28 January 2015

Ghostbusters 3: Feminist Revolution or Distaff Counterpart?

There were a few big announcements in the upcoming movie world yesterday - the first was a long-awaited trailer for Fantastic Four (2015), which is a franchise no one really cares about (and Fox looks like it's going the DC self-serious spandex route rather than the Marvel doofy route...rough choice for this brand), but much more important was the casting announcement for Ghostbusters 3: Vaginathon. That's really only a working title, my guess is that the final title gets rid of the "3," because it doesn't seem to actually be a direct sequel.

This is one of those projects that I'll only really believe is happening when I sit down in the theater. Actually I probably won't believe it until the movie is over - I'll always have some part of me waiting for Dan Aykroyd to walk into my theater and announce that they didn't actually finish it halfway through its premiere. All signs, however, point to this headed in a great direction, with director Paul Feig injecting some much needed life and energy into the project and the casting of four very talented comic actresses to inhabit the lead roles.

Somehow most of the Internet has avoided this, but I totally want to pair up each of these four ladies with the original leading men. I thought about this long and hard and eventually couldn't really do it, which is a good sign of strength for the project. Feig isn't grafting women onto the original roles, he's creating new ones (hopefully) based on their own comic personas. At this point it should be said that I am kind of against the all-female casting simply because I don't think it's really pushing feminism to just do a girl version of a guy thing. That's not really innovative. Why can't we have an entirely new property centered around women and just have that be popular? This has really happened with Feig's other work, even if it didn't quite turn out to be true. Bridesmaids (2011) was seen largely as the female Hangover (2009) and The Heat (2013) was the female buddy cop movie.

See the problem here? Female buddy cop movie is a really cool idea and The Heat worked better than it should have, but when will we reach the point where we call that "buddy cop movie?" Probably never, simply because the formula had been created and done to death with dudes for like thirty years. So, that's my major gripe with just casting women to fill in for men. I may have actually been more okay with a mixed cast that didn't seem so obvious in creating a gender flip.

The counter-argument is, of course, the fact that none of this should matter if the film is actually funny, well-made, and provides roles and launching points for funny women, which in the case of Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, it ought to do. That's really what Bridesmaids was about - it was billed as the female Hangover but is really its own movie. I'm not sure you can do the same with a big franchise, especially one whose tone is as tricky as Ghostbusters, but I have the kind of confidence in Feig that I have in Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who have an uncanny ability to turn any terrible-sounding property on its head.

Getting back to the casting, with the knowledge that this isn't really a perfect mix, I want to establish those distaff counterparts more directly. This runs counter to everything I said above, but it is a nice character exercise and it ought to help us understand the range and roles of these women. Let's try to take it from that angle. Let's begin with a review of the original cast:

Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler: The straight man, although his esoteric nature is played for laughs. The brains of the group who can make their gadgets.
Dan Aykroyd as Ray Stantz: The heart of the group and the most filled with hope, wonder, who believes in ghosts more than anyone.
Bill Murray as Peter Venkman: The player, the smartass, the cynical sardonic breakout star, and the only one given a love story.
Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore: Mostly used as the audience stand-in, the guy other characters can explain things to. He's also the only non-scientist, so more of a blue collar working dude.

Time to a take a whack with these ladies:

Kristen Wiig as Egon Spengler: For some reason Wiig is the only one I can picture doing totally straight-faced line read and inventing gadgets. She has an ability to go really really big, but is also probably the best actual actor amongst the lot and can do stoic really well while still being funny. She's obviously not Harold Ramis (who could also play real loose, such as in Stripes [1981]), and should add a bit more flair to the role.
Melissa McCarthy as Ray Stantz: There's no one else in this cast with more heart than McCarthy, who also filled this kind of role in Bridesmaids. She can also do outrageous, which is more Venkman, but Ghostbusters isn't really known for its fecal humour or potty mouth. Rough. There's no telling if this will be an R-rated Ghostbusters (we can only hope...no, there's no way in Zuul that's happening with this tentpole), but she ought to be dialed down. If that makes her more of a Mike & Molly McCarthy, I can see her being the Ray-type gullible innocent soul more than anyone else.
Leslie Jones as Peter Venkman: These last two were pretty tough because neither really has many roles to observe other than bits from SNL. While it's really obvious to pick Jones as Zeddemore (c'mon, people), I can see her more as a fast-talking skeptic than the blue collar audience surrogate. Like this as a matter of fact. Bill Murray and Leslie Jones seem like really strange comic siblings, and Murray has always been far more subtle and sly than the boisterous Jones, but I think she can pull it off. Although I like to think of Venkman another way - after the Stay Puft Man explodes, who is going to emerge looking perfect and not covered in goo? I can see Wiig doing that, but no one is a better Spengler.
Kate McKinnon as Winston Zeddemore: Here's a real oddball choice. McKinnon could slide easily into either Venkman the brash young, quick-witted sarcastic scientist or Spengler the stoic brain, but she also randomly excels on SNL by playing old down on their luck but extremely positive women, which is really Zeddemore-like, in a way. He's a hard-working dude but he's also really open-minded and a true team player. That's surprisingly McKinnon-like.

So, what do you think? Am I encouraging the lens of distaff counterparts over true original feminism? Or was that something that the new Ghostbusters was always doomed to face? I'm kind of curious about everyone's opinion, to be honest. And do you think I have these characters nailed down or will they be totally new? I do lean towards totally new because no one quite fits into a mold. At all. That's actually the most encouraging sign when you get down to looking at this, to be honest. It will be a whole new property because no actress here can fit snugly in the shoes of the 'Busters who came before.

Or they'll try to force it and this movie will suck hard.

We're waiting something outrageous like July 2016 for this one, so sit tight.

26 January 2015

A Closer Look at the 2015 Oscar Best Acting Nominations

With the SAG Awards in the can we ought to take a glance at the folks who are up for the big ones on February 22nd. It's always interesting to examine why these people were nominated and how the politics ought to play out to get them their win. It really boils down to who is down to grovel the most along with which producer can most aptly position their films in front of the right people. By now there doesn't really seem to be any heat in any of the major acting races, except for Best Actor, which has suddenly been thrown for a loop. Let's dig in:

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night 

So we'll take this thing from least likely to win to most likely. And as much as we're fans of everything Marion Cotillard could ever do, this is a really low profile film that's more of that interchangeable fifth slot than anything that can really contend. This could have been Jennifer Aniston's place for Cake (2014), which she nabbed for the Golden Globes and SAG awards. I really know nothing about this role or this film, but that just further proves she ain't gonna win.

Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl

This was my favourite performance of any of these ladies, but I feel like Gone Girl has been off the Academy's radar in a big way this year. Outside of The Social Network, the Academy hasn't really realized the genius of Dave Fincher, and even then Best Picture eluded him. I kind of get a Rooney Mara Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) vibe, which was also a great performance by an aggressive woman in a Fincher film ignored at the ceremony. A few months ago Pike was all over this race, but lately all the vibe has just been with other people.

Reese Witherspoon, Wild

Reese Witherspoon was also a producer on Gone Girl, so she should be happy with a Rosamund Pike win, right? If only that was up for Best Picture, she could save face here. She of course is a previous winner from Walk the Line (2005), and quietly had a pretty awesome year between this, Gone Girl and reuniting with Johnny Cash himself, Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice (2014). She's on a lot of minds and Wild is great in a "see-it-with-your-mom" sort of way so there's certainly some buzz here. In the end though, this simply isn't her year, mostly because there's a big name ahead who has never been honoured.

Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything

This is sort of a bold call over Reese, but The Theory of Everything is peaking a big way right now and honoring young cute talent that does competent work in a safe historical picture is right up the Academy's alley. If only she was disabled! This is certainly not the last we'll be seeing of Felicity Jones, either - she may turn into a perennial like Amy Adams that's never honored or someone who gets her due sooner or later. But she'll be back.

Winner: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

I know nothing about Still Alice except for the fact that Julianne Moore is in it and that she's going to win the Oscar. That's partially true because everyone on earth is okay with that, except for maybe Jennifer Aniston. This is very much a way of honouring a lot of her past work in much better, more notable films, especially some that have slipped away from the Academy in the past. I'm just curious at this point whether or not Seventh Son (2015) gives her a little Norbit (2006)-effect and destroys her acting credibility the same way it supposedly did for Eddie Murphy a few years back. There's a bit of that going around this year. Stay tuned.

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher 

Here's another performance that I really digged, if only because he was so against type and Carell pulled it off so well. It's always exciting to see comic actors actually act and Carell has been walking this line ever since Little Miss Sunshine (2006). While a few months ago Foxcatcher looked to be a lock for a lot of acting nominations and wins, even possibly for Channing Tatum (leading to the incredible billing of 22 Jump Street [2014] starring two Oscar-nominated actors). Mark Ruffalo did get nominated, showing a bit of love, but there's not much other buzz for this beyond Carell's prosthetic nose. Hey, it worked for Nicole Kidman.

Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

American Sniper ought to benefit tremendously from its recent box office success - it's certainly the most prominent in voters' minds. This is also Brad Cooper's third nomination in three years, so it's clear the Academy is in love with this guy. He's also really transformed in a role that's perfect for him. So what's the problem? This movie, although popular, is dividing the damn country, and even though it has plenty of fuel for both liberals and conservatives, its inherent conservative leaning ought to bug the typically liberal Hollywood. Then again, the Academy tends to side conservative. Who knows how this will play out, actually. Ultimately there's a lot of buzz in this race, just not for Cooper.

Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game

Historical persecuted dream role for an up-and-coming hot actor who was just cast in a Marvel movie? This should be a lock more than Bradley Cooper! The Imitation Game got a ton of nominations but I actually haven't predicted it to win anything. That sucks. It's a super-Oscar-baity kind of film, though. It's like The King's Speech 2: Way Gayer! Despite that seeming stumbling block, it's also a great film for the family because of all that historical inspire-your-life crap. It may do better than I give it credit for, and the timing is good, but there has just been such a battle between the other two guys here I hesitate to give the Golden Man to Cumberbatch.

Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Okay. Eddie Redmayne could very easily win this whole thing. Which is nuts, because he seems like the total opposite of Mike Keaton. It was fair when they split the Golden Globes, but after that SAG win, I don't know. Redmayne could do it. It's pretty natural. Famous historical disabled figure playing pretty fairly against type (his heretofore most famous role was that jagoff in Les Miserables [2012]). I'm only really curious if he gets a little Norbit-izing from Jupiter Ascending (2015). Keaton is still the obvious choice, but there's a distinct possibility that the next three weeks are the biggest of Redmayne's life.

Winner: Michael Keaton, Birdman

Almost all of these actors have a classic Oscar Role that has a long history of being rewarded. Keaton, though, is highly regarded from a lifetime in the industry, has never been honoured for his work and it's the perfect marriage of role and actor. Seriously, this was built for him expressly. He is Birdman and Birdman is fantastic. It's also a true actor's movie and it's clear the acting guild liked the film from its Best Cast win at the SAGs. The Academy generally likes films about filmmaking or in this case, the industry itself, and although it crucifies the current Hollywood business model, it upholds the importance of acting as artistry, which is huge among this crowd. I just can't picture upstart Redmayne winning, although he'd actually be a doll. But how do you miss the opportunity to honor this modern picture in favor of some typical crap?

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Dern, Wild

I didn't really know that anyone other than Reese Witherspoon was in Wild. You know, at this moment going through this I've come to the realization of how little I know about most of these, but that should work in my favour, right? I'm a part-time movie blogger, if I haven't heard of you or your role, you're not getting the word out enough. I loved Laura Dern in Jurassic Park (1993). That's also my level of investment here. She does have a solid body of non-Dinosaur related work behind her and an award here could easily honor that. Too bad that's true for just about everyone here.

Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game

Remember all that stuff I said about Cumberbatch? The same mostly goes here except Knightley didn't play gay, so it's tough to imagine her winning here. I love that that's a thing. Why aren't gays honoured on screen for just being normal? Like Kieran Culkin in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)? That's the first normal gay role I can picture, actually. But just like African Americans it's tough to get noticed if you're not showing white people how they persecuted you. I should get back to Keira. She's gotten more into non-crappy roles, and to be honest, she's way more interesting in Laggies (2014), but whatever.

Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

It's not even fun anymore, really. Streep gets nominated because she's Streep, even upstaging people in her own movie who at least match her level like Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt. It's tough to knock Streep because she is awesome and great here as usual, but it's getting to be like the New England Patriots. I want to see someone else in the Super Bowl. There isn't much buzz at all around Into the Woods (even though I picked it to win Best Costuming), and it was pretty well received in general and Streep in particular.

