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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Return of the Nostalgia Critic. No, really.

Well…..that didn’t last long. 

            Yes, it appears my dedication to the retirement of the Nostalgia Critic last September was somewhat premature.  Earlier this week, in lieu of a new episode of Demo Reels, the “successor” series to Nostalgia Critic, Doug uploaded a half-hour short film where the characters of Demo Reels essentially morph into the Nostalgia Critic, who then appears before Doug Walker himself to “negotiate” his return.  The film ends with an announcement that Nostalgia Critic will formally reappear on the site on February 5th.  This time, however, new videos will be biweekly instead of weekly, to give Doug more time to develop each video.  Furthermore, he’s removing the 2000 cutoff date that had previously limited what films he was “allowed” to consider nostalgic (and forcing him to “time travel” to be able to review The Room). 

            It’s certainly an unexpected announcement, and one that leaves me with mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I am very much excited to see what he does now with more material open to him and more time for each review.  On the other, I had already started to feel familiar with the various characters of Demo Reels, and was interested to see where his next series would go.  I don’t think he’s doing this to simply pander to the many requests he’s gotten to bring the character back, otherwise why would he retire him in the first place?   What the general reaction to this news is, I can’t say.  I suppose I could get a general sense of people’s reactions by reading the comments under the video, but as I still have a sense of self-worth, a public internet comment thread remains the last place you’ll find me. 

I did make one brave foray into that foul swamp to see what people were saying, and was immediately hit by the lack of enthusiasm (and sometimes major criticism of) Demo Reels, which I found rather unfortunate.  No, it’s not Nostalgia Critic, but it was never meant to be.  Although I sometimes found it funny, and sometimes not, I liked how he was branching out and trying out a different style of comedy, and I respected him for doing it.  

            What I’m curious to know is just how far ahead he planned this.  When did he decide to bring the character back, if he ever really did intent to retire him in the first place?  It’s not always easy to tell, because Doug and the other reviewers on his site have always done a very thorough job of tying together the inner logic of the Animaniacs-style alternate world they’ve created for themselves.  The short film accounting Nostalgia Critic’s return essentially ties the very existence of the characters of Demo Reels into the end of To Boldly Flee, which (SPOILER ALERT) ended with the Nostalgia Critic throwing himself into an alternate dimension, making Donnie Dupre’s entire character an alternate version of the Nostalgia Critic to begin with.  If it does end up being something he thought up after the fact to give Nostalgia Critic’s return some semblance of logic, I will be very impressed indeed. 

            For now, I will opt for cautious optimism.  By last summer I had already suspected Nostalgia Critic was running out of steam somewhat, so if a brief break was all Doug needed to revitalize the show, I’m all for it.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t end up regretting he stuck to keeping the Nostalgia Critic in retirement. 

-Judge Richard 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review: Django Unchained

Django Unchained (2012): Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson.  Rated R for:  It’s a Tarantino revenge film about slavery.  What do you think it’s rated “R” for?  Pony chases?  Running time: 165 minutes.

Rating:  3.5/4 Stars
Tarantino has grown on me slowly- very slowly- as a Director.  Although I still can’t call myself a fan of Inglorious Bastards, his last film prior to Django, I have come to respect the fact that he is one of the few directors able to make precisely the sort of films he likes, with as much of his own personal styles and techniques as he wants, even when I don’t always personally take to the final product.  I am also intrigued by how he likes to throw together wildly different (and sometimes very obscure) subgenres of film in ways that deliberately turn them on their heads. 

            Django, his latest venture into pop culture-topsy-turvy-dom, is a prime example of this, combining the traditional lone-man-revenge-fantasy (ala Taken) with the style and setting of a spaghetti western (ala anything with Clint Eastwood in it).  This time, however, instead of the morally ambiguous-yet-righteously-infuriated white man dealing out punishment, it’s a black man, and a freed slave at that.

