Saturday, February 25, 2012

Oscar Marathon 2011B

Thanks again to AMC Woodland Hills for providing the Oscar movie marathon venue. And the 44 oz Icee, which I fortunately did not finish. Today was still a high sugar day, though.

For the last 5 movies, I'm again reviewing them in order of my favorite to my least favorite of the day. Of all 9 films, my favorite is still Moneyball, I think. My other tops are The Help and Midnight in Paris. They all stood up as complete movies that were just the length they needed to be to tell the story, with a minimum of irritating elements.

Overall, 2011 was not a fantastic year for movies. One of the critics on the panel talk I went to at the Egyptian Theater, sponsored by KPCC, last week pointed out that not only were there a large number of sequels this year, nearly all the top picks were nostalgic and/or set at least partially in the past. And it's true. Only the Descendents was actually set in present day. Afterward, I stayed and talked to several people, including a couple of the critics and it was brought up that they think quarterly profits are ruining the movie biz because films take 2 years to film and a year to prep and market, at least. Which gave me the epiphany that probably all the films coming out recently were greenlighted in the depths of the worst recession we've seen in decades. So few companies took real risks to make great movies, and only wanted to make good-enough movies that would get repeat viewers in the seats. I'm still thinking about Winter's Bone a year later - it was an excellently done movie but scary realistic dystopian in ways that made it difficult to enjoy, or even to watch. It wasn't an enjoyable movie, but it felt like it was worth watching. Even among the best picks this year, I'd rate several not even worth watching unless you have a specific taste for what they are: Warhorse, Tree of Life, EL&IC and maybe even Hugo. But lets start with the positive. I'd give a solid A to Moneyball, and an A- to the Help and a B+ to Midnight in Paris.

movie poster, the Help standing by the bench with the white ladies sitting
The Help

To clear it out of the way first, the only black critic at last week's panel was said, "well it's a nice movie but it doesn't say anything new that Driving Miss Daisy didn't say 20 years ago. Why, 20 years on, are we still making this movie? The best answer I have for that is that it's a "woman's tale", not just a black woman's tale, and those don't get a lot of support from the old white dudes still running Hollywood. I'd add to that that it's a fully realized movie starring only women where the male characters are mostly incidental. I know of two this year - this one and Bridesmaids. I'd also ask why, a decade after the new millennium, we're only now making good movies with lots of good actresses of multiple ages that get the full media machine behind their promotion. (My fav from a couple years ago, Whip It was excellent but didn't get the same press.) I watch The Help, and it's packed to the gills with some of our best actresses, yes, including the adorable Emma Stone, and I start to think that they piled into this movie because it's the only place for them to work. So part of me is exceptionally glad that a high caliber movie was made with all this female talent. Another part of me is still a little appalled that it wasn't in service of something beyond black maids.

That said, this was a good movie. Sort of coming of age, comeuppance of the uppity, revenge of the underdog, costume drama, day in the life sort of movie. I really liked that their selection of actresses for the married ladies with young kids were the age we'd still consider to be girls today - early 20s - because I think we forget that in the 1960s, 50% of people were married by age 23, 75% by 25. (The youngest marrying decade in the last 12 decades.) The age selection felt real. The setting felt sufficiently authentic (in stark contrast to Warhorse), and the production values were quite good. When I watched it, I felt like I was watching the characters, not the actors. Nothing stood out to me as wrong, which is a ringing endorsement this year.

The main characters, Skeeter and Milly and Aibileen were decent people you could root for, and their successes were our successes. If you haven't read the book, as I haven't (yet, mom!) it's about a young woman who wants to be a writer finding a topic that "bothers her but doesn't seem to bother anyone else" and that's how the people who raised her generation are treated when that generation becomes adults. It's really not safe for the maids to speak out - they risk losing jobs, going to jail, or even getting killed. It's really not safe for the white girl either as there was a law on the book saying it was a jailable offense for trying to upset the social order by promoting the rights of minorities. For all that it's a message of what happened in the 60s, versions of this still happen today, and we still need to stand up for the unpopular today so the movie still has a relevant message for today. And for a viewer who's for the advancement of civil rights, the message goes down with a spoonful of sugar, rather than two slices of pie.

My favorite scene was toward the end when the authors (Skeeter and Aibilieen) get copies of their book signed by "all the black church goers for two counties" and they tell her to go live her life.

Go see it! Except you probably already have. Hollywood is generally wasted on me... I'm still trying to justify why I rank it below Moneyball. Probably has something to do with Aaron Sorkin and how much his stuff hits my happy places. I don't think either will win for best movie, given the crowd and critical response to them last week. That will probably go to one of the next two, which is all right, I suppose.

movie poster
Midnight in Paris

This is a Woody Allen flick starring Owen Wilson. I've forgiven him for his nose, but if it bothers you, you don't see a lot of it in this - they use camera angles and lighting to minimize it. It's a charming tale of a guy who is engaged to the wrong woman figuring that out *before* he marries her, and figuring out a little of what he wants in life. He does this via time-traveling taxi, which departs from a roadside staircase at midnight. In Paris.