Emma Stone, Birdman

Emma Stone is loved by everyone on earth and she's made a nice name for herself with a ton of feel good roles in easily digestible flicks like Easy A (2010) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), and even in tripe like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) she's pretty sublime. I'm also just happy that Superbad (2007) now boasts two Academy Award nominated actors. When will we come to our senses and honor McLovin? Not soon enough. This is a great role for Emma, who is able to add real-Emma Stone-ness to a character with more depth than she's been provided before.

Winner: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

Here's another long due acting award. Patricia Arquette doesn't have any real career-defining roles despite a lifetime of being in everything. Really this is honouring Medium. And Little Nicky (2000). It'll give some good momentum to Boyhood, and she does do an excellent job as mother of the boy in question. She's wrapped up every award she needs to, and with no one else in this category really in a classical position to earn this, there's no sense in choosing anyone else.

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge

Duvall is of course a living legend, who is rounding out his seventh Academy Award nomination. He won in 1983 for Tender Mercies, which seemed like a way to recognize him for the incredible work he was doing in the 60s and 70s. Still, it's been 31 years since that win, and this nomination makes him the oldest nominated actor. Of course he's most known for being more grizzled than Garth Brooks. Anyway, The Judge was somehow a terrible movie, despite having an incredible cast and this nomination is almost surprising considering Duvall has still been pretty awesome. I mean, Get Low (2009), people.

Ethan Hawke, Boyhood

I'm not sure why Arquette has caught on while Hawke hasn't, it's not like one is really better than the other in this movie. It probably has more to do with the fact that the Supporting Actor category this year is quite a bit tougher and is full of people more deserving of long-time honouring than the Supporting Actress. It would be cool if Hawke was given something for his oft partnering with Dick Linklater, but it won't be here.

Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher

I'm also given to buy into the Ruffalo train after the SAGs, because everyone there just seemed to love him for some reason. It's always a good indication that that branch of the Academy digs the dude. He's getting to be a more high profile, Hulked-out actor but like I was saying about Carell, Foxcatcher just doesn't seem to have caught on the way it seemed it would when it was first announced. It's possible it makes some last minute waves, but at this point it just seems like a long shot.

Edward Norton, Birdman

Here's our second Hulk on the list, which is fairly awesome. Ed Norton is the kind of guy you can't believe doesn't have an Oscar. In fact, he's only been nominated three times. He's also damned incredible in Birdman, which is made all the tougher because he is supposed to play a character who is a really good actor. The Academy ought to side with him pretty hard, or they might not like what they see in the mirror he's holding up to them. Like Keaton, it's also a perfect role for him, merging the fictional character with perceptions of his public persona to create a really memorable performance within and without the film. Ultimately it's just really really unfortunate that J.K. Simmons is in this race.

Winner: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

I still thin that Whiplash is an underdog for a lot of Awards come Oscar Night. This is a guarantee, though. While I mentioned that Patricia Arquette has been in everything, that's small shit compared to Simmons. I mean, let's start with Farmers Insurance - that's an incredible role. But if you've ever needed an aloof father, angry boss, or demolitions man with IBS, Simmons has been the man for the past twenty years. He's had a few incredibly articulate acceptance speeches on his way to winning every major award leading up to this, and is one of those "everyone-loves-him" kind of long-working actors. This category also loves the loud, boisterous villain, and that's exactly the kind of thing he pulls off in Whiplash. There's really no question in this one.

So, what do you think, folks? Will Redmayne upset Keaton? Is it even an upset anymore? What about young Felicity Jones, Brad Cooper, or Eddie Norton? Leave a comment below with your own thoughts and predictions!

23 January 2015

The Worst Weekend Ever: Mortdecai, The Boy Next Door, and Strange Magic duke it out

I wanted to post some variant on our "Road to a Blockbuster" series that examines the critical, commercial, and cultural potential of every big movie coming out. Needless to say, there are many non-blockbuster films that create a lot of waves in these regards that are harder to predict. Then there are weekends like this which leave us in befuddlement. January is a typical dumping ground for the worst Hollywood has to offer, typically serving as no more than a "contractual obligatory release" month for a lot of properties. There are however, plenty of exceptions, especially this year, from small Oscar contenders getting larger releases to the Taken franchise doin' its thang.

This weekend isn't an exception to that rare, but growing more common, January upswing. This is what January is all about. Total, total shit. We have a legendary trio of films landing this weekend that seek to set a new standard in cinematic insanity. What's really nuts is that all three of these films look absolutely terrible, but they're all very different genres. One is a screwball comedy throwback (those never work, seriously), another is a psychosexual thriller, and the last is an animated fairy tale musical from George Lucas. That's something I thought I would never write.
Doing for moustaches what he once did for scissors.

So let's start at the top, which is probably the most high profile release this weekend, David Koepp's Mortdecai (2015), which is ostensibly an A-list ensemble comedy that has rubbed just about everyone the wrong way for its presumed franchise importance. There is this weird vibe from this flick that seems to want to be something that everyone already knows and is comfortable with, which is laudable, in a way. There's this "Hey it's your old buddy, Mortdecai!" kind of attitude, which is also totally off-putting because no one should be friends with Mortdecai. He's a bit of a cad. Or a #PartTimeRogue, as their Twitter handle puts it.

And what is up with that Twitter, by the way? Suddenly, this Mortdecai guy is co-opting every popular brand in an extremely overt vain attempt at self-promotion. Some of it is organic...in its own way. It's at least steeped in character. Even if that character is shallow, unfunny, and unwanted. It's this strange occurrence in social media where we're supposed to unironically follow and enjoy the jokes from this fictional character. It'd be a little more successful if every single tweet wasn't linked to self-promotion. Just let the handle freely make interesting comments on the world at large without ending everything with "See me in theaters January 23rd!" I mean, I guess it worked, I'm talking about it, but it's so obnoxious.

As far as screwball comedies go, it's always compelling to me that directors keep trying this genre. It hasn't really had mainstream popularity since the 30's. I think there is some sense that it ups the prestige of a picture and sometimes it works really well when it's modernized - look no further than The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which  has shade of the genre coated in a modern minimalist style that mixes with its retro sensibilities and saved by gorgeous production design. Or take Intolerable Cruelty (2003), which is a fine enough film, just one that was completely ignored upon release. George Clooney in particular seems to dig this genre, bringing it back whenever possible despite it never gaining traction.