            Said freed slave is Django (Jamie Foxx), who soon becomes Django Freeman when he is “purchased” from his chain gang by wandering dentist-turned-bounty-hunter Dr. Schultz (played to a T by the always-dependable Christoph Waltz).  Initially wanting Django’s help identifying 3 bounties he’s chasing, Schultz is so impressed with Django’s natural skills as a gunman that the two form a partnership, which quickly becomes a confidant friendship as well.  As they go on one bounty hunt after another (at one point having a run-in with a KKK-style horse gang that could have come straight out of a Mel Brooks movie), Schultz learns that Django plans to one day find his sold wife, Broomhilda.  The name, of German origin, reminds Schultz of an old German legend, where a hero saves a beautiful princess trapped in a ring of hellfire.  Inspired by this association, Schultz hatches a plan to find and purchase Broomhilda from her current owner, Calvin Candie, and rescue her from the real-world hellfire of slavery. 

            And that is where the film really kicks into high gear.  Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie is as slimy, vile and unredeemable a bad guy as anyone could wish for, although the REAL villain of Candieland (the name of Candie’s plantation….no really) eventually proves to be Candie’s head slave Stephen, a brilliantly perverse twist on more benign, familiar, Uncle Tom-esque characters.  Watching Schultz and Django slowly worm their way, inch by inch, into Candieland while Stephen, ever suspicious, tries to figure out what’s really going on, is a lot of fun to watch, especially since every actor in every role is a ton of fun to watch.  Christoph Waltz more than earns his second Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor, but DiCaprio or Jackson would have been just as deserving, to say nothing of Jamie Foxx being passed over for Best Actor. 

            I really, really liked Django.  Since I’ve had at least some previous experience with the Western films Tarantino is fiddling around with, I was able to note and appreciate the occasional riffs he takes on the genre.  Plus, as someone who is generally not a fan of the one-man armies out for blood type of movies that are so enduringly popular, I also appreciated watching Tarantino push the revenge motif to its logical extreme in the blood-splattered third act.  The acting is phenomenal across the board, and the cinematography is creative, including one fantastic (and absurdly appropriate) shot of a dead slaver’s blood splattering a batch of snow-white cotton.       

            Of course, this has been far from an uncontroversial film, with many accusing it of being racist, insensitive to slavery by turning it into the subject of an exploitation film.  While I can understand some people thinking this when first hearing the plot of the film (I certainly did), after having seen it, I feel that calling Django racist or insensitive by depicting slavery in a revenge film (or because of how often it uses the word “nigger”) is like saying the same about Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.  That is, arguments of the sort kind of miss the point of the movie.  Rather than “minimalizing” slavery, or merely exploiting it for its most gruesome aspects (meaning pretty much ALL its aspects), Django is often at its most serious and earnest when focusing on the horrors of slavery in the Old South. 

            The thing is, it’s very easy for us to forget not only how truly horrible slavery was (and still is, in many parts of the world), but also how, especially in this country, it was so effectively dressed up as something “natural” or “normal”, often justified by twisted science or theology.  And, for all of Tarantino’s over-the-top, juvenile tendencies, Django is full of a lot of wry and brutally sharp, yet largely unspoken, commentary on Southern slavery’s paradoxical existence; a whip-happy field manager with pages of the Bible stapled into his shirt, gleaming white mansions manned entirely by black staff, a plantation owner’s tortured attempt to explain to his slave girls what a “free” black man is.  That’s perhaps what really draws me to Django Unchained- as someone who is constantly frustrated with our culture’s tendency to brush over America’s history with slavery, it’s refreshing to see a film that manages to bring it front and center using both over-the-top, brutal directness AND poignant subtlety. 

