Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fifty Shades of Snore

To say that Fifty Shades of Grey is a lighting rod of controversy is putting it mildly. There have been articles and counter-articles about E.L. James' best-selling novel about a young woman who begins an explicit sadomasochistic affair with a young and mysterious businessman, with some like Katie Roiphe of Newsweek criticizing the book for it's depictions of BDSM sex, and Amy Bonomi, Nicole Walton and Lauren Altenburger of the Journal of Woman's Health arguing that the author's tale of bondage and kinky sex has little to nothing to do with the sexual lifestyle and everything to do with highlighting and glorifying an abusive relationship; while others, like Sonya Sorich of the Ledger-Enquirer calling it guilty fun and escapism and Laura Barnett of The Telegraph praising James' exploration of sexual politics and her boldness to show and talk about frank sequences of sex between two consenting adults. I haven't read the book, so I'm judging the film on its own merits. Having said that? Neither the detractors of the book or it's supporters' views really ever appear in the film version, which is simply a tedious and dull affair to sit through. Like Twilight before, I understand I'm not the target demographic for this kind of thing, but would it kill the film to at least be interesting?

Dakota Johnson plays Anastasia Steele, the girl about to graduate from Washington State. She's doing an interview of successful billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the school paper, and the sparks fly between the two (allegedly). A series of chance encounters only add fuel to the fire of their desires for one another desire (allegedly), until  Christian shows her his version of love and lust, in the form of his "playroom", complete with flogs, whips, switches, rope, nipple clamps and anal plugs galore! Basically, that's the whole movie - they meet, they fall in love, they fuck. He takes her paragliding and helicopter rides across the Pacific Northwest, she indulges him in his kinkier fetishes. She tries to get him to open up more, he pushes her away....well, you get the idea. I should note that the film hints from the very start that Dornan's Grey has a darker nature hiding beneath the surface, and with a better actor in the part, this would have made for a more complex and compelling character. In the end, Grey's dark and sexual nature comes off as a mere plot point for the film's climax (no pun intended).

I've watched Amber Rayne strapped on all fours, getting pounded in her asshole by a machine with a dildo attached to it, whilst sucking off some guy in a gas mask. I've seen Bonnie Rotten take two huge dicks in her mouth (at the same time), get chocked out, and then have both her holes plugged. Those scenes were more erotic and hot to watch than any of the sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey. Hell, I'd rather watch the porno spoof featuring Rayne as Anastasia and James Deen as Christian, because I'm positive there would be more chemistry between the two adult film stars than whatever passed for "chemistry between Johnson and Dornan. And that's basically the problem: the pair don't have any chemistry together, making the film's 40 minutes of build up tedious and boring to watch. Johnson's performance is mostly bland and one-note, while Dornan is miscast as this attractive billionaire with a fetish streak a mile long and skeletons in his closet, and very good character actresses Jennifer Ehle and Marcia Gay Harden as Anastasia's mother and Christian's adopted mom respectively, simply aren't given enough to do.

The script is just as dull as the acting itself, which is a shame because Kelly Marcel did a wonderful job penning 2013's excellent Saving Mr. Banks, capturing the struggle between P.L. Travers' reluctance to hand over her rights to the book to Walt Disney. Worst of all are the sex scenes themselves. Because there's no spark between Johnson and Dornan, when they do finally get down and dirty, the scenes just fall flat instead of titillating the audience. When you silently say to yourself that you've seen hotter sex scenes on porn sites like Brazzers and Naughty America, something has gone seriously wrong. The one good thing I can say about this dull film is that the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is really good, and it deserves better than the film it's attached to. Also, Sam-Taylor Johnson knows how to set up a scene and capture the mood and atmosphere required. She, also, deserved better than what she and McGarvey were saddled with, but those two elements can't hide dull performances, a bland script and non-existent chemistry.

* star our of ****

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thoughts on Oscars 2015

With Awards Season now in our rear view mirror, I'm spending today and tomorrow putting a capper on 2014 with my thoughts on this year's Oscar telecast, and (finally) releasing my picks for the best of the year. Sunday night was the 87th annual Academy Awards telecast, and if I could sum it up in a word it would be the following: tedious. The Oscar telecast has always been a chore to sit through as the viewer has to endure the most boring aspects of the program - the awards for the technicals (Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound Editing & Mixing, Makeup, etc.), the films no one has bothered to watch (Documentary Feature & Short Subject, Live Action & Animated Short), the "In Memorial" segment, but the dull & yawn-inducing aspects of said broadcast can be tolerable as long as there's a host with solid material. As someone who enjoys the less-than compelling aspects of the yearly telecast, as stated earlier, was a bloody chore for me to sit through even for me.

