Tag Archives: The Oscars

Oscars 2018: Why ‘Get Out’ Could Win for Best Picture

After a startling presentation mix-up for the best picture award, Barry Jenkins, at the mic, and the Moonlight cast accept the award at the Oscars on Sunday.
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Not so long ago, the Academy Awards had to contend with the #OscarsSoWhite movement with its goal of greater diversity in movies. And, some may argue, that led to “Moonlight” winning for Best Picture in 2017. Now, we also have the #MeToo and the #TimesUp movements that all add up to the public demand for change from the status quo. In that spirit, to have “Get Out” win for Best Picture this year, would definitely further steer the Oscars on a more enlightened path. The Oscars ceremony this year is on Sunday, March 4, 2018 with predictions on the winners taking in all the factors.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) in the throes of an existential crisis.

If all movies are cut from the same cloth and we keep to the old and wrong ways, then serious problem remain. That said, any movie will ultimately need to be judged by the quality of its content. In the new era that is unfolding before us, we really can have it all. A good part of what makes “Get Out” an exceptional movie is how it subverts your expectations no matter your background or race. The viewer can empathize with a person thrust into meeting their lover’s parents. We all have our advantages and disadvantages, whether they are real or only perceived as such.

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. There are specifics to this story. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is African American and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), is Caucasian. From the moment Chris and Rose arrive at her parent’s home, it is emphasized in the extreme how race doesn’t matter but, in truth, it matters all too much–even to a life-threatening level. Everyone Chis comes into contact at this family gathering makes it painfully clear something is very wrong. This pushes Chris into an intense existential crisis.

Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton

For a new generation that believes it has seen it all, writer/director Jordan Peele brings something new. And this is not to say that we make a wholesale dismal of generations of moviemaking. No, what people are clamoring for now is a collective correction. When “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” came out in 1967, and presented viewers with a mixed race couple, it helped to stir a much needed discussion on race. Peele is able tap into that same energy. People are asking to tear down the old gods and build on all the good we have achieved. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “Get Out” are part of a continuum of moviemaking at its best.

“Get Out”

At least both of these movies were nominated. It’s interesting to note that Sidney Poitier was not nominated for Best Actor for his pivotal role. However, Daniel Kaluuya is up for Best Actor this year. Step by step, we continue to make progress. We are just asking to pick up the pace. This is certainly not lost on Jordan Peele. “Get Out” came out in 2017, on the 50th anniversary of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” a big studio movie of its time, a little more polite and a lot more circumspect than we will tolerate today.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Movie Reviews, movies, Oscars, Race, Race Relations

Movie Review: ‘La La Land’

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

“La La Land” is as much a movie about movies as it is an exploration of a relationship, at least within the unique confines of a musical. That’s a tall order but back in the heyday of movie musicals, the best ones managed to strike a chord that rang true. Even today, if you’re in Hollywood working toward your big break, part of you has to believe in make believe. We all do. The best of the musicals of yesteryear intertwined a believable depiction of the everyday with the large-than-life. “La La Land” rises to that level.

Going in, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a revamping of 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” this time set in Los Angeles. By that, I mean that I was ready to hear every word of dialogue in song. That is not the case and I’m grateful. Maybe it would have worked but I cherish the moments the two leads have together. If two crazy kids aiming for the stars were ever meant for each other, it is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). I keep coming back to how the movie evokes a believable day-to-day reality. The fact is that this has more references to past musicals than any casual observer, including myself, would likely spot.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Hollywood movie musicals used to be quite common, with a glorious run from 1929 to 1969, and occasional success ever since. With their unique capacity to fill the screen, a successful movie musical was easily a favorite pick for Best Picture come Oscar time. There have been some all-time greats that have done just that: 1951’s “An American in Paris,” 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” all the way to the most recent and last, 2002’s “Chicago.” Which brings us to “La La Land,” with its beautiful homage to that old Hollywood magic.

"La La Land," written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land” wears its self-awareness well. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical provides that giddy feeling of uplift, a touch of irony, and a compelling contemporary narrative. These two star-crossed lovers don’t see stars for each other, at first. Aspiring actress Mia is too busy recovering from the latest humiliating audition. Aspiring jazz artist Sebastian is too busy trying to carve a place for himself with his idealism. It looks like boy will never meet girl and then they do meet and things get complicated as their relationship and dreams come into conflict. Interlaced within this story are songs to knock your songs off (music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Damien Chazelle).