By all accounts Mortdecai, despite all its star appeal and 20,000 Twitter followers, will crash and burn this weekend. It's just so extremely stupid. A new Johnny Depp movie has inevitably brought up the fact that his career as of late has taken a bit of a turn for the shitty. He's devolved into a big budget cartoon character, choosing wonky over daring. It's not like he really does an awful job at these kinds of roles, but that extreme amount of goofiness in a short time span wears on you.
Did J.Lo write a song to go along with this movie?

Up next we have The Boy Next Door (2015), which looks awesomely, awesomely bad. The premise alone is insane, that J.Lo for some reason starts banging an impossible 19-year old High Schooler who lives next door and then is also in her class and then also starts going insane and stalking her and stuff. It's this ultimate twisted cougar fantasy. If early reviews are any indication, it's also totally terrible, which is thrilling.

How does this ever get made? It's kind of an interesting premise, and there's a lot of those kinds of thrillers out there, but who ever thought this combination of actors, plot, and direction would create a good product? The more likely answer, and I don't know why anyone ever places this concept as an explanation for the existence of bad movies, is that it's likely that no one involved in the production gave a shit. It's okay for people to phone it in once in a while. Not only that, but it's clear that everyone heard the idea coming down the pipe, stopped trying, and got paid anyway.

Lastly is probably the weirdest of the lot. Strange Magic (2015). This is somehow an animated fairy tale fantasy, which should be enough to sell a picture, right? But it's also full of pop songs, which gives it a Moulin Rouge (2001) feel, apparently. This is just an impossible creation in my mind. At to that the "from the mind of George Lucas" appeal and you get...I have no idea what you get. Evidently, Lucas has been working on this for some time, and really believes in it. This of course proves that George Lucas really is an insane person.
Oh no!

Seriously, was he editing Revenge of the Sith (2005) and just fantasizing about Strange Magic? Look at how this guy talks about this movie. This is a man who shaped the childhood of every nerdy kid in the country, and even some of the squares, too. And he throws his entire weight into Strange Magic? It's got the vaguest title in the history of animated musical fairy tales and looks completely bland and uninteresting. Oh yeah, Lucas. In forgot.

All three of these films have the potential to be the worst movie of the year or at least the weirdest. With that is of course also the ability for each to become notorious campy cult hits. It's all 2015's Winter's Tale (2014), which constantly and aggressively makes no sense at all. I for one, am looking forward for the sheer insanity Hollywood is unleashing upon our nation this weekend. In an age where everything seems to be franchised and there supposedly isn't an original idea to be found, isn't it nice to see that the studios can still produce wholly original crap as well?

Which of these disasters are you seeing this weekend?

19 January 2015

2015 Oscar Predictions 100% Right

Wait, I went 20/24 last year? What the fuck?! How am I supposed to compete with that? That's really a tall order but I'll give these predictions my best shot. Holy crap. To be honest, I don't know why I even care about the Oscars. This entire blog is predicated on the notion that you can't really grade films against each other and that all art has the ability to stand on its own and be judged through a mix of cultural impact, personal preferences based on lived experiences, and technical merit. The Oscars kind of flies in the face of all that because it suggests to many people that these are good movies they would enjoy seeing, but that's not really true. It's more just what a consensus of a bunch of industry professionals think are the best of the year.

And "best" is rather lightly used - it's more about stumping, timing, and likability in a culture that seeks to destroy rather than maintain personal relationships. So why cover this garbage at all? It gets clicks. And it IS interesting, if only to examine how films, filmmakers, and studios position themselves against each other. It is also one of the major reasons why studios bother making good films at all instead of just shoving all of their cheddar into a handful of mindless tentpole releases each year. There's a reason why this is Hollywood's biggest night, and it's something adult, cultured, and refined in an industry that otherwise caters to 14-year old nerds.

Right now I'll just run through things quick, and my predictions will probably change over the next couple weeks, especially as this falls out. Seriously, there are a ton of surprises and snubs here. The LEGO Movie (2014) was going to be my default Animated Picture pick, what the fuck do I do now?! I'll get deeper into the categories that actually matter over the next few weeks. For now, here's my gut:

Best Picture

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

I didn't really like Boyhood at all, although it's still an impressive cinematic achievement that I'm surprised hasn't been done in a similar fashion before. I actually only rated two of these in my personal Top Ten for the year, but those two films - Grand Budapest and Birdman actually have the strongest chance of actually upsetting Boyhood. While Birdman seemed like a virtual lock a few months ago, Wes Anderson's latest may actually be tending towards the one that actually nabs him the big prize. Linklater is also deserving in the sense that he's had a great career that the Academy hasn't really recognized yet.

Best Director

Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game

Predicted Winner: Linklater

I could have saved that Linklater talk for this category as well. Iñárritu is the obvious upset with Anderson a close third. The production coordination of both Boyhood and Birdman is astounding achievement, but Linklater made by far the picture that the Academy is typically more comfortable with. He pulls off the twelve-year gimmick well, delivering a family drama with just enough of a curve to be notable while Birdman lambastes most of the current Hollywood business model. There will still be folk who dig the industry story, especially the actor's section, though that won't help it here.

Best Actress

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

Predicted Winner: Julianne Moore

This is kind of a weird one that Julianne is sort of running away with now. Jones is the highest profile movie here in terms of Award Nominations, but the competition here is intense. Reese and Cotillard are former winners and Pike turned in the best performance of anyone this year. Moore though, is a five-time nominee who has never won, which is ridiculous to think about. No one at all has seen Still Alice, which could hurt its chances, but as it trends now, this seems like a no brainer reward for an excellent career.

Best Actor

Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything

Predicted Winner: Michael Keaton

There were a crazy amount of great acting performances this year, and Redmayne is sort of a weird rival to Keaton suddenly, especially because of how popular The Theory of Everything seems to be with the Academy. It is a pretty safe biopic of an interesting handicapped modern historical figure. That's Oscar gold, baby! But Keaton very much deserves this and like so many others, this is a lifetime achievement award for creating a crazy amount of iconic characters and Birdman is in innumerable ways a film made for him and he just destroys it.

Best Supporting Actress

Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Predicted Winner: Patricia Arquette

Remember all that stuff I've been saying about how these awards are all basically going to be career achievement awards? That'll keep going on. The same could be said for Laura Dern here, but Wild doesn't have the profile of Boyhood right now. The younger nominees are interesting and in years past this may have been Emma's to lose, but this is all Patricia. Now, if only David Arquette can be awarded...