I could pin this on Neil Patrick Harris just not ready for prime time, but that wouldn't be true as he's done great work hosting the Tony Awards in 2009, and from 2011-2013, and doing hosting duties for the Primetime Emmy Awards, also in '09 and in '13. You could see him clearly trying to make the skits and the jokes work, but the abysmal writing failed him at every turn. Plus, the opening segment he did with Anna Kendrick was funny and showed off his strongest talents as a charming and talented song-and-dance man.

I could say that the the artists performing the songs nominated for the Best Original Song category only made the ceremonies longer, but there were some great performances by those artists, with Teagan & Sara featuring the Lonely Island, and John Legend & Common being the standouts for the bright, upbeat and infections "Everything Is Awesome!" from The Lego Movie and the rousing and inspiring hip hop/soul ballad "Glory" from the film Selma, respectively.

Hell, I could point to Lady Gaga paying tribute to the great Julie Andrews by performing her most iconic and beloved songs as an example of excess that should have been scrapped from the show, but first: Lady Gaga was phenomenal in paying homage to an inspirational figure and did Andrews justice, and two: I'd come off sounding like a prick for saying it.

What a white bright room they're all in!
I guess the easiest route would be to chastise how predictable the winners were. Birdman ended up the night's big winner by taking home four Oscars including Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Director and Best Picture; the acting trophies went to exactly who you'd think they'd go to - Eddie Redmayne winning Lead Actor for The Theory of Everything; Julianne Moore finally winning an award for Lead Actress in Still Alice; and J.K. Simmons & Patricia Arquette taking home Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress for their roles in Whiplash and Boyhood, respectively, but if you've been following guys like Sasha Stone, Kris Tapley, Mark Harris, Scott Feinberg, Anne Thompson and that one guy I won't mention, who read the tea leaves and predict where Oscar is heading, then there really isn't a whole lot that should have surprised you going into Oscar night. And even if you don't? There were still the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild and those wins pretty much were in line with what we saw on Sunday evening.

No, truth be was all of those things. It was the bad writing, the forced and unfunny skits NPH was trying to make work, the musical performances, the bloated Julia Andrews tribute by Gaga, and the predictability of the winners that you could set a stopwatch to, which made this year's Oscar telecast the most boring and downright dull 3 1/2 + hours I've sat through in years. For the first time in fours years, I can say the following about an Academy Awards broadcast and the awards race in general...good riddance it's done and gone for another year.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jeffrey Wells Doing Jeffrey Wells Things.

Last October, I wrote a letter to Jeffrey Wells about his posts, and how I was afraid that, for all of the controversial, inflammatory and sometimes nasty and mean-spirited posts, he was simply writing them to be controversial and inflammatory, to get more hits on his site and to more people talking about himself.

Over the past few days, I got his answer. And it wasn't pretty. 

First, there was him talking about Patricia Arquette attending the Santa Barbra International Film Festival. What did he have to say?

Arquette explained to a Telegraph interviewer a year ago that “you don’t have to buy your mate’s fidelity by looking a certain way…if you’re really in it for the long haul, ten pounds isn’t going to make — shouldn’t make — a world of difference.” I don’t know how to put this gently but nobody in the world welcomes a mate putting on weight…no one. Plus the 46 year-old Arquette has gained a bit more than ten pounds since her performances in Flirting With Disaster and Lost Highway. I’m sure I’ll be derided for saying this, but she’s become, no offense, a woman of somewhat ample proportions. It happens to short women in their 40s unless they become workout Nazis, and Arquette, it seems, doesn’t care to go there...she’s dreaming if she thinks extra weight won’t influence the kind of roles she’ll be offered. Post-Boyhood she’s basically the middle-aged gunboat mama who’s a bit angry and wounded and won’t take any shit. On the other hand she can’t play roles that require a look of upscale urbanity or ultra-discipline or Type-A attitudes. 

Wells astutely points out that she doesn't look the same when Patricia got into the business back in the 90's; that, in fact, she's kinda let herself go. Really. No comments about her body of work over her 20 years in the business, nor anything about what her thoughts on her own image speaks to her feeling comfortable in her own skin...rather, just a comment of, "Wow, she used to be hot, but now she has really let herself go!"

And today, he brings up Judd Apatow's latest comedy, Trainwreck, starring Amy Schumer and Bill Hader. Does he talk about his initial reaction to seeing the trailer? No. And with that, you should all know what's he's really going to choose to talk about (hell, it's in the title of his post!)...