A special kind of fairy tale magic used to come more easily to Hollywood. The conflict between new and old is very much a theme here. Both Sebastian and Mia represent a standard of excellence that makes huge demands. The results are likely to be bittersweet. But when it looks like your dream will come true, then any hardship seems worth enduring. It’s a dream that may seem corny and unreal, but there are plenty of people in Hollywood right now that will attest to just how real it really is. Mia and Sebastian are wondrous, yet decidedly grounded, examples of contemporary, yet utterly timeless, star chasers. Sure, these characters were created from a runaway imagination filtered through some of the greatest musicals of the past. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

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Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Oscars

Chris Rock Leaves Big Shoes to Fill

Once upon a time, you could rely on one host for the Oscars, Bob Hope, who hosted for 19 years, a record that is never to be broken. No, not when we look upon Ellen DeGeneres, Jon Stewart, and Chris Rock as old-timers with each of them having hosted twice. No doubt, each would make a great host again, maybe as early as next year. Speculation is already brewing on who the next host will be for 2017. As for this year, the Oscars will be remembered for one thing: what Chris Rock had to say.

We once had the Bob Hope gold standard full of wry humor and brash for its time. Bob Hope told it like it was. And Chris Rock tells it like it is today. After all the mounting pressure from #OscarsSoWhite, Rock masterfully defused, and refocused, the situation with some passionate humor and honesty. He began by asking, “Why this year? Why now?” and then went for the kill, “In all those other years, we had more important things to protest about, like getting lynched!” His monologue was the highlight of the show, a message for today and beyond. As I had stated earlier, I was in a perfect vantage, the 25 Degrees bar in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929. What I observed was a very attentive audience for Mr. Rock.

Making a political statement at the Oscars is far more challenging than it may appear. Chris Rock did it with skill and heart. He had been honing new material in the days leading up to his monologue and it resulted in something that ranks up with the best. The Oscars have that tradition of protest. It rarely works. However there are exceptions. The best, perhaps the first, is Sacheen Littlefeather refusing to accept the Best Actor Oscar on behalf on Marlon Brando for “The Godfather” in 1973. This was a protest over the treatment and depiction of Native Americans in the media as well as reaction to Wounded Knee. Talk about arguing for diversity! It is a graceful, articulate, and authentic moment, a far cry from the blather of today.

Chris Rock interviews Compton moviegoer

Chris Rock interviews Compton moviegoer

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony had a number of responses to the current outcry. One of the funniest had notable African-American stars Leslie Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Morgan, and Chris Rock green-screened into nominated films. Leslie Jones steals the show as the bear from “The Revenant.” And Tracy Morgan follows with his line, “I’m a Danish Girl!” as he bites into a pastry. More to the point, a segment with Chris Rock interviewing moviegoers in Compton helped to demonstrate that the typical outcrop of Oscar nominated films like “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” did not resonate with a black audience.

In the end, Chris Rock rose to the occasion. He was presented with a significant moment in time, recognized it, and ran with it. On that night, he filled the big shoes of the likes of Bob Hope and left a pair of big shoes of his own.

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Filed under Academy Awards, Chris Rock, Entertainment, Hollywood, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Hotels, Oscars, pop culture, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Travel

The Oscars and the True Meaning of Entertainment

Hollywood and Highland

Hollywood and Highland

I found myself in Los Angeles these last few days of February for a number of reasons. Let me put it to you this way, I was there as much to enjoy a day long visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as I was for anything else. And, of course, I devoted a chunk of time to the Oscars. Here is the key to a lot in life: keep an open mind. Now, when it comes to entertainment, the more flexible you are, the better. I keep things to a broad spectrum, from the intellectual to the spectacle. That said, I’ll share with you some observations from this last visit. In the end, we can explore the idea of what it is to be entertained.

Gumbo Pot in the Farmers Market, Los Angeles

The Gumbo Pot in the Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Seattle is my home base. It is in this relatively small, yet bustling, city that various forms of entertainment are created by some very talented individuals in music, film, fiction, comics, and so on. And then there are just as many, perhaps even more, individuals involved in commenting on all this creative work. That’s something I am very sensitive to as I am both a creator and a commentator. Let’s just say I appreciate when the air has gotten too thick. Sometimes, you just want some frog legs at The Gumbo Pot in the Farmers Market, which I definitely enjoyed. And, to be sure, the level of discourse at tables was quick, smart, and unpretentious. If I say I am going to talk to you about the true meaning of fiction or entertainment, it’s in the spirit of an open discussion without the pretense. Please, we have too much of that.

