23)
Days of Future Ass

Bryan Singer returns to his best non-Usual Suspects (1995) film. It looks to be the Avengers version of the X-Men movies (there's a bit of that going around), mashing up another surprisingly great 2011 film (X-Men: First Class) with the boys and girls from the first X-Men go around. Or is it more the Fast Five effect of getting everyone exited for the prospect of getting the whole gang to get back together? Either way, about 3/5 X-Men films are pretty solid and the franchise is surprisingly experimental. I'm down for some time travel elements, why not? Superhero movies are pretty ridiculous anyway - if they handle it well, everyone's game, and it's based on character drama and growth instead of explosions and fan service, it'll have anything Disney or Warner Bros is doing beat.

Close calls...

I shit a lot on the impotency of Marvel films, whose sequels, namely, Iron Man 2 (2010) and Thor: The Dark World (2013) can't keep up with their originals, while also existing this franchise vacuum that prevents real investment, simply because they'll never fade away. With that said, can Captain America: The Winter Soldier prove me wrong? I do hope so.

Among other blockbusters vying for our attention in 2014 comes what should be the grandest Rock movie ever, Hercules, which based on his diet and muscles will obviously be awesome. I'm not sure that The Hobbit: There and Back Again will meet Return of the King-like business or acclaim, but after The Desolation of Smaug was actually pretty worth it, I'm more jazzed for The Hobbit finale than I should be. Finally in the blockbuster wannabe category, we've got The Expendables 3, which is still a thing for some reason. I've seen every Expendables movie in the theater and I always go for the same reason - to see even more big action hero names paired together one last time. I have always left disappointed in how shitty that was. I can honestly say I am once again primed for a big letdown.

As far as comedies go, the only ones on our radar right now are two big sequels, Muppets Most Wanted and Dumb and Dumber To. Without Jason Segel, our Muppet hopes have dwindled, but Gervais and Tina could pull that wreck from the ashes. And honestly, there's no reason to cheer for the Farrelly Brothers anymore. Three great immortal 90s comedies aren't enough to make up for the last decade of horror. Even if Hall Pass (2011) wasn't too bad.

So there you have it. It's NMW's guarantee that this top ten will be the exact Top Ten list of every pundit in Hollywood come December 2014. No, there's no way that's happening. Happy January, bastards.

02 January 2014

Looking Back on Looking Forward: The Final Critical Look at 2013's Most Anticipated Cultural Events

Two-Thousand and Thirteen brought us many things, and a year ago today we were highly anticipating a whole smorgasbord of great movies and television. While some of these turned out pretty great, many more were a big let down, but more than anything, our Big 2013 Moments were really full of meh. As we look back on looking forward today, let us remember how everything was kind of good.

#13: Oz the Great and Powerful (03/08)

We should know better. This looked pretty okay, and it turned out...pretty okay. It's not an aggravatingly stupid blockbuster (see: Jack the Giant Slayer [2013]), but it really didn't knock it out of the park either. It certainly looked pretty and had some pretty cool moments, especially its ending, which was real solid. Other than that this ain't reviving Oz. Or Sam Raimi's cultural adoration.

#12: Warm Bodies (02/01)

I was pleasantly surprised by this take on the ever growing star-crossed monster horror romantic comedy genre. Rob Corddry offers an unexpectedly good supporting turn here, and the film made us sympathize with zombies like we never believed we could. I'm not sure if we'll be talking about this ten years down the line, but for now, I'm happy with the call.

#11: Pain & Gain (04/26)

Michael Bay's best ever movie, a dark action comedy that scews real dark and cray all the time. Mark and the Rock have never been more ripped while the film actually rips apart expectations towards conquering the American dream and the true meaning of fitness. You need to be a little touched in the head to really enjoy this thing, but if you're on board, it's a trip.

#10: Star Trek into Darkness (05/17)

Here's our first major disappointment. See, there's really two movies here. The first is an intriguing, mysterious set-up with political undertones and unspeakable violence. The second is an inverse re-make of Wrath of Khan (1982) with softer balls and tons of uncomfortable 9/11 imagery. It's not great. Here and there this film found the energy of Abrams' first Star Trek (2009) that made the geekiest sci-fi franchise cool again (or for the first time?), but this is just another mindless tentpole begging for its scraps.