            Ultimately, not everyone will like Django, and not everyone will agree with my opinion of it, but I do urge people to see this movie BEFORE pronouncing it racist or insensitive.  Does Tarantino go over the top at times with the blood?  Absolutely.  And the rest of the film is hardly flawless.  Many critics have already pointed out the absence of a “strong female character” (a double-edged argument if ever there was one), as Broomhilda just sort of pops in and out as needed.  Yes, it is unfortunate that Django doesn’t upend EVERY cliché or convention it’s poking fun at, but given how many different cultural norms Tarantino is trying to force into a headlock, I’ll forgive him for letting one slip through the cracks.  If you think you can handle the gore, definitely see this movie.  If not, but you still want to get a healthy dose of perspective on the legacy of slavery, watch Lincoln.  Which is also excellent. 

-Judge Richard  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Oscars- My Picks

            Now that the Golden Globes are safely and securely out of the way, it’s time to talk about the Oscars!  As you all probably know, the official nominations for this year’s Academy Awards (hosted by Seth McFarlane) were released last Thursday.  This year should be pretty interesting, as there are a slew of genuinely great and interesting films up for each award category, and a lot of different films are up for a lot of different awards.  Lincoln leads the pack with 12, followed by 11 for Life of Pi, 8 for Silver Linings Playbook and Les Mis, 7 for Argo, and 5 apiece for Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained.  There are some confusing nominations, and there are a fair bit of snubs, so what I will do is break down my comments by category, including any extraneous thoughts or opinions of mine underneath my pick for each category (aside from one MAJOR snub, which I’ll get to in just a second). 
            Important note- these are NOT predictions for who will win what.  I try to stay as far away as possible from the game of reading the Academy’s mind.  These are the films that I, personally, feel deserve each award, and would gladly vote for were I a member of the Academy. 

            With that said, let’s start with…..
            The Oscar for Most Snubbed Film of 2012:  Cloud Atlas

            As much as it pained me to admit, I knew from the get-go that Cloud Atlas, a strange, sprawling, big-idea movie, would never get much love by awards committees, especially the Academy.  This is a film that, in my humble opinion, would have more than earned nods for Best Picture, Director, Original Score, Visual Effects, Film Editing, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design, Adapted Screenplay, and ESPECIALLY Makeup and Hairstyling.  Hell, I would even throw in Actor/Actress noms for Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, if there were any room left for them on the board (the 5-per category limit can be reeeaaaally restrictive some years).  And what did it get?  Nothing.  A single nomination for Soundtrack at the Globes (which doesn’t even do technical awards).  Zero from the Academy.  I stated in my original review of Cloud Atlas that if it did not waltz away with the Oscar for Best Makeup it would be a sign that the Academy was in worse condition than we thought, and I stand by that.  Obviously, none of the awards or nominations truly mean one film is better than another, and the truly great films will always find people who appreciate them.  This film will find its audience.  Still, DAMN does this one bite. 

            And now on to the actual awards! 

Visual Effects-  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Life of Pi, Marvel’s The Avengers, Prometheus, Snow White and the Huntsman

My Pick: Life of Pi

            Although I did not see it in 3D, Pi’s were easily some of the most interesting and creative of the year.  It’s the first big-budget effects film about a survival at sea story, and the parts where Ang Lee uses the effects to turn the sea into something living and dynamic were what made the whole film worth watching.  I can imagine The Hobbit or The Avengers taking this too, but people are pretty divided over The Hobbit’s HFR, and as for The Avengers, well, just look at Chris Nolan if you want to learn what the Academy tends to think of superhero movies. 

Writing: Adapted Screenplay- Argo (Chris Terrio), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin), Life of Pi (David Magee), Lincoln (Tony Kushner), Silver Linings Playbook (David Russell)

My Pick: Lincoln (Tony Kushner)

            Lincoln remains my favorite film of 2012, a powerful reminder that the dirtiness of politics need not always be a bad thing.  Kushner’s script allows for a whole host of the major figures in the story to establish themselves, while also allowing their relationships with each other to feel genuine and alive.  The fact that Argo took the two biggies at the Globes makes me think that the film is likely to win nothing from the Academy this year, especially since Affleck was noticeably excluded from Best Actor and Best Director categories, so I think  Lincoln will, more often than not, be the film to beat. 