Chris Burden's "Urban Light," at LACMA

Chris Burden’s “Urban Light,” at LACMA

It’s all about going from the specific to the general. Take the time to give one particular subject its due, focus on that, consider its merits, and then reap the rewards of entertainment and insight. I will compare for you two events in Hollywood that are closely related: a tribute to screenwriter George Clayton Johnson at the American Cinematheque this last Friday; and then some observations on the Oscars this last Sunday. I really wasn’t planning on doing this. I want to keep it light but offer you a few ideas. The best thing I can do is jump right in with some observations beginning with the tribute. Here, I want to make clear that much depends upon your understanding and knowledge.

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

If such things as the literary background of The Twilight Zone are new to you, then perhaps this will spark interest. I know a great deal about this subject, particularly the writers known as, The Group, from which much of this springs from. George Clayton Johnson was a key member of The Group. He had within his power the ability to write some of the most compelling magical realism. That’s important because, despite the many disadvantages he had in life, he was a writer with not only a vision but a determination. George went on to create some of the most iconic and beloved episodes of The Twilight Zone which is the gold standard for what can be done when melding the art forms of fiction and television. Don’t let yourself think that Masterpiece Theater holds the key. That is too obvious a venue. Actually, it is within The Twilight Zone, at its best, that you will find much that is stimulating and intriguing with great literary merit.

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

George Clayton Johnson tribute at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood

So, here you have this very special individual, George Clayton Johnson, who understood better than most, the fundamental inner workings of fiction. He took his insight, skill, and hard work and did what he did with it. He primarily wrote for television. All of his work on The Twilight Zone is remarkable. This led to him writing the first episode of Star Trek to be broadcast. Among other TV work, he wrote an exceptional episode of Kung Fu where the main character experiences a flashforward, as opposed to a flashback, to help him save his life. And, to cap it all off, George and William F. Nolan wrote the classic dystopian novel, Logan’s Run. Beyond those achievements, it is George’s life story that is inspiring. He was close friends with such greats as Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon. George was simply a man who loved to keep it simple: write what you believe in, give back to the community, love thy neighbor. The outpouring of love and admiration for George at this tribute was very moving. I had the opportunity to get to know George. I can fully understand how bright his light shines.

Chris Rock tells it like it is at The Oscars.

Chris Rock tells it like it is at the Oscars.

A couple of nights later, lo and behold, it’s the Oscars. Now, mind you, I did not have any set plans. How I wish my Comics Grinder credentials would have gotten me a press pass. Perhaps they would had I pursued it. I’ll tell you something, I am a keen observer and a friendly interviewer. I can easily adapt to any situation. This segues to what I did for Oscars night. Due to a few things going on that night, I found myself outside the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Let me back track a bit, a buddy of mine suggested that as a great spot to maybe see something going on. In fact, the plan was to meet up with him. I show up and, yes, it is a great spot, right on the corner of Orange and Hollywood overlooking that whole block of Madame Tussauds, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and the Dolby Theatre.

25 Degrees at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

25 Degrees at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel

Well, on that corner are a bunch of onlookers, of course. Shades of “The Day of the Locust.” I mingled for a bit. No one knows exactly what to expect, if anything. I then made my way into the Hollywood Roosevelt and 25 Degrees, one of the hotel’s seven bars. 25 Degrees is known for its gourmet burgers and onion rings, which I fell in love with. I patiently waited for a cozy table overlooking the bar and two big screen TVs broadcasting the Oscars. Chris Rock was doing his monologue. I saw any number of what appeared to be otherwise jaded industry folk carefully listening and giving way to outbursts of laughter. Just as I was assured by my hostess that I could have the table, this one lady sat down at that very same table. The hostess explained to her that I had already been given that table but I said it was alright. Sure, it’s the Oscars, I’ll share the table. Well, it was definitely for the best. The lady turned out to be an executive with a Mexican network. We ended up chatting about the decline of culture in general and the disturbing rise of Donald Trump.