Best Supporting Actor

Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash

Predicted Winner: Just Kidding Simmons

Copy and paste all that other text I wrote about the other acting nominations. JK Simmons is the favorite character actor of everyone in the world, and this category is tailor-made for performances like his in Whiplash. It's loud, showy, and most of all, a perfect conduit for his schtick. This award notoriously goes to people playing notorious characters, and this will fit right in line with where it has gone in the past.

Best Adapted Screenplay

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

Predicted Winner: Whiplash

This is my bold prediction. Reading more about how P.T. Anderson adapted Inherent Vice, I'm actually impressed with it, but it really doesn't have any momentum. The other three movies are totally safe choices that no one would blink an eye about. Whiplash, though, is a chance to award a young writer-director who turned in an extremely talented and unique screenplay. That's totally like past winners such as Argo (2012), The Descendents (2011), and Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire (2009).

Best Original Screenplay

Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman
Richard Linklater, Boyhood

Predicted Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Academy has sort of finally realized that they've never awarded Wes Anderson anything, and even though this isn't his year to gain Best Picture, he'll be happy walking away with Best Original Screenplay. It's got the most buzz out of any of these flicks, although if Boyhood or Birdman feels like sweeping, one of them will take this. Grand Budapest is actually riding pretty high right now, though, and there are other locks for those films to take. Oscar ceremonies have been more split lately than dominated by one or two films, and there's so many great, widely beloved films this year, Anderson takes him his first trophy.

Best Foreign Language Film

Wild Tales

Predicted Winner: Ida

I really couldn't believe that Force Majeure wasn't nominated, but Ida is the next best thing we've got (No Babadook, either!). Ida is actually the safer pick than Leviathan, which won the Best Foreign pic award at the Golden Globes. It's tempting to go with that pick, but with a surprising nomination in Cinematography as well, it's clear that Ida gained ground among more than just the typical voters. It's also a way more normal movie that the Academy likes rather than Leviathan.

Best Documentary Feature

Finding Vivian Maier
Last Days in Vietnam
The Salt in the Earth

Predicted Winner: CITIZENFOUR

CITIZENFOUR is assuredly the most high profile doc on this list, but in the past that hasn't always been a guarantee for success. It does more for the genre than any other film here, though, as it's really about making the story along with documenting it. That could be derided by some purists. It's a hugely relevant tale, though, and most people have at least a vague familiarity with the Eddie Snowden story. The Academy could chicken out and not award it for its controversy, but Hollywood is nice and liberal, right?

Best Animated Feature

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

Predicted Winner: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Give the Academy some credit for throwing an absolute monkey wrench into what is typically one of the larger no brainer, automatic categories of the Ceremony. The LEGO Movie losing out on the Globe was one thing, but to not even receive a nomination here is crazy. Any one of these becomes a deserving and very possible winner, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 ought to follow in the vein of Happy Feet - a not that great animated film that made a lot of money and appealed to a lot of people. There are some flaws with that logic, but it's easily the film that unsure voters will default to.

Film Editing

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

Predicted Winner: Boyhood

Everything else is crap, but this will come down to Grand Budapest and Boyhood. The sharp, competent editing style that demonstrates a wit to match the film favors Budapest, but the majestic technical feat of splicing together twelve years of footage (okay - twelve weeks shot over twelve years) and keeping that straight in the editor's head is damned impressive. Again, gimmicky, but impressive.

Best Song

"Everything is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie (written by Shawn Patterson)
"Glory" from Selma (written by Common and John Legend)
"Grateful" from Beyond the Lights
"I’m Not Gonna Miss You" from Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars" from Begin Again (written by Gregg Alexander, Danielle Brisebois, Nick Lashley and Nick Southwood)

Predicted Winner: "Glory"

"Everything is Awesome" may  have seemed like a lock, and it would be awesome to say Academy Award Winner Andy Samberg (he would get in on that, right?), but it's more and more apparent that no one in the Academy gives a shit about The LEGO Movie, even with a song that's was indelibly tied into its film. "Glory" makes the bridge from Selma to today, though, and we'll have to settle on Academy Award Winner Common. It's the only controversial speech the Oscars are going to get, but hopefully they'll go for it, and we'll get someone to give White America a good Richard Sherman-like scare.

Best Original Score

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

Predicted Winner: Johann Johannsson

I just picked the best name, and it turns out he's favored! Hooray! I can't really pick out any of these scores and we're not going to be jamming to The Theory of Everything ten years from now, but with no Antonio Sanchez Birdman or Mica Levi Under the Skin noms, it's the best we've got.

Best Cinematography

Roger Deakins, Unbroken
Emmanuel Lubezki, Birdman
Dick Pope, Mr. Turner
Robert Yeoman, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski, Ida

Predicted Winner: Lubezki

There shouldn't really be a question here. Lubezki won last year for Gravity (2013), and normally I'd rather have the wealth spread out a bit more, but he's just so damn deserving. He's become the master of the single-take tracking shot and Birdman obviously goes nuts with this idea. Like the editing for Boyhood, from a technical planning standpoint alone this is an incredible feat. This should be a no brainer.

Best Costume Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Inherent Vice
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Predicted Winner: Into the Woods

Grand Budapest is the obvious pick but obvious picks never win this category. In the face of huge prestige competition films like Marie Antoinette (2006), The Duchess (2008), The Young Victoria (2009), Anna Karenina (2012), and The Great Gatsby (2013) have pulled off wins. Grand Budapest fits into this model pretty well, being a period piece and all, and heavily favored films like The Artist (2011) have won this in sweeps, but I can just imagine sitting there and hating watching Into the Woods win this thing.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Guardians of the Galaxy

Predicted Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

All three of these are totally worthy and the fact that I care about this race is amazing. Foxcatcher's prosthetics on Steve Carrell are certainly notable, but that's really a small bit of the film. Guardians really did have some of the best Makeup effects in recent memory, but I struggle to see it winning over Grand Budapest - it's just that kind of plausible Best Picture nominee that makes it a good outlet for voters to choose to sweep things like this.

Best Production Design

The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
Into the Woods
Mr. Turner

Predicted Winner: The Grand Budapest Hotel

See what I'm talking about? Grand Budapest just seems like the obvious default for all these kinds of awards. Interstellar could also be really deserving, but the Academy is more into giving love when it can to solidly loved pics like Wes Anderson's gorgeous baby here.