With Trainwreck (Universal, 7.17), director Judd Apatow is once again introducing a chubby, whipsmart, not conventionally attractive, neurotically bothered female comic to a mass audience — first Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids (’11), then Lena Dunham in HBO’s Girls (’12) and now Amy Schumer, the star and writer of Trainwreck as well as the star of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer. She’s obviously sharp and clever and funny as far as the woe-is-me, self-deprecating thing goes, but there’s no way she’d be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world. And yet that’s the apparent premise of Apatow’s film. Schumer’s wide facial features reminded me of a blonde Lou Costello around the time of Buck Privates, or Jennifer Aniston‘s somewhat heavier, not-as-lucky sister who watches a lot of TV. Don’t look at me — I’m not the one who made her the star of a film about a plucky, free-spirited girl that a lot of guys want to bang. You know who would be better in a film like this? An actress who’s nicely attractive, has the funnies and the soulful stuff besides? Jenny Slate.

Like last time, Wells doesn't say anything about whether he thinks the movie will be funny or not, or what he thinks of Amy Schumer as a comedienne, but rather, he takes another jab about how she's fat in his mind.

You may begin to see a pattern forming...those posts had over 80 + comments on the message boards. In fact, it got people talking about him, especially from other film critics, like Scott Weinberg.

Hell, it even got one of the members from the San Francisco Film Critics Circle to ask IFC Films, the distributor of Oscar hopeful Boyhood to take their FYC ads off of Wells's site.

In essence, it got people talking about him and his site. Regardless of how crude, degrading and mean-spirited the comments were, it got people to give a damn about Jeffrey Wells. Congratulations, you got what you wanted. You've got your hits on your site, and you've got us. Talking. About. You. Since I've given you what you wanted, allow me to tell you what you are. In fact, it's what you got pissed off with me for calling you on Twitter.

Like I said, this is Wells' overall endgame: Attention. And lots of it. It doesn't matter if he's writing a post thanking a director for showing side boob, or thinking that a family with a down syndrome child should be kicked out of a theater if their kid won't shut up, or, in this case, taking shots at a woman's weight; anything is fair game. That's not only lazy writing, it's grossly cynical to boot. And you, sir, have both in spades.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

American Bullshit

Before I piss people off about my thoughts on American Sniper, let me first say that I have nothing but the highest respect for the men and women in our military. These are brave individuals who put their lives on the line so that that we may enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted every single day. This review is not meant as an attack against those who have volunteered to put themselves in harm's way; rather, my point is to discuss my problems with the characterization of one Chris Kyle, how the filmmakers white washed most of his full self to sell this notion that he was an honorable, earnest, all-American kind of guy, and how it sells a pro-war message about a conflict that was absolutely unnecessary for the United States to engage in.

Also, I do want to point out that Sniper has a fantastic performance by Bradley Cooper as Kyle. He gets the drawl, the mannerisms, the look and the attitude down to the letter. There's a fantastic opening sequence in which he's forced into an early, horrific decision about whether or not to kill a woman and her child who is carrying an IED. It's a tense moment partly because of the uncertainty Cooper has about his choice, and partly because command has given him the call to make that decision himself. And there are great sequences in which Kyle returns home from his tour of duty to his wife Taya (played by Sienna Miller) and his young kids, only to face difficulty leaving the battlefield behind him. The stories of soldiers returning home from war is a fascinating subject, and one that isn't given then attention it deserves on film, and Eastwood, along with first time screenwriter Jason Hall, do paint a haunting picture of how difficult it was for Kyle return to some form of normalcy, given what he was ordered to do and the things he had seen. This would have been a compelling picture if we had seen more of Kyle trying to distance himself from the war, with flashbacks of him doing his combined four tours in Iraq, instead of Eastwood trying to rewrite history.

And that's where the problems with the film come in: the way Clint subtly tries to link the terrorist attacks in 1998 at a U.S. Embassy to the devastating attacks in New York City & Washington D.C. on September 11th. as both reason for Kyle to serve in the military and to justify our misguided adventure in Iraq. Hearing our protagonist casually coin the people we're invading as "savages" (Editor's note: that was personal gripe on my part. I had known a Navy SEAL that also employed me to work for his at-home business thought my Senior year in high school, and I had, on more than one occasion, heard him use the term "savages" and other ugly terms to describe the people were were fighting and a few of the customers as well). Probably the worst part about Sniper is how Eastwood whitewashes much of Kyle himself and tries to idolize him as this good ol' boy, when even his autobiographical novel (on which this film is based on) says almost the complete opposite.