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

It always comes down to the coveted issues of time and space. That table had a fixed value of one hour. You could not stay at that table beyond an hour. I sweet talked my hostess into letting me begin a new hour given that I had to share it. In the meantime, my new friend, the Mexican TV executive, had hoped that I could hold on to the table as she had wanted to return after a while. Well, there must have been a lot of discussion in the back. At first, yes, I could keep the table if I ordered more food. After having the delicious Patty Melt, and a half jug of Pinot Noir, I opted to start with a Dark and Stormy. Later, the supervisor negotiates with me. It turns out that the table really needs to be relinquished. If I am alright with moving to the bar, he will treat me to another drink. Well, that’s fine with me. And, well appreciated too!

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

Behind the scenes at the Oscars

We always hear the long-running jokes about the Oscars being too long. The crowd that night enjoyed every minute of it and would have been happy to see more. The high points were the Chris Rock monologue, the announcement for Best Actor to Leonardo DiCaprio, and the announcement for Best Picture to “Spotlight.” In between, and throughout, careful attention was given to each category. I ended up chatting a bit with other patrons at the bar. The consensus seemed to be that this was one of the best Oscars. I certainly found myself in a perfect setting. The bar, with its old-school charm, was impeccable.

Here I am in front of the American Cinematheque in Hollywood.

Here I am in front of the American Cinematheque in Hollywood.

One Oscar tradition never fails to move me. That’s when a tribute is given to notable members of the Academy who had passed away in the previous year. I was certain that George Clayton Johnson would receive a mention. While he wrote primarily for television, he also co-wrote the story that was the basis for “Ocean’s Eleven” and he also co-wrote an Academy Award nominated animated feature with Ray Bradbury, “Icarus Montgolfier Wright.” But he did not get his mention. That left a sad note hanging in the air. But it was still grand to be at the Hollywood Roosevelt on Oscar night. I can tell you, I can share with you, the fact that both nights, the tribute to George and Oscar night, were both magical. George is still remembered and people will enjoy his work whether they realize he wrote it or not. George will always be part of that magic that people seek out whether they know it or not.

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Oscars 2016: BRIDGE OF SPIES

Hanks Bridge of Spies

In 1960, Arnold Spielberg was an engineer with General Electric in Russia as part of a foreign exchange program. As part of his initial tour, he was confronted with a display of the flight suit of airman Gary Powers and some of the remains of the infamous U-2 spy plane that the Soviets had shot down. This was meant to leave a impression on the American visitor. It did. His son is Steven Spielberg who has gone on to make some of the most memorable major motion pictures in history. So, it turns out, Spielberg’s latest film, “Bridge of Spies,” is a film that the director was compelled to make. You learn about the anecdote regarding Spielberg’s dad in the extra feature on the DVD. As bonus features go, this one is a keeper.

It’s really good to see the lauded director genuinely excited, like a kid, as he talks about his film, which has great relevance for today. How do we treat enemies of the state? Does the rule of law still apply? This is the story of a lawyer, much like Atticus Finch, who never swerves from his pursuit of justice, even if he’s representing a Soviet spy. Tom Hanks plays the role of James B. Donovan, the American lawyer enlisted to negotiate the release of airman Gary Powers during the course of some extraordinary events.

Bridge-of-Spies-Tom-Hanks

I think in any other year, “Bridge of Spies” would be a shoe-in to win for Best Picture at the Oscars. This year gives us a particularly tight race. That said, this is a film that will go down as a respected achievement whatever the case. Even at this high level of moviemaking, it comes across as a genuine labor of love. It is a relatively quieter film for Spielberg. I think the hype surrounding “Lincoln” overshadowed what a fine film that actually is. In the case of “Bridge of Spies,” it has the no-nonsense appeal of Tom Hanks. There aren’t really any famous scenes to point to but the story is brimming with Cold War intrigue.

“Bridge of Spies” is very much a period piece and very strong on story. The original screenwriter, Matt Charman, was first drawn to the seemingly unusual selection by President Kennedy of attorney James B. Donovan to broker the release of prisoners from the Bay of Pigs invasion. Just who was Mr. Donovan? Charman dug deeper and discovered the rest of the intriguing story. And to give Charman’s initial screenplay an added texture of personality, Spielberg enlisted the famous Cohen brothers, Joel and Ethan. I can see that, with unlimited resources like that at one’s disposal, a production like this could collapse under its own excess. However, that is not the case here. No matter how great the budget, no matter what the content, a successful creation has got to have a fire in the belly. Spielberg has not squandered anything and delivers at the level of a truly great director.