Best Sound Editing

American Sniper
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Predicted Winner: Interstellar

These are all pretty deserving, maybe the coordination of gritty squeals and grunts in Birdman more than some others, but the deafening glory of Interstellar that extorts itself even over its dialogue and score ought to give it some ground here.

Best Sound Mixing

American Sniper

Predicted Winner: Interstellar

Here are five films that are very dependent on sound to establish their message, either through music, war, or space travel. Interstellar is the most high profile and probably the best here as well. It's a good candidate to lavish these kinds of awards on, as Gravity snatched up last year.

Best Visual Effects

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

Predicted Winner: Interstellar

I don't think it's really a contest. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes does deserve some recognition for the huge leap forward in realistic furry apes, even from Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), but Interstellar helped us understand how black holes work. Seriously, the effects pioneered in the film to explore more accurate black hole depictions gave us a better understanding of our universe. You've got to award that. I don't even remember anything great from any other blockbuster this year.

Best Short Film, Live Action

"Boogaloo and Graham"
"Butter Lamp"
"The Phone Call"

Predicted Winner: "The Phone Call"

Welcome to the game that we call, "The Dartboard." Gold Derby says "The Phone Call." So I'm going with that. I may do some more research on this crap later, but chances are, I will just do anything else with my life instead. Listen, the shorts are all actually pretty interesting, and it'd be cool if there was some kind of mainstream distribution outlet for them, even though you can snag most on YouTube or something, but they're so hard to get around to seeing. Hopefully I look smart.

Best Short Film, Animated

"The Bigger Picture"
"The Dam Keeper"
"Me and My Moulton"
"A Single Life"

Predicted Winner: "Feast"

Wheeee!!! I have no pretension of backing this up with accurate judgment.

Best Documentary, Short Subject

"Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"
"Our Curse"
"The Reaper"
"White Earth"

Predicted Winner: "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1"

Boop boop. Most interesting title.

Okay, folks - those are all my predictions for the 2015 Academy Awards. Some are gutsy, some are obvious, and some are complete shots in the dark, but we'll see how awesome I am on February 22nd! In between now and then I'll be taking some time as usual to go over the more important categories that everyone cares about (like Live Action Short!) before live blogging my stupid reactions to the night itself. Stay tuned, America!

14 January 2015

First Impressions: Inherent Vice

In a legal sense, as defined by the film itself, "inherent vice" is the propensity of an item to break down during some kind of transportation. In the eyes of insurance, chocolate will melt on a hot voyage, or glass will break, or whatever. In Paul Thomas Anderson's sense of the word, the meaning of "inherent vice" can mean a lot of things - most probably the inherent doom within people. Everyone has some defect that will cause them to break or become dangerous to themselves or others, not necessarily in a violent sense, but in a "that chick is damaged goods" sort of sense. Signing off on the first ever adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, P.T. Anderson, who has almost single-handedly supplied all of my favorite movies of the past fifteen years, offers this look into the lives of a handful of 1970s Californians. SPOILERS abound from here on out, so congrats if you've already seen this.
I am now actually in love with Katherine Waterston.

It is most important to note, however, that Inherent Vice (2014) doesn't take place in the 1970s, it takes place in 1970. Vice is more Boogie Nights (1997) than There Will Be Blood (2007), at least in terms of its goofiness (no, it's actually far goofier), but that year is no accident. Boogie Nights also transcended a decade, depicting the fallout of a shifting industry and way of life from the late 70s into the early 80s. With it increased jadedness, anger, and materialism to name a few of the shifting tragedies that befall the characters as victims of the times changing.

1970 is also a crucial year in Inherent Vice. There's usually a lot of bleed over with any decade, but the 60s and all it stood for really ended in 1969. For a while the year seemed great for the hippie nation that we now associate with the decade. Nixon began issuing proclamations of withdrawing troops from Vietnam and the Woodstock music festival was this enormous culmination of the peace and love lifestyle. Then the Zodiac Killer and Charlie Manson went and killed a ton of people, causing everyone to suddenly fear the homicidal hippie.

This really just have the squares plenty of ammo to recoil the national populace back away from the radical left. Suddenly 1969 was the nadir, not the beginning of the revolution. The Beatles broke up and although the world had changed, the hippies were on their way of dying out. Like Lebowski says in The Big Lebowski (1998) - "The bums lost!"

I Lebowski because my mind was constantly racing towards it. Not only is Vice similar with its political themes (although Lebowski is set in 1991 - making Jeff Bridges' claims to the hippie ideal all the more outdated, in 1970 we very much get to see more of the process), but its plot also strikes similar themes. The kidnapping / extortion plot from Lebowski that weaves in jealous family members, manipulative nihilist failures, and porn moguls in Southern California doesn't really matter at all. The Dude himself barely understands what's going on, and we aren't really supposed to, either. It's not important. Donnie, played by Steve Buscemi is subtly the heart of that movie, and the events that happen to him and the Dude and Walter's reaction are what's actually important.

Vice is very much in that same vein. Shasta Fey Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) sets in motion this grand elaborate plot which spins out of control, tending to madden the audience as well as Joaquin Phoenix's Doc Sportello. The film does an insane job of continually adding important characters deep into the narrative, or mentioning characters early on by name, only to have them appear much later. The only advantage is Pynchon's incredible aptitude for name-creation, which allows the extreme plethora of characters to stick out in your mind. That way, when they talk about Bigfoot in the first scene and you meet him ten minutes later, you know exactly who it is. Same with Puck Beaverton or Mickey Wolfmann. I didn't even have to look these up! I would have called him "Eric Roberts" in any other film review.
You also can't find a bad picture of Joaquin from this movie.

None of this, however, matters. The film loses steam in its most uncomfortable part, when Shasta shows up at Doc's house, innocuously saying that she's been upstate visiting family (a dubious lie, actually. Probably.) Was the whole film up to that point a wild goose chase? A complete waste of time? You start to measure Doc's accomplishments at that point and become frustrated. There's then a sex scene that grinds the film to a halt with its aggressiveness in a hitherto mild romp. I'm still pondering what that whole thing was. Comments would be appreciated. I suppose it's just inherent vice. Doc should know that this girl isn't insurable. And she should know the same about him. In this sense, it's the beating heart of the movie.