The film paints the notion that Kyle was conflicted about killing all those people. Not true.

Here's Kyle's thoughts on Iraqis. At least Eastwood got this part right.

How Chris Kyle spent his free-time. On Christmas, no less. Charming.

And here's Chris bragging about a "twofer".

Chris Kyle wasn't a person to idolize, nor was he deserving of how the filmmakers made him into a martyr. At best, he was disturbed man suffering from serious PTSD. At worst, the man was a near-psychopath with a sniper rifle. And Clint Eastwood overlooked that crucial part of Kyle's story completely in order to forge a war film that rewrites the history on why we were taken into war, and idolizes a remorseless murderer into a saint. Excuse me if I dislike nearly everything American Sniper stands for.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm Dreaming of a White Oscars

What does Stephen Hawking, the godfather of computer science, a hotel manager breaking out from prison during the first World War, a young boy and his family growing up through 12 years and the battle of wills between a aspiring musician and his near-abusive professor have in common? On the surface, these are different films ranging in different subjects. But when you look at the people who stared, wrote and directed these various movies, A few patterns begin to emerge:

1. The cast is predominately white.

2. The story mostly centers on a male protagonist.

3. The filmmakers behind the project are white and male.

And all of those films I've mentioned: The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boyhood and Whiplash - have all been nominated for Best Picture for this year's 87th annual Academy Awards.

Before I go any further, I just want to say that this is not an attack on the films themselves. Most of the films mentioned I really enjoyed and deeply admired. My frustrations are being laid out to on the Academy members themselves, who simply didn't include any persons of color or gender to this year's nomination ceremony.

Let's start with the most egregious snub of all, Best Director:

Wes Anderson - The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater - Boyhood
Bennett Miller - Foxcatcher
Morten Tyldum - The Imitation Game

In the 87 year-history of the Academy, there has never been a woman of color nominated for Best Director Oscar. There have only been four female directors to have been nominated for the honor: Lina Wertmuller in 1978 for Seven Beauties; Jane Campion in 1993 for The Piano; Sofia Coppola in 2003 for Lost in Translation; and Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 for The Hurt Locker; the latter of which finally broke over and won the prize. Simply put: a black woman has never been nominated for the prize, and the Acadey could have made history by nominating Ava DuVernay's brilliant, urgent, angry and hopeful civil rights drama Selma. I say this, not because she is a woman of color and therefore, should be included, but because her direction was more than worthy to be nominated for the award. Yes, she took some historical liberties detailing the relationship between Dr. King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson when it came to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but then again, all directors have to take certain liberties to fit a dramatic narrative. Without conflict, there is no drama, period. Spielberg took liberties with Schindler's List, and he wasn't brutally attacked people people who outright said that the film should be banned from awards season. Hell, if any one of the four directors had done what DuVernay had done, the outrage wouldn't be as bad or as loud as it was. I'm happy for Bennett Miller getting in, but if the choice came to Tyldum and DuVernay, the clear choice would be DuVernay. Extremely disappointing Oscar couldn't see it.

Now, onto Best Actor:

Steve Carrell - Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper - American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch - The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton - Birdman or(The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne - The Theory of Everything

I get this has been another competitive race for five slots, but again, I feel Oscar fucked up. Did they not see David Oyelowo's transformative and magnetic performance as Dr. King and not think "this one's a no-brainer - lock him up for Best Actor!"? It might have been an uphill battle to knock off Keaton, but hell, it would have been an excellent inclusion. And let's just ignore Chadwick Boesman's terrific performance as the Godfather of Soul in the musical biopic Get on Up, because, sadly, not enough people bothered to watch it. I like Bradley Cooper, but are you fucking kidding me??? Same with Redmayne, but that's just I feel Theory is the most overrated movie to come out of Awards season, and it sucks even more that Jake Gyllenhaal got snubbed for his career-best performance as creepy sociopath Lou Bloom in Nightcralwer. 

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

All I'm going to say on the matter is this - Gugu. Mbatha. Raw. They probably haven't heard of her, despite having a huge breakout year with two excellent films in Belle and Beyond the Lights.

In fact, if you go down the list of Supporting Actor and Actress, you'll notice one disturbing pattern: there isn't a person of color anywhere. In fact, it hasn't been this whitewashed since 1995. Despite living in 21st century America, where minorities are making strides, having more serious conversations about domestic violence, feminism and gender equality, etc, it's troubling that the Academy simply doesn't reflect what's going on in our society, due to being stuck in what they like as films and as art, or because they simply have their collective heads shoved up their ass.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Don't Be Like This Guy.

