Friday, February 28, 2014

If I Had a Ballot: Best Actress

What a wonderful year of female performances!  This lineup is pretty darn good, if you ask me.  I mean, we are missing one of my favorite performances from 2013, and that, of course, would be Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks.  Let's shamelessly gaze upon Emma Thompson one last time this season.

Overkill?  Probably.  Do I care?  Nope.

Back to business.

I don't understand how Cate Blanchett could lose this Oscar.  It's hers to lose, but she won't because her performance as Jasmine in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine is quite possibly one the best examples of accctinggg I've ever seen.  Yes, the women in this category are so fantastic, but Blanchett deserves to win. 

Sandra Bullock has a very natural ability to to evoke emotion from her audiences, and she does this with a powerful precision in Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.  As Dr. Ryan Stone we are as hopeless as she is in her quest to make it back to Earth.  I've heard people complain that Cuaron makes Stone a helpless woman who needs guidance from a man to help her, but I don't see that whatsoever.  Stone isn't an astronaut, and this is her first job out in space.  

What I noticed about Bullock in this role is the somber tone to it.  We are used to seeing Bullock charm her way through a standard romantic comedy or make herself known as a force to be reckoned with.  Her eyes carry a sadness that have never seen before, and it's deeply troubling.  The scene where she almost gives up is so upsetting, and we feel, just for a moment, that maybe Stone dying in the black abyss is her fate.  Her choice to live again is so triumphant.  It's my favorite performance that Bullock has delivered.  She was obviously out of her comfort zone--both physically and emotionally--and it paid off on all counts.  

I really wish American Hustle was more succinctly about Amy Adams.  The ensemble works very well together, but I was most intrigued by her characterization of Sydney Prosser, a con woman with a wardrobe almost entirely made up of plunging necklines.  

Sydney wants to be loved.  Genuinely loved and taken seriously.  She uses her body to distract men with what is going on.  Adams has worked with David O. Russell before (in The Fighter) and the result was a performance unlike anything Adams had delivered before.  Even if I don't like the movie, Russell allows her to do things we've never really seen her do before.  Adams has a sexiness as Sydney that I never expected from her.  

I don't like American Hustle, but we get to see her scream, snarl and slink.  I love Amy Adams, and I want her to have an Oscar.  I just don't want it to be for this performance.  

To be honest, I didn't think Meryl Streep was going to get in for her role as Violet Weston in the screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County.  I predicted Adams and Thompson but left out Streep.  

It's a huge role.  As the boozy, pill-popping matriarch, Streep doesn't hold back.  Bile spills from her mouth to every single family member who comes to pay their respects when her husband dies, and Streep seems to be having the time of her life doing it.  This is quite the angry woman on display here, and Streep delivers a graaaaand performance.  She's over the top, she's loud, she's cruel, she's the mother from hell.  

August: Osage County, the play by Tracy Letts, is sitting pretty on my bookshelf at home.  I never got a change to read it before I saw the film, but I want to visit it once I distance myself from the adaptation.  The relationship between Streep and Julia Roberts, who plays her daughter, is my favorite aspect of the film.  Mama Streep is one of the only actresses who can deliver this huge of a character.  Eat the fish, bitch.  

Is it bad that I just want to hug Philomena Lee?  I mean, I could just find her at one of the many award shows or presentations where she randomly pops up.  

Judi Dench's performance as Lee is so Sweet a that one may think they might suffer a toothache after walking out of Philomena.  I don't mean that as a slight.  Dench somehow manages to remind every person of someone they have met in their lives.  Dench's Philomena has a thirst for life that is so infectious and warm, and every emotion Steve Coogan's script puts her through rings so honestly.  

In a less competitive year, she might grab my vote.  

Blanchett's Jasmine is mysterious and desperate.  One of the most unlikable and unsympathetic characters of the year makes you feel for her by the very end.  I never knew that Jasmine was thinking or what her next move was.  It's the one of the best performances of the year.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

If I Had a Ballot: Best Supporting Actor

Welcome to the inaugural installment of If I Had a Ballot!  In this short series, I am going to break down the top categories (maybe the below the line stuff) to reveal who I would check off on my ballot if someone was crazy enough to let me make a decision.  The performances have some really great stuff this year, so let's start with Best Supporting Actor!  Oddly, there are only two previous nominees in this category, and they are relatively new as well.  Bradley Cooper was nominated last year as Lead for Silver Linings Playbook, and Jonah Hill grabbed his first nomination for Moneyball.  Michael Fassbender, Jared Leto, and Barkhad Abdi are all newcomers.  Welcome!  

Abdi makes a killer performance in Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips.  Not very many actors could get cast opposite Tom Hanks and hold their own.  Or even steal the movie.  A Cinderella tale fit for Oscar, Abdi was a limo driver before Greengrass cast him as Muse, a Somalian hijacker who goes toe to toe with Hanks' Richard Phillips.  

One would think that Abdi has been working in the film industry for a while.  He has a dangerous ease on screen, a presence that only enhances the uneasiness you feel watching the film.  Muse's already iconic line "I am the Captain now" was actually improvised on the spot by Abdi.  

Abdi has been a presence on the awards circuit this year, but he hasn't been winning prizes as much as he should have been.  Even though he was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award, Bardi took home his first major award a few weeks ago when he won the BAFTA.  

I didn't realize how much Abdi's performance stuck with me until I wrote this.  His anger and his desperation for the American dream linger even though I haven't seen the film since its initial October release.  I am anxious to see his Muse on the big screen again this weekend with the second Saturday of the Best Picture Showcase.  He would be a great choice for the Oscar, but another performance wins my vote.  

I'm sorry...but the only thing I really remember from Bradley Cooper's performance in American Hustle is when he dry humps Louie CK at the end.  I haaated that part, and I think I am the only one who does.   I know that's not what his performance is about.  His Richie DiMaso is trying to really make a name for himself, and in the entire mess of a movie, you want him to succeed.   

I hate Jonah Hill, but I love him in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Between this and This is the End, he has had a pretty great year.