I do like to think, though, that this film has another heart, just like Lebowski. It's Owen Wilson's character, Coy. Just like Donnie, nothing else really matters but his story. All the confuddling plot is just extraneous fun. After Doc goes through his doomed journey to find someone who wasn't missing (and another who didn't want to be found), he realises he can still do some good by uniting Coy with his lady, who thinks he's dead, Hope Harlington (Jena Malone). It's a simple but honorable thing - bringing back a good soul to a deserving family, perhaps the only one in the film.

Coy also presents this interesting straddle of that hippies vs. squares battle. His profession is with the Man, but he is superficially part of the counterculture. His heart, though, belongs to neither; he's just a dude who wants to be back with his family and regrets his decision to get involved so deeply in either side of the culture war. It's ultimately a statement that our true hearts probably lie in the middle, instead of on either political or cultural side of the rift. Not only that, but it's a fine meeting of the two most fucked-up noses in Hollywood.

You see this time and again. Reese Witherspoon's DA Penny Kimball couldn't represent the Establishment more in professional mannerisms or public disdain for Doc, but behind closed doors she's just as freaky as Sportello. She's an actual human being, with different desires and faces she needs to put on, that's why. Bigfoot has a similar revelation near the end, when he consumes a rather large amount of marijuana in front of the tear-faced Doc, possibly showing his solidarity to Doc the man the only way he knows how, even if he is ideologically opposed to the culture that Doc represents.

Doc himself weaves in between this line as is necessary. As a PI he specialises in deception, donning formal suits and combed hair when he needs to infiltrate the Establishment and literally letting his hair fro out when he's rapping with the brothers. Joaquin captures this perfectly, and although he's not totally transformed as he is in The Master (2012), this is still probably the funniest he's ever been, with comic chops and timing that are perfect, especially considering he's in nearly every scene. But there are all these symbolic moments of his transition, like taking his shoes off at the Chryskylodon Institute when he tries to sneak around to bring Wolfmann back into the loving arms of generosity and hippie love.

Feet are everywhere in this film, actually. There's a big divide whenever Doc has shoes on to try to pretend to be a square while he's in bare feet or Birkenstocks when he's content to be his hippie self. The bare feet are the key to the hippie lifestyle. They're natural, innocent, and freeing. Doc tries to get Penny over to "wash his feet," which appalls her, but still provides this bridge. Shasta gives Doc a virtual footjob after she liberates herself from Wolfmann's stringent dress code as she talks about the control he had over her and how she had to get away to get back to who she really is. Finally, Bigfoot himself - that name should have shown who his allegiance is with from the start of the film! He's literally the biggest foot in the movie - the hardcore Square Hero who breaks down and becomes his natural self by the film's end.

This whole film is about finding yourself in a time where all these lines were drawn, which is difficult, because no one in this film is strictly part of either the Establishment or the Counter-culture. Arguably the entire film concerns Shasta discovering her own identity, although most of it is off-camera. Her shifting personality is the reason for her break-up with Doc and when she aligns back to her most natural state (exhibited by the Ouija scene, then of course, the postcard, which pulls her back), she finds herself back in Doc's arms. Even though that doesn't mean they're back together.

There's so much else going on in this movie. It's no accident that the Chryskylodon Institute members are dressed like Klan Members and have ties to the Federal Government, Neo-Nazis, and Racist plots to "get a white man back running Vegas." It's the kind of thing Anderson dabbled on with The Master, and this film doesn't get into the cult-like New Age Terror like that flick hinted at, but it's all along the periphery. Again, none of this is the point of the film, but it paints this picture of a fractured nation that reflects the suspicious self-discovery many of the characters experience.
I forgot this also had the best
set of posters of the year.

I'm still thinking about the fangs, too. They never even really resolve Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd's gold fang-related murder, possibly because it just doesn't matter at all. It's part of the unwinding conspiracy that doesn't really exist. Anderson is again pointing us away from these distractions to the plots that really matter - reuniting Coy with Hope and reuniting Doc with Shasta. There's almost this embedding going on: you constantly think this is one sort of movie, but then it spins in a very foreign direction. If you think about it from everything you first experience, you'll end up disappointed. There's a constant re-evaluation of the stakes, events, and characters that's fairly brilliant.

It's worth noting at some point that the rest of the cast is also incredible. Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and Benicio del Toro hang around the edges of everyone else in addition to relative newcomers like Michael "Omar" Williams"and Hong Chau that deliver in strong roles. Katherine "Son of Sam" Waterston also gives an incredibly staying performance for relatively minor screen time. And Joaquin's sideburns. Holy shit does he sell those.

I haven't thought enough about the direction, yet. I really liked the way that Anderson crafted most of the scenes, showing us bits and pieces of the world, flexing in different shades of reality (or was Bigfoot really an actor? I forget now. I need to re-watch this damn thing), and this sort of impossible introduction to some characters (tell me from a cinematic emotion standpoint Sloane Wolfmann's intro doesn't remind you of Jackie Treehorn). I'm not sure he holds all of threads together as well as he should, but maybe he shouldn't - every theme is as clear as day regardless of plot.

One last thing - both the Soundtrack and the Score composed by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood are amazing. 2014 was the most epic year for movie soundtracks ever, by the way. I mean, this year rivaled great 90s Soundtracks like Space Jam (1996), Titanic (1997), and Godzilla (1998). Neil Young and Can may be the biggest names, but I can't stop listening to Minne Riperton, Kyu Sakamoto, or Les Baxter now. It's a dream.

So I dug this a lot. I dig it more after trying to reason out a lot of it for this essay, actually. There is a lot going on here and you can spin a lot of things from this flick. I'd be curious what anyone else got out of it - particularly those who side more with the squares than the hippies. See ya dude.

07 January 2015

First Impressions: The Interview

Now that the controversy has died down and 2014's Version of 9/11 North Korean-style never happened, let'st talk about The Interview (2014). I do have many opinions on the nature of this release and the inherent international controversy it spurred, possibly bringing down a corporate media giant and threatening American democracy and freedom of speech, which you can all read here. Right now, I really just want to talk about the merits of the film itself, and as such, SPOILERS will be lurking everywhere.
Not even one play of "Teenage Dream."