For more reviewing,

read on!
It's a fun movie. They throw in every famous person you could ever hope to meet and have our boy Gil (OW) drink and party with them. The time traveling aspect is handled quite well for the most part, except... he wears the most godawful suits and no way would half of those venues allowed him in the door in such dishabille. It was implied he had formal wear with him, and he should have worn it. I heard a criticism that *of course* he gets rid of his fiance, because she's really awful. But she's not awful as such, she's just awful for him. And I didn't think making her more likeable would have added anything - I have met plenty of guys dating perfectly horrible women who think they're in love. (Fortunately they are not really people I call friends - my good friends seem to do pretty well when hitching up.) The fiance is a perfectly unexceptional person except for her wardrobe which was also awful. What was with that shirt-almost-dress when we meet her? Blechk. I should ask a costumer if the fact that she wore completely inappropriate clothing meant to convey her inappropriateness or if WA just has bad taste in modern women's clothing. The period pieces were lovely.

The movie proceeds to keep throwing Gil back in time at night, and still wandering Paris to find pretty women by day. My only quibble here is that the woman he wanders with last looks 12. Ok, maybe 18. Given the Woody Allen hooked up with his adopted daughter angle, it makes it creepier than it would otherwise be. If she'd been 5-10 years older, I would have liked it a lot more. All his other interactions seemed age appropriate, though so it wasn't a total loss in that area. I liked his interaction with the bilingual tour guide, with his crush, and even mostly with his fiance. He was your standard affable American buffoon with enough redeeming qualities to be worth letting him in your party, thrown into the life of his dreams. The movie is about enjoying the now, and I like how the message came across.

My other quibble is that I knew I was watching actors playing characters, which can be unavoidable to some degree but I think it was enhanced here because each new "famous icon" got so little screen time, I didn't have enough time to come to think of them as their character before we were on to the next, but this is not bad enough to keep someone from enjoying the film. My favorite scenes are where he stands up to the fiance's pedantic ex, who is "expert" in everything. The Picasso scene is worth the price of admission. This is, I think, the first Woody Allen movie I've watched all the way through. I quite enjoyed it and can recommend it for all audiences over 12 or so - although maybe older because one should have the background of standard art/lit history to get maximum enjoyment.

black and white movie poster of couple staring into each others eyes
The Artist

Perhaps I went into this with expectations set too high. It was a good movie. It was even above average. Given that no one actually spoke, it was quite watchable. It was also about a half hour too long. There was more time given than what it had to say, so to speak. It's about how a young starlet got her start by playing off a silent movie lead's stardom and how his fortunes fell as hers rose. Mostly it was about him. The costuming was again beautiful. (Although the peacock design placement in her last main outfit made me think "glittery hoo-ha!")

The main female character, played by Bérénice Bejo, is quite beautiful. I'm a little surprised how much she's been overlooked in favor of the male star. If you wonder which female stars define my standard of Hollywood beauty, look no further. Basically, this lady, Emma Stone, Charlize Theron (ala Cider House Rules), the crush in MIP Marion Cotillard ... Adriana and Angela in TV's Bones. The girl from Hugo also had a charming look to her.

Back to the Artist. The artist is a spoiled brat who treats his wife with indifference. For reasons that are both clear on the surface but obtuse underneath, our heroine falls for our hero. She's a little stalkery, not overly stalkery, just enough to make me a little edgy about her. And this movie couldn't figure out if it was a romance or a "how to embrace the future" tale, or a "how to redeem oneself after hitting rock bottom" show. Because for all the time they gave to Valentin's fall from grace, they gave almost none to his turnaround. He was a petulant prick about it almost all the way to the end, burning bridges and acting out. I wanted to like it as a romance, but I'm too well read. He didn't show that he changed at all. He did not grovel, let alone grovel sufficiently. She (and his dog) saved his ass and he was not even a little grateful. That left it unclear to me why she still liked him because she really only knew him from a couple chance encounters, otherwise she was in love with the persona and that didn't work for the first wife and wouldn't work for her. They gave us a taste of them together, but it wasn't enough to pull off a believable romance.

All in all, they did try something new-that-is-old-and-now-is-new-again, and for the most part pulled it off. A lesser romance fan might not be as disappointed. Someone who didn't already have most of 3 movies under her belt for the day might not have napped while the hero was wallowing in self pity, nor resented the roughly 30 minutes of filler that didn't add to the story. I would not stop anyone from seeing it, but I don't consider it a favorite. It's a solid B, B- effort and worth seeing to stay culturally connected if you want to talk about movies.