Writing: Original Screenplay- Amour (Michael Haneke), Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino), Flight (John Gatins), Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola), Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal)

My Pick: Zero Dark Thirty (Mark Boal)

           My original pick for this was Moonrise Kingdom, but after finally seeing Zero Dark, I felt compelled to change my vote.  Why?  Because Zero Dark succeeds in maintaining almost complete neutrality about some of the most emotional and divisive issues (for Americans) of the past decade, which is no small feat.  My hat off to Mark Boal.  

Short Film, Live Action- Asad, Buzkashi Boys, Curfew, Death of a Shadow, Henry

My Pick: I did not see any of these films, so I can’t really pick one.  If I am able to view them prior to the Oscars, I will edit this post to reflect my choice. 

Sound Editing- Argo, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Zero Dark Thirty

My Pick: Zero Dark Thirty

            Finally got around to seeing this one, and my vote is unchanged.. 

Sound Mixing- Lincoln, Argo, Les Mis, Life of Pi, Skyfall

My Pick: Lincoln

            Part of the beauty of Lincoln was how well the dialogue and music (one of John Williams’ more subtle scores) interplayed with each other, like a quiet poem.  As to who will actually get it, I honestly have no idea. 

Short Film, Animated- Paperman, Adam and Dog, Fresh Guacamole, Head Over Heels, Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”

My Pick: Paperman

            Props to this pre-Wreck-It-Ralph short for reminding us that a simple, kitschy love story can still be fresh and fun when done with creativity and imagination. 

Production Design- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Anna Karenina, Les Mis, Life of Pi, Lincoln

My Pick: Lincoln

            The Hobbit would be a good recipient for this too, but Lincoln succeeded in part because of how well it took us back to the Civil War-era, taking us right into the President’s chambers, both official and personal.  The story itself has its share of historical inaccuracies, but every inch of the production design screams authentic civil war.  

Music, Original Song- Chasing Ice (“Before My Time” by J. Ralph), Ted (“Everybody Needs A Best Friend”, by Walter Murphy and Seth MacFarlane), Life of Pi (“Pi’s Lullaby” by Mychael Danna and Bombay Jayashri), Skyfall (“Skyfall” by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth), Les Mis (“Suddenly” by Claude-Michel Schönberg, Herbert Krezmer, and Alain Boublil)

My Pick: Skyfall (“Skyfall)

            Hey, remember that year there were only 2 nominees for Original Song, one from The Muppets, and The Song Not From The Muppets?  Sure glad it ain’t this year! 

Makeup and Hairstyling- Hitchcock, Les Mis, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

My Pick: Cloud Atlas

            Yeah, I’m still on about this.  This category may not as well exist this year. 

            Hobbit will probably win though.  

Foreign Language Film- Kon-Tiki, No, Amour, A Royal Affair, War Witch

My Pick: Amour

            Easiest call of the night, since it’s the ONLY foreign language film getting any buzz in the States.  Also the only one I've seen.  

Music, Original Score- Anna Karenina (Dario Marianelli), Argo (Alexandre Desplat), Lincoln (John Williams), Life of Pi (Mychael Danna), Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

My Pick: Lincoln (John Williams)

            Given how Williams is known almost exclusively for his soaring, bombastic, and deeply emotional scores, his themes for Lincoln surprised me with how quiet and underplayed they were, never going for obvious emotional buildup, but always there, gently lifting the film along.  An old industry favorite (with the second-most nominations of all time), I figure it’s about time het gets another one of these. 

Documentary Feature- “5 Broken Cameras”, “The Gatekeepers”, “How To Survive A Plague”, “The Invisible War”, “Searching For Sugarman”

My Pick: Like with the Live Action Shorts, I did not see any of these, so I can’t really pick one.  However, I do know that “5 Broken Cameras” is about Palestine, so I guess I’ll pull for that one to win. 