Normally I only chat about movies I have seen in theaters, and as a result, this blog is actually a throbbing living record of every film I've seen at the cinema since 2009. Look at that! I thought that The Interview was a special case, though. If you just got back from Antarctica, The Interview caused a bit of a stir in its real-life subject matter, North Korea, who purportedly sponsored, or at least did nothing to stop, cyber-terrorists from both hacking into SONY and making threats against American movie theaters. After a long, tense couple of days where Obama got involved and I even spoke with representatives from the BBC, SONY released the film in some select theaters along with Video-On-Demand. So, naturally, seeing it the way I did (illegally downloaded once, later bought on YouTube) was the main way of seeing this thing.

The VOD release is of course, huge. It has so far made about $31 million, as of January 4th, with an additional $5 million from its limited theatrical release. We can also estimate around 2 million or so illegal downloads. Which is actually like $20 million additional dollars it could have made in some legal avenue. Is this how we are going to have to measure movies from now on? It's how we always should have to determine a film's true influence and money-making potential - we seem unnaturally obsessive with Box Office, particularly limited to Domestic take.

Yet, until now VOD has always been somewhat inconsequential. Sure there might be a million or two to be made here and there (and lest we remember, if I made a million dollars in one weekend, I'd be set for the rest of my life), but that's never that much compared to a mainstream release's final take. With The Interview, though, this is hugely significant. I've been wanting more films to take this route for years. Why not bypass theaters for a home experience that is better in nearly every way?

I'm not totally anti-cinema. I love the cinema. There's movies like Gravity (2013) or Interstellar (2014) or let's even get into Goodbye to Language 3D (2014) that should only be seen in theaters. These are really all novelty uses of the experience though. There is something to the formality of getting dressed, paying for a ticket, and sitting in the dark with a bunch of real live strangers sharing a communal experience.

At the same time, though, a flick like Snowpiercer (2014) or Why Don't You Play in Hell (2014) won't even play in a theater near me. And I care less about the formality of seeing dumb blockbusters like The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (2014) in the theater than seeing something that engrosses itself in the medium like Birdman (2014). Jeez, I've really got 2014 on my mind. Anyway, my point is that just like everything else in this world, there's not really a black and white answer. There is a place for theatrical releases and there is a place for VOD. I am more irritated when we ignore the use of technology that can service a population that desires the product and can't get it any other way.

The Interview at once legitimizes the VOD medium, which seems otherwise reserved for what used to be a graveyard for Direct-to-Video, then Direct-to-DVD releases. Time will tell if the extremely extenuating circumstances of The Interview's release is a fluke or the start of a trend. If only it ingratiated a significant chunk of the population into experimenting with on-demand where they had not previously, which makes them more apt towards similar future behavior, I'm satisfied. Again, VOD isn't the best for everyone, but I would love an age where theatrical releases and VOD happen simultaneously. Believe me, I'd rather have sit at home and watched Wrath of the Titans (2012) comfortably by myself than when I saw it alone in theaters one lonely Sunday afternoon. Friends don't always want to see movies with you! Especially shitty ones! The lava man looked cool.

So the great irony is that although The Interview may have set precedent for American stances (or not) on securing artistic freedoms of speech from foreign (or domestic) threats, and could possibly have pushed the interview into new and exciting distribution directions, the film itself is so fucking stupid and silly. And really, not that great.

I will admit a lot of it has grown on me in the weeks since I saw it. And I saw it, of course, Christmas Eve, and then again about a week ago last Monday. I may even see it again, it's on my YouTube. Every time I saw it I was also in a big group, which means the actual eyeballs attached to this thing are probably a bit more inflated than those numbers up there indicate. I would say I averaged about groups of five, which would indicate that 50 million people saw this thing. That seems unlikely. But it was probably a good number.

As far as comedies go, it's not particularly intelligent or gut-bustingly funny. A lot of jokes fall flat, especially in the first twenty minutes of the film (that whole James Franco Sméagol impression defies understanding. The flick picks up once it hits the DPRK, and it is cautious to make fun of the nation's leader more than its people. If anything, though, it shows the evil dictator as too much of a sympathetic likable bro, so that his eventual death is a bit more unnerving. I suppose the assumption here is that you're supposed to remember that he's a maniac who enslaves and oppresses his own people in a systemic totalitarian government that worships him as a god. The Interview drops occasional reminders about this, but it generally really makes us side with the lovable little dumpling, just as he cozies up to James Franco's Dave Skylark.

Franco, by the way, completely saves this movie. I've never seen a comedic actor throw himself more into a role as super-expressive or as dumb as this. He's a revelation in every scene. His appearance on the Razzie nomination shortlist is completely unfounded, but the Razzies honor the "worst" movies of the year exactly like the Oscars honor the "best." It's just a bunch of people griping about really obvious movies so that it doesn't actually come off as mean-spirited, but it's no better than the self-congratulatory ceremony it supposes to parody. Franco is funnier here than any other comedic actor of 2014. Okay, note that difference between "best" and "funniest" again, folks. He just strikes an aggressive sort of timing, idiocy, latent homosexuality, and on-the-mark cultural aphorisms that make this perfect character.

I also love how Rogen plays the straight man to Franco's wackiness here, just like Pineapple Express (2008). It's a bold move as co-director this time around, to give up the far funnier parts to all the people around him, in order to make the best possible movie. It's not something you could ever see Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey doing, and it sort of gives you hope for Rogen's future - that he'll keep evolving and writing roles that suit him, or give up acting entirely, rather than push himself in a direction that's forced or unnatural.
The war will be worth it.

Other subtle highlights include a Shaun of the Dead (2004)-like foreshadowing, one of the better uses of a Katy Perry song in a movie (four times. They play "Firework" FOUR times, folks), and a delicate insight into a dangerous nation-state. The only major problem I have is how Seth Rogen used his magic white man penis to melt the foreign ice queen, which is a staple of a lot of James Bond movies that I can see being subtly parodied here. The Korean chick has her own agency, though, so I dunno. Maybe it's okay. It certainly helped the plot. Like I said, this isn't really intelligent comedy, but it was never trying to be, and the pedestal it found itself on after all the controversy was impossible to reach.

I would recommend The Interview. I will see it again. Maybe this week. I think it is growing on me in way that some other films have done in the past. I hated Anchorman (2004) when I first saw it. I did! I preferred Napoleon Dynamite (2004) at the time, which I also saw alone in theaters. At the very least I don't think we'll forget The Interview any time soon, and if we do, it'll be a sad time for America, the film distribution industry, and James Franco. Or maybe we'll just always think about that flash in the pan Christmas of 2014 as one of the more bizarre Hollywood stories that didn't change shit.

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