At the heart of this film is a steadfast belief in principles and integrity. What’s more, this film inspires a trust in willing to go to the very edge to safeguard not only a way of life but the rule of law upon which it stands. Sounds like pretty heady stuff. Well, it’s the stuff of great entertainment from “High Noon” to “Star Wars.” If you want the good feeling of believing in something, with the added benefit of a suspenseful thrill ride, then you’ll want to see Tom Hanks give it all it’s worth as the persistent Mr. Donovan.

To find out more, and to purchase a DVD or Blu-ray, visit the official “Bridge of Spies” website right here.

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Oscars 2016: THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short

“The Big Short” is a movie that has earned its place among a unique set of movies that can really make a difference. Who knew that the more arcane details of the housing crisis and subsequent financial meltdown of 2008 could be rendered in an accessible and entertaining fashion? And with some of the best talent around to boot. I actually went to see this with my 19-year-old daughter. The roster of leading men and the offbeat intent of the movie made it very promising. So, it was about derivative swaps, well, okay then.

For anyone who has seen it, “The Big Short” not only delivers but leaves you feeling encouraged about the state of filmmaking today. I had assumed that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association would have heaped praise, and awards, upon it without giving it a second thought. It just goes to show what a heated race it is this year as we approach the Oscars on February 28th. It’s a hot race in the Best Picture category, and “The Big Short” is up against some stiff competition with the leading favorite, “The Revenant.” “The Big Short” is just the sort of significant movie that should win big on the big night.

The Big Short Adam McKay

Much has been said about this movie. Consider the spirited New York Times review here. I’ll give you my take on it. First off, it’s been a long time since the media has focused on the housing market and the major banks–almost as if nothing had happened at all. Sure, the news runs in odd cycles but it does leave one wondering. In fact, one of the points made in this film is the fact that the issues surrounding the financial crisis are far from resolved. How we got here, and why we don’t seem to learn, is at the heart of this story. The movie faithfully plumbs the depths of the famously entertaining nonfiction book, “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” by Michael Lewis.

Prior to 2008, there were only a few key players in a position to read the handwriting on the wall. Their anticipation of an impending financial collapse, had something to do with insider knowledge and everything to do with seeing what would someday become the obvious. Their collective response was to use specialized hedge funds to bet against Wall Street! And so we see our story play out. Among these special key players who could see what lay ahead, there is genius fund manager Michael Burry (played by Christian Bale) who is willing to take his position of authority at the firm he works for to bet the farm. As the pressure mounts on Burry from his bosses to retreat, we see a study in rebellion with other people’s money.

The point was, and remains, that money is not as abstract as some would like to believe. It is ultimately other people’s money that gets manipulated, stolen, and outright lost. The powers that be, the major banks, continue to take those sort of gambles that present little, if any, consequence.

But it’s not just consequences that those in power manage to sidestep. As this film repeatedly points out, the corruption is deeply entrenched and the major banks are masters of deflecting blame. Mirroring the activist spirit of the book, the message here goes above and beyond buyer beware.

We have had a few exceptional films dealing with the housing crisis. What makes this film remarkable is its fierce vision, its commitment to keep you engaged. And its timing, in an election year, is perfect. To have a film of this caliber is such a great opportunity to further the discussion. An Oscar win for Best Picture would seem to be most appropriate. In fact, in some circles, this film is considered a front-runner for Best Picture. With “The Big Short” taking the Producers Guild of America’s top prize this last weekend, the odds could very well be in favor of this film taking the top prize at the Oscars.

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Filed under Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, The Oscars, Wall Street

Movie Review: ‘Irrational Man’

Joaquin-Phoenix-Emma-Stone

Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone confront some startling existential questions in Woody Allen’s latest film, “Irrational Man.” Mr. Allen has, without fail, created a new film each year since his 1965 comedy “What’s New Pussycat?” Among his best are such films as 1986’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” and 2011’s “Midnight in Paris,” both Oscar winners. Will “Irrational Man” garner any award nominations? The funny thing is, the film is very sound and, depending on the roll of the dice, it could come in for some Academy Award recognition. Let’s take a closer look.