#9: Iron Man 3 (05/03)

Superhero villains forever upended in a film that's way more fun than it deserves to be. Every problem here stems from its forced collusion with The Avengers (2012), which points more to the fault of giant self-sustaining immortal franchises than anything in Shane Black's writing. Everything original here (yes in a threequel. Yes, using every technique Shane Black used 25 years ago) works and breathes some life into what could have been a damned stale Marvel cookie cutter film. Now if only Stark's fully articulated character arc could stick through The Avengers 2: Age of Who Cares (2015).

#8: The Wolverine (07/24)

When your last film is X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), there's not much room to go besides up. The second solo James Howlett flick ditched just about everything comfortable, including familiar characters, actors, and settings, and set out to tell a bold story from the Wolverine canon, essentially showing where these superhero films can go when there's a lot less pressure to be big and dominating. There were some problems with plot, acting, and just about everything else, but I dig the ground uncovered. More please.

#7: The Return of Community (02/07)

Here's an incredible let down. The Fourth "Gas Leak" season of Community was tepid at best, with a continual effort to try way to hard that feel short just about every damn time. It was nigh unbearable to suffer through the mangled tone from a Harmon-less world that couldn't find its footing between heartfelt, hilarious, and sappy. Season 5 actually premiered this evening, and delivered two episodes better than this whole sorry lot.

#6: Elysium (08/09)

With some pretty high hopes Blomkampt and Damon delivered a pretty fun late summer flick, even if its political subtext was pushed a little too heavy for it to be as subversive as District 9 (2009). Sharlto Copley probably delivered the villain of the year, but in general, we forgot about this film as soon as September hit. Actually, I totally forgot to place that facial reconstruction scene on our scenes of the year list. That's exactly what I'm talking about - a generally mediocre film overshadowed its variable really cool moments.

#5: Pacific Rim (07/12)

Here we saw some promises finally delivered. There were actually a good amount of big original movies this summer, although conceptually, many were pretty derivative of what's come before (Oblivion [2013] and Elysium may be the biggest offenders). Pacific Rim was more an entry into the underdone Kaiju genre than a total rip-off, even if it was full of clever homages. It was probably the funnest damn blockbuster of the whole year, even if Charlie Hunnam may join Taylor Kitsch and Garrett Hedlund as horrible stereotypical angsty white protagonists that I do not care about ever seeing in a movie again.

#4: The World's End (10/25)

And we even got it early - The World's End was so worth a very long wait after Hot Fuzz (2007) and blew our pretty high expectations out of the water. It was original, culturally significant, witty, engaging, and hilarious - the perfect late summer comedy riff. Anticipation delivered.

#3: This is The End (06/14)

I don't actually think we'll have an issue differentiating these two end-of-the-world comedies, because both were so good yet so different. The is The End reached the highest peaks of meta-comedy with humour as block as the demon cock that rapes Jonah Hill. Just picture him in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), he deserved it. I'm not sure I've ever laughed so hard in a movie theater, although I may have been the only one. Consistently rude, insane, and full of obscure Pineapple Express (2008) references, this was a perfect film for niche Apatow fans and a damn confident directorial debut from writing partners Rogen and Evan Goldberg.

#2: Anchorman: The Legend Continues (12/20)

I was never sure what to really expect out of this one. What they ended up churning out was this extremely silly but politically poignant 2013 answer to Network (1976), with more ridiculous cameos than any movie will ever have ever. Everything clicked, even the stuff that didn't quite work, and without a whiff of caring about the hype, this one knocked it out.

#1: The Hangover Part III (05/24)

I feel pretty ashamed that I listed this as #1. It was pretty torrid, all things considered, largely because they attempted the same basic formula without the well-used pretense. It makes sense that the best scenes in this flick were the shoudy Chang opening and the re-hash wedding credits aftermath scene. Debauchery is all this is good for, and in a year where so many other black comedies got it right (in addition to Pain & Gain and This is The End, see the aforementioned Wolf of Wall Street. Or even You're Next [2013]), it's even more pathetic that this got it so wrong.

Stay tuned for what we're looking at in 2014! Onward, Commander!
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