Documentary Short- “Inocente”, “King’s Point”, “Mondays at Racine”, “Open Heart”, “Redemption”

My Pick: Yet again, did not see any, will not pick any. 

Film Editing- Argo, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

My Pick: Lincoln

            My pick for this may change pending my viewing of Zero Dark Thirty next month (in which case I shall edit this post), but for now, Lincoln gets my vote. 

Cinematography- Anna Karenina, Django Unchained, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Skyfall

My Pick: Life of Pi

            This category, like many of the artistic-related ones, will depend on your own personal tastes when it comes to film, but for me, I give Pi full credit for turning a survival-at-sea story into a thing of genuine beauty.  There’s a constant visual theme of water and sky being blended into a single entity, as if the characters are suspended between heaven and earth, never really a part of either. 

Costume Design- Anna Karenina, Les Mis, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman

My Pick: Lincoln

            It really bothers me that Mirror Mirror and Snow White got any nominations at all, but if they actually win anything, this is probably the category they’ll win it in.  Les Mis will probably be the favorite, but I still give Lincoln my vote. 

Directing- Amour (Michael Haneke), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin), Life of Pi (Ang Lee), Lincoln (Steven Spielberg), Silver Linings Playbook (David Russel)

My Pick: Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

            Now THIS is the category with the biggest , most controversial snubs of the year.  No Ben Affleck, no Katheryn Bigelow, no Quentin Tarantino, no Paul Thomas Anderson (AND no Wachowskis/Tykwer for Cloud Atlas).  To be fair, with the 5-nominee limit still in force in regards to Directing, there were going to be some big snubs here anyway, since this was a year big on worthy Directing efforts.  Has the Academy shot themselves in the foot this year?  Yes, but probably no worse than when they steadfastly avoided giving Chris Nolan nominations for both Dark Knight AND Inception.  Bigelow will end up being the most controversial, especially since she won the thing a mere 3 years ago, but with her absence from the list, my vote (and my prediction) is for Lincoln. 

Animated Feature Film- Brave, ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Wreck-It-Ralph
My Pick:  ParaNorman

            Although a worthy effort, Brave was just a bit too hectic to manage pulling off all its big ideas, and although Wreck-It-Ralph was a great big ball of fun, it provided little that was new in terms of overarching story and structure.  Plus, I’d really, really like to see the people at Laika get the encouragement of a prestigious award, because both of their first two major films (ParaNorman and Coraline) have taken interesting steps away from mainstream animated films in this country, and I’d love nothing more than to see that trend continue. 

Actor in a Supporting Role- Argo (Alan Arkin), Silver Linings Playbook (Robert De Niro), The Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Lincoln (Tommy Lee Jones), Django Unchained (Christoph Waltz)

My Pick: The Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman)

            Movie Bob has already pointed out that e very single nominee for this category is a previous winner, the most recent being Christoph Waltz for Tarantino’s last movie.  Because of that, he’s unlikely to win.  As for my pick, I’m genuinely torn between Tom and Phil, but The Master is unlikely to win anything else, so for the sake of variety, my pick goes to Phil. 

Actress in a Supporting Role- The Master (Amy Adams), Lincoln (Sally Field), Les Mis (Anne Hathaway), The Sessions (Helen Hunt), Silver Linings Playbook (Jacki Weaver)

My Pick: Lincoln (Sally Fields)

            Yeah, I know.  Anne Hathaway is probably going to win this one.  And I wish I could have more doubts about that.  I’m sure she’s great, but her character has been firmly established for well over a century, and has one of the biggest songs in one of the biggest musicals of all time.  Mrs. Lincoln, on the other hand, is a figure virtually ignored in popular culture until now, and Fields could not have brought more spellbinding energy to the role.  She deserves the Oscar.  I’m seriously worried she won’t get it. 