Emma Stone has proven to be an exceptional leading lady for Allen with her mesmerizing role as a clairvoyant pursuing Colin Firth in 2014’s “Magic in the Moonlight.” Wow, and that was only last year. Given such a solid performance in that, Stone takes it further with her latest Allen film. As Jill, she must decide between her college boyfriend, Roy (played by Jamie Blackley) or the mysterious visiting professor, Abe Lucas (played by Joaquin Phoenix). However, Abe is nuts. It takes an “existential act” for this tormented philosophy professor to find a will to live. Just a little too heavy-duty for our ingenue. She may find herself with no clear way out once she’s under Abe’s spell.

Irrational-Man-Woody-Allen-2015

Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as the charismatic, and dangerous, prof. He fills in for Allen’s self-absorbed intellectual on a highly dubious spiritual quest. Here is where you can spin it as Allen back to true form or Allen back to his old tricks. The compromise view, and more to the point, is that here we have another variation on a theme, another gem from the master storyteller. You’ll love seeing all the characters put through the wringer. It’s a fun farce. You can kick Allen around or praise him, but he is hardly someone to take for granted.

As with any Allen film, it gives back bit by bit as little seeds take root and blossom. The surprise treasure in this case is Parker Posey as Rita, the more substantial love interest for Abe. She plays a sexy and easy-going faculty member who proves to be a good match for the mercurial Abe. If all he seems capable of offering at first is brooding, scotch, and endless ranting about Heidegger, she can work with that. While, on the other hand, such a high-strung person as Abe may drive Emma Stone’s Jill up the wall and then some. Yes, this is Woody Allen in his element. Time to get over it and enjoy it.

This is a pleasing Woody Allen film with what some may think features all the usual suspects and themes. For a fan, this is nirvana. And, even for a most casual viewer, this will be a fun romp and thriller to boot. Allen has more screenwriting Academy Award nominations than any other writer and he has tied for third with seven Best Director nominations. While “Irrational Man” may be too close to what we’ve seen before, it’s anybody’s guess as to how that adds up come Oscar time. You can find some early Oscar speculation for 2016 right here. Whatever the fate of his latest film, Woody Allen has created another quality work uniquely his own.

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Blu-ray review: BIRDMAN

Birdman-Michael-Keaton-Edward-Norton

There’s the legendary tragic story of 19th century American actor, Edwin Booth. He was so celebrated for his performance as Othello that he kept to that role, made a career out of it, and died with it. If only actor Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) were so lucky. He’s stuck with being known as the guy behind the Birdman mask in a ridiculously successful superhero movie franchise. “Birdman” is about a lot of things, including Riggan’s journey toward redemption. After so much water under bridge, he feels he’s found something meaningful he can do with all that he’s learned. He’s adapted Raymond Carver for the Broadway stage. It’s an audacious move and one that rankles those who position themselves as arbiters of taste, specifically the New York theater critic, Tabitha Dickinson (played by Lindsay Duncan). The role of Tabitha is relatively small and yet so pivotal. She’s the one who, for better or worse, holds the fate of Riggan’s play and perhaps much more. And she’s the one who should be most eloquent on matters of culture except her delivery is all too pointed. In a great balancing act, “Birdman” arrives at its satire with grace.

“Birdman” is one of those films that hits the nail on the head so well that it leaves you wanting more. The winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” is an instant classic. Forget about anything you may have heard or read from naysayers giving it a nonsensical label of being “pretentious.” I read that’s what, of all people, shock jock Howard Stern labeled this film as being. That absurd assessment, that twisted view of culture, is the sort of thing that is lampooned in “Birdman.” It’s as if Federico Fellini and Paddy Chayefsky were both alive today and created a masterpiece speaking to where we find ourselves. And where do we find ourselves? We find ourselves with the Howard Sterns of the world making empty gestures each day to countless fans.

We are stuffing ourselves with pop culture that often, some would say always, proves to be as fulfilling as cotton candy. In a film full of great conflict, the resounding head-butt is between high and low culture. Not only do we have snooty critics like Tabitha, but we have snooty thespians out to make life a living hell for Riggan. Enter Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton). When Riggan finds himself in need of a replacement for a lead role, Mike is fortuitously available. He also happens to be notoriously rude and unstable. He thinks Riggan is incapable of genuinely caring about anything. He laughs at Riggan’s personal story about Raymond Carver. Mike also realizes that he has a very crazy way of showing that he cares.