It's a new year for yours truly, and what better way to kick things off...than to bring up Hollywood Elsewhere, again. This time I'm not talking about Jeff Wells or whatever dick head-ish thing that came out of his mouth, but rather an experience I've just encountered on the HE site.

I make it no secret that I'm a bit of a fanboy. I love what Kevin Feige has done with Marvel superhero properties like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, S.H.I.E.L.D. and have them connect in various ways in their movies, creating a shared universe. I'll be the first to see the latest endeavor by Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and David Fincher, among other respected and celebrated filmmakers because I love their work. I'm always excited for Oscar season as much as I'm excited to see the summer's slate of popcorn blockbusters. I have my individual tastes, and I hate it when a judgmental snob tells me that my taste sucks, or in this case, I'm less of a man for it.

AvatarAnd the stupification of America continues. What adult man with reproductive abilities and a full set of responsibilities would even bother to go to a theater to watch this?
And no, Devin Faraci does not count as a man just because he's covered in hair.
AvatarI don't know why I find this hilarious, but I do.
You're seriously questioning the masculinity of someone who's into superhero flicks and/or geek culture? Holy faux outrage Batman; the self-righteous hyperbolic outrage is off the charts!
And if you can't stand the superhero trend now? Just wait until Hollywood figures out how to make a decent adaptation of a popular Manga or Anime...
AvatarYeah, I am questioning the masculinity of men who are excited for a live action film about a miniature superhero who can speak to ANTS. No matter what psychological/emotional subplots you graft onto the story, it's still fucking STUPID.
AvatarOh, tell me, Mr. Manly-Man, how do I regain my masculinity from daring to have individual taste in films and popular culture that obviously doesn't jive with your standards on how a REAL MAN enjoys movies and entertainment!!! Come on, good sir; throw this lowly emasculated peasant a bone!
Fuck you, and the high horse you rode in on, you condescending prick.

I simply have zero tolerance for film snobs like "Anonymous By Force" who look down on other folks simply because they enjoy something you don't care for, or outright hate. I think Michael Bay is a shitty filmmaker, but I'm not going to call out someone if they enjoyed Armageddon or the Transformers movies. I think Terrence Malick and Baz Luhrman are hacks, but the same thing applies: if you like something, fine. You like it. I'm not going to attack you for your tastes simply because I don't like it. I'm certainty not  going to lower myself by calling out one's masculinity like this douchebag. We have enough judgmental folks out there who are so insecure with themselves that they have to define or re-define what it means to be "a man" or determine one's place gender-wise because it makes themselves feel at peace.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

So This Is the New Year...

Tonight, as the seconds tick by until the arrival of 2015 (Or maybe it's already arrived wherever you are reading this), I'd like to share my favorite song that has to deal with, well...the beginning of the new year. 

It's by Indie rock group Death Cab for Cutie, and they've been one of my favorite groups since Senior year of high school when I bought Narrow Stairs on iTunes, and I've been a fan since. I love that it's a melancholic song about the biggest non-even of the year and how Ben Gibbard wants to pretend "that we are wealthy, for just this once," on this one night. The song "The New Year" is the opening track off the band's third record, Transantlanticism, which is an incredible record in of itself, including "Sound of Settling," "Title and Registration," and the title track itself, so definitely seek this song out, as well as the rest of the record, because it's worth the listen.

I also want to take the time and thank the following people:

First, a big thank you to my mother, for installing a love of the cinema in me when I was a young kid. From drive-ins, to watching Turner Classic Movies on weekends, I am a lover of the medium because of you.

Second, a huge thank you to the people who inspired me for even starting this blog: Sasha Stone and Ryan Adams of Awards; Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood; Kristopher Tapley of Hitflix; Mathew Buck, Brad Jones, Lindsay Ellis and Doug Walker of Channel Awesome. I wouldn't have the courage to start writing if it wasn't for your inspiration. 

Third, to Craig Kennedy of Awards Daily TV. It was a shot-lived gig, contributing to your realm, but it was well-worth taking, even if it was for a moment. I got to talk to some amazing writers, Joey Moser, Clarence Moyer and Megan "Spitfire" McLaclan, and I feel I've gotten better since my departure. You, good sir, are awesome.

Fourth, to the new people I've talked to on social media about the movies: Al Robinson, Robin Write, Ian, Tina K., and Steve S. Again, you guys rock.

Lastly: I'd like to thank you. 

Yes, you.

Thank you for reading, commenting, and simply hearing what I had to say. Sure, it wasn't much, but thank you nonetheless, and I assure you I plan to talk more about the movies in 2015.

Happy New Year, and thanks again for reading.