Actor in a Leading Role- Silver Linings Playbook (Bradley Cooper), Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis), Les Mis (Hugh Jackman), The Master (Joaquin Phoenix), Flight (Denzel Washington)

My Pick: Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis)

            Also one of the easiest (and most worthy) calls of the night.  Joaquin was fantastic, and I’m sure Denzil was great in Flight, but Day-Lewis has earned his 4th Oscar.  Lincoln is a hard character to play in a way we haven’t seen already, and he pulls it off brilliantly. 

Actress in a Leading Role- Zero Dark Thirty (Jessica Chastain), Silver Linings Playbook (Jennifer Lawrence), Amour (Emmanuelle Riva), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Quvenzhane Wallis), The Impossible (Naomi Watts)

My Pick: Zero Dark Thirty (Jessica Chastain)

            All I have to say is- picture Captain Ahab, but female, and that's pretty much how Chastain sells Maya.  Intelligent and determined, but in an almost manically obsessed way.  And, like the rest of the film, there are a lot of different ways you can interpret her character.  I would also love to see the award go to Wallis for Beasts, but she’s nearly a third the age of the youngest-ever Actress winner, so that probably won’t happen. 

Best Picture- Amour, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Mis, Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild

My Pick: Lincoln

            Still my favorite of the year, and out of the ones they nominated, easily one of the most important films of 2012 (along with Django and Zero Dark).  However, if either of those two were to take the award instead, I honestly would not mind.  It would be pretty cool to see Lincoln sweep the major awards though. 

            Well, those are my picks for the 2013 Oscars!  The final tally of my multiple winners (for those of you who failed to keep count):

Lincoln- 10

Zero Dark Thirty- 3

Life of Pi- 2

            Yeah, I’ll obviously be pulling for Lincoln most of the night.  The actual awards are likely to be a lot more balanced out.  I just hope they balance them between the films that deserve it (*cough* Silver Linings *cough cough*). 

            The 85th Annual Academy Awards will take place February 24th, at 7 EST.  Tune in and complain with me! 

-Judge Richard

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The 70th Annual Golden Globes: My Reactions

                Well, the awards season is in full swing.  And I, as always, am behind schedule.  As I am currently in Europe and am now suffering from the usual delayed release dates, I will not be able to do my Best of 2012 List as soon as I would like, as there are way too many of the critically acclaimed films I have not yet seen.  I only just saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, and have also not had the chance to see Amour, Paranorman, Django, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Mis, or Argo.  Thankfully, Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty are coming out in Germany later this month, so even if I don’t get to see all of the above films, I will try to get my Top 10 list done by early February.  I am also working on a much belated reaction to the Oscar nominations  (along with my picks for each award), which I will finish once this post is up. 

                Now that the news is out of the way, let’s talk Globes! 

                All in all, I thought it was a fun night.  Tina Fey and Amy Poehler killed (as to be expected), and there was a decent variety to who won what.  At least as far as the movie awards were concerned.  Since I really don’t watch TV, I just zoned out for those.  Although I must say, for once I’m glad Downton Abbey didn’t win anything, because I’m afraid any more accolades at this point would only encourage Julian Fellows to continue the bad trends that started popping up in Season 2.  Well, aside from Maggie Smith winning for being, well....Maggie Smith.  But more on that in another post. 

                There really weren’t any particular recipients that bothered me, outside of a few.  Brave winning Best Animated Feature I just found confusing.  Yes, I liked it a lot, and it took a lot of admirable risks, but never managed to effectively keep all the balls it tried to juggle in the air.  Wreck-It-Ralph, on the other hand, benefited from a lot of great ideas that it managed to successfully balance with solid, strong characters and storytelling.  But oh well.  At least Paranorman got an Oscar nod. 