And to care about something is at the heart of this film. Riggan is given many reasons to care, including his daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone). There’s a wondrous scene where Sam lashes out at her dad. What’s remarkable is how much is said and conveyed. Sam goes from being triggered into conflict, to full-on rage, to a descent into regret. It’s the sort of sustained moment you would experience in theater. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu pushes the boundaries of what can be conveyed in film, particularly with a series of awe-inspiring continuous shots. It’s theatrical on one level. It’s hyperreal on another. And, you better believe it, it makes you want to care.

“Birdman” is available now on DVD and Blu-ray. The feature with a behind-the-scenes look at the film is priceless. For more information, visit Fox Searchlight right here.

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Blu-ray Review: BIG HERO 6

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I’d really been meaning to see “Big Hero 6.” Now is definitely the time with its Oscar win for Best Animated Feature and it just becoming available for home viewing.

Disney certainly knows how to create an uplifting experience and “Big Hero 6” (Directors: Don Hall and Chris Williams) is a beautiful example of it. I can imagine the Disney team, such as the Big Hero 6 team and character creators, Man of Action, and the screenwriters, Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Daniel Gerson, first pondering over what could work for a feature. What are some things that kids are always into? Hmm, well, there’s all things to do with Japan, and robotics, and a curiosity over, uh, puberty. Those three items will always get their attention, for starters. And you find them here.

Producer Roy Conli, from left, Directors Don Hall, and Chris Williams accept the award for best animated feature film for Big Hero 6 at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (John Shearer/Invision/The Associated Press)

Producer Roy Conli, from left, Directors Don Hall, and Chris Williams accept the award for best animated feature film for Big Hero 6 at the Oscars on Sunday at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (John Shearer/Invision/The Associated Press)

From the previews I’d seen, I wondered if this was going to be a fish-out-of-water comedy. You know, this Michelin Man robot is all blobby and out of his element, right? There’s some of that. Plenty of that, who am I kidding! But much more. Essentially, what you’ve got here is quite a compelling story about mind over matter.

The Michelin Man, a long lost relative to Baymax?

The Michelin Man, a long lost relative to Baymax?

Meet Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). He may resemble our friend, the Michelin Man, but he’s a whole other deal. Baymax is at the heart of this story. He is a robot that was built to help. Basically, he’s a walking and talking medical dispensary and doctor. He knows what he’s about. That’s more than can be said, at least for a while, about Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter). Hiro is a 13-year-old genius, especially when it comes to robotics. However, Hiro will need some time before he realizes what to do with his skills. Baymax was built by Hiro’s older brother, Tadashi (voiced by Daniel Henney). Push comes to shove, and Hiro will need to rise to the occasion, with the help of Baymax. Do you see conflict on the horizon? Yes, plenty. There’s plenty of action and there’s plenty of soul-searching to keep you glued to your seat.

It won’t be spoiler to let you know that “Big Hero 6” refers to a six-member superhero team. With all the superheroes flying around, this movie proves there’s always room for more. After viewing it, you’ll welcome, wait for it…the sequel! Yes, I think we have us a sequel up ahead and probably more than one.

The original Big Hero 6 comic book series from Marvel Comics

The original Big Hero 6 comic book series from Marvel Comics

Home viewing is now available. Of course, the bonus features are very cool and include a behind-the-scenes look at how Big Hero 6 made the transition from a Marvel Comics comic book series to the big screen. For more details, including a free game, Baymax Sky Patrol, visit our friends at Disney right here.

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Filed under animation, Disney, Movie Reviews

ACADEMY AWARDS: HEAD OVER HEELS WINS 2013 ANNIE AWARD

Head Over Heels animated short 2013

Academy Award-nominated animated short, “Head Over Heels” has won a 2013 Annie Award, the most prestigious animation award in the world, and could very well be on its way to an Oscar. The story about a most unusual old married couple is decidedly original and twisted good fun. It is a major achievement for its director, Timothy Reckart. See the trailer here. This is a student film that has made a spectacular debut onto the entertainment scene. Learn more about the National Film and Television School here.

Press release follows:

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Filed under Academy Awards, animation, Oscars