But it also brings me to an aside:
In addition to disliking the "woman's muted cry of emotional anguish" cliched scene and the "man falling to his knees in emotional anguish" cliched scene, can we be done with the "women can't drive" cliched scene? Please? True, her character probably never learned to drive, but it came off as a "woman can't drive: hilarity!" scene, not a "this woman has always had a driver so she's really being courageous in trying to drive to her man's rescue" scene, which is what I needed the movie to show. There were also three (3!) scenes today of "man/boy gets upset and destroys all his work in a fit of pique". Hugo, EL&IC, and The Artist all had them. We got a couple more "muted cry of emotional anguish" scenes today too. Super original. And two kids in different movies carrying around keys on neck straps after their parents died. I'm starting to feel like a real critic now, seeing things that are done to death. If I start praising Tree of Life, though, come over with alcohol and talk some sense to me.

movie poster of boy hanging from large clock face
in 3D
First, this movie did not need 3D. The only scene where I actively liked it was getting the perspective on the large library.

I cannot be entirely fair to this movie as I arrived about a half hour in. I did not sleep well last night, tossing and turning and waking up and getting out of bed roughly every half hour between 2 and 6. Because of that, I woke up enough after 10 that I was late. That said, I still felt the movie dragged in places and was too long. I thought there were scenes that interrupted the movie more than moved it forward. Having more from the start may change this impression but I didn't like it enough to watch it again unless it happens to be on in a room I'm occupying.

It was watchable enough and rather cute. But it's about depressed orphans trying to reconnect with their dead folks via the stuff they left behind, a depressed movie director thinking his oeuvre (a word I found in my eBoggle game the other day) is overlooked and destroyed so he needs coddling from his wife, and a depressed inspector with a war wound being annoying but wanting to get the pretty flower girl. There was also a bit about an older woman with a dog. (I recognized her from some of the better "Love Actually" outtakes and find her charming.) Hugo, the movie, is also a little annoying and dumb. All the male characters find purpose, but the very important young female character doesn't seem to. I would actually be ok with her purpose being "connector of people" and not something more solid, but it wasn't shown as explicitly as everyone else's wrap was, including the dog who found a love interest too. As for the dumb, there are chase and non-suspenseful suspense scenes. If someone lives in a train station, he knows full well to get himself back off the tracks before a train comes in. Having him stand on the tracks unmoving, nearly stupefied, *more than once* was both annoying and dumb. Again, I wouldn't stop someone from seeing the movie that wanted to, but I'd rate it a C. A solid effort with a lot of visual blather and filler trying to overcome a thin depressing story. On the plus side, there are clockwork automatons and they don't claim the young boy genius built them, so there's that.

movie poster of creepy eyed boy covering his face with hands
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The critics last week took to calling this "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Annoying". I will also admit to not being able to be entirely fair to this movie either. I missed the first half, choosing instead to wander the mall and look at and lounge in Macy's and Z Gallerie furniture and chat with my friend. Not a single thing I saw in any ad for this made me want to see it. Nothing said by the critics or audience last week made me want to see it. What I perceived to be pandering to 9/11 beatification put me off completely. So my friend and I came back for the last half. It was ok but the pandering 9/11 reminisces did put me off.

I tried to pay particular attention to the adult's roles. There were some really well done scenes and I think I haven't given Sandra Bullock enough credit in the past. I liked her scenes more than any others, they most pulled me into the movie. The critics also said to watch for Viola Davis's role here because they liked her better in this than in The Help. How great that the black folks in this one were modern people like stock traders? Reassuring after The Help, I can, well, assure you. But I only saw her for a couple brief scenes and can't judge from those.

The story is about a boy who finds a mysterious key in his dad's stuff after his death. The boy is a little weird - aspbergery but maybe just neurotic - and seeks to find the lock for the key and his way in the world. Which is all well and good, but I'd just (mostly) watched another boy his age try to search for the key to go to his dad's lock and find his way in the world. I'm firmly in the camp that believes there are a finite and small number of plots and it's the journey and characters that make a plot interesting, so I can't overreact to the fact that these movies had such similar starting points and goals, especially since Hollywood does seem to make at least two of any movie in a given year. These were two efforts that made for quite different experiences, but both of them mediocre to my (potentially unfair) reckoning. Well, I'm dizzy and tired now and don't really have much to say about this movie. Some people liked it. I don't know that many loved it. It wasn't something I really cared about.

To review. 2011 had some slim pickings. The better movies made were mostly good-but-not-great. I'd like to see Moneyball or The Help win best picture. I'd see them again, along with Midnight in Paris for campy good fun. I can also recommend the charming "My Week with Marilyn". Happy Oscar Night all.

1 comment:

CrankyOtter said...

Regarding my rant about repeated "cliched" elements. If I want to be more fair, there could be some leeway for whether this stuff is cliched or whether they are "standard elements" which are commonly used as specific communications to the viewer, like an alphabet or other common lingo like bible verses or poems or bits from Shakespeare.