                It was no surprise that Anne Hathaway took the Globe for Best Supporting Actress (although it’s strange that they divide the Supporting roles between Comedy/Musical and Drama, but not the Leading Roles).  Her performance of “I Dreamed A Dream” is one of THE talked-about things in film right now.  I do not have my own opinion yet, as Les Mis doesn’t come out here until February.  However, as great as I’m sure she is, my vote for the Oscar is still with Sally Fields, and I hope the Academy has immuned themselves to the tide of popular opinion (although there’s usually no reason them not to be).  Mrs. Lincoln is a figure hardly explored in popular culture, as opposed to her historical titan of a husband, and Field’s performance was singularly haunting, giving face to all the emotional anguish felt by Lincolns during their marriage. 

                The only award that really bothered me was Les Mis taking Best Comedy or Musical over Moonrise Kingdom.  Again, I have not yet seen Les Mis, but I HAVE seen The King’s Speech and the John Adams miniseries, both directed by the same man as Les Mis (Tom Hooper).  And, if those are anything to go off of, Tom Hooper has yet to attain the level of off-the-cuff creativity that made Moonrise Kingdom both one of the most fun movie experiences I had this year AND one of the most emotionally resonant.  Les Mis is big music that goes for big, over-the-top emotions, which honestly isn’t as difficult a task as going for small and smart, like Moonrise.  Call it a personal bias I guess. 

                The big surprise, for most people it seemed, was that the “top 2” awards (Best Picture and Director) went to Argo, which has already gotten a distinct lack of love from the Academy (no Director or Actor nod for Affleck).  It’s already pretty much guaranteed that Argo will get no love whatsoever on Oscar Day, so personally, although it will be awhile before I see the film, I’m glad to see it get at least a little attention from the awards people. 

                And that’s……really all I have to say about the Golden Globes.  No one film really swept the awards, there were no HUGE snubs in the nominees (and the categories they give awards for are extremely limited anyway), and no one horribly undeserving got any of the major awards, so I really don’t have any complaints.  Now the OSCARS, on the other hand…..we’ll get to that later this week.  Until then! 

-Judge Richard


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Review: The Impossible

The Impossible (2012): Written by Sergio Sanchez.  Directed by J.A. Bayona.  Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland.  Rated PG-13 for: intense and realistic disaster scenes, bloody injuries, and brief nudity.  Running Time: 113 minutes.  Based on the true story of a Spanish family. 

Rating: 2.5/4 Stars

            It’s not easy to review a film like The Impossible, especially one that purports to accurately depict the events of a major natural disaster, in this case the series of tsunamis that rocked the Indian Ocean region in the wake of one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded.  A total of 14 countries were directly hit by tsunamis caused by the earthquake, resulting in over 200,000 killed, and millions more injured, homeless, and lost, and resulting in one of the largest international aid efforts in recent history.  Even years later it’s hard to grasp the scope of the disaster. 

            This event of unimaginable death and devastation is the backdrop of The Impossible, which claims to be the true story of a Spanish family that was on vacation in Thailand at the time of the tsunami.  After getting hit directly by the first wave, the family of five is literally torn apart, the mother and eldest son being swept in one direction, the father and two younger sons in another.  The rest of the film then chronicles how, after coming to and patching up their various wounds, both parts of the family struggle to find out whether the others are alive or dead.  Along the way, both the father, mother, and eldest son come across other battered and shell-shocked victims, most of whom are struggling to find missing friends or family members of their own. 
            There is one major issue that I (and others) have with the film.  The effects of the tsunamis were truly global in the scope of its victims.  Many of the areas of Indonesia, India, and Thailand that got hit the hardest were immensely popular tourist resorts, particularly for wealthy Europeans, so the list of people affected by the disaster was very international and cross-cultural in its scope.  The brunt of the devastation, however, was obviously born by the local populations of India, Indonesia, and Thailand, especially the poor, whose lower-quality homes were more easily crushed by the oncoming waves, leaving untold numbers completely homeless and destitute. 

            And although that was easily the worst and most enduring of the tsunamis’ many aftereffects, the film zeroes in exclusively (some may say disgustingly) on white, Western tourists.  Not a single dark-skinned character is named, or even gets more than a line of dialogue (except for a single Thai nurse).  Even the family itself (whose story is genuinely powerful and miraculous) gets a whitewashing treatment- the parents, of Spanish origin, are dark-skinned and dark-haired, but are here depicted by white-as-it-gets Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.

            Now, to be fair, this particular casting choice of two well-known English actors was made largely to give the film a marketing boost, allowing them to write the script in English and have some big names in the trailer.  Which I have no problem with, especially since McGregor and Watts are both very, very solid actors, and this movie is no exception.  The most affecting scene in the entire film, for me, was when McGregor manages to call his wife’s parents, and has to force himself to admit that he doesn’t know if their daughter is alive or dead.  Watts is just as believable as a mother fighting to overcome her own life-threatening injuries while still looking out for the only son she knows is alive (in fact, she’s one of the Golden Globe nominees for Best Actress).  . 

            However, the stand-out performance, as well as the real emotional heart of the film, is newcomer Tom Holland as the eldest son.  The main thrust of the film is his efforts to support his mother and find help for her, while being forced to grow up fast and take care of himself with death literally surrounding him at every turn.  I plan to keep an eye out for this kid in the near future.  His character arc, and how he and his mother deal with their situation is what the film does best, and is the best reason I can give for seeing this film (although I personally wouldn’t rush to see it in theaters). 
            A Western-oriented approach isn’t the only issue with the film.  The plot, while adhering fairly accurately to actual events (from what I understand) nonetheless gives in to a few too many easy clichés and tropes along the way.  The whole first part of the film, prior to the tsunami, is dominated by peaceful shots of rich families lounging around luxurious spas, while an undercurrent of foreboding music seems to whisper, “and then they all diiiieeed….”.  The eventual reunion of the family (spoilers, by the way) is also marred somewhat by an American Tale-esque montage of the father and sons *just* missing each other as they run around the same hospital.  None of these are deal-breakers, and none of my criticisms are meant to detract from either the tragedy of the tsunamis nor the beauty of the family’s survival.  But they do distract, if only for a moment, blunting the overall emotional impact of the film. 
            In the end, I’m still not sure whether or not I would recommend The Impossible.  It’s a good film, it’s well-made and well-acted, but I expect a lot of people would end up not liking the film because they believe it minimalizes the true scope of the disaster.  To its credit, the film does begin by emphasizing the extent of the tragedy, and reminds us that it is merely seeking to tell the story of a single family, and not to offer an overall statement on the effects of the tragedy.  So on that count, I don’t find the film to be in any way insensitive.  As far as depicting a single tale of familial survival, and showing the ability of people to offer kindness and compassion in the face of the worst conditions, I found The Impossible to be a strong and moving story of human endurance.   

-Judge Richard

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year's Announcement

To all my readers, both irregular and regular (all 5 of you), Happy New Year!  I am having a blast writing this blog and hope to keep it going strong this year as well! 

Unfortunately, the nature of this blog will be a tad different for much of this year.  I have recently relocated to Germany, and will be here through the summer.  Though I might wish it otherwise, this will have an affect on what sort of posts I can write for this site, as most movies are released in Europe at least a month after their initial release in the US.  Meaning, sadly, that while I am here there will be few films I will be able to review while they are still in theaters in the US, making anything I write about them rather redundant. 

As a result, much of what I write for this site will be of a more experimental nature during the next 6 months.  This month and next month will, of course, be devoted largely to talking about the Golden Globes and Oscars, along with a list of my favorite films of 2012.  After that, I will start working on a few ideas I've been bouncing around for awhile but have never had the time to develop- a breakdown of the Animated Feature Oscar nominees, some retro reviews of the Nostalgia Critic, and perhaps some musings on Avatar: The Last Airbender and Doctor Who as well.  Who knows.  The point is, although my actual "reviews" will dwindle for much of this year, I will try to maintain the number of posts I get onto the site each month.  Hope you all keep reading, and again, I wish you all the best this New Year! 

-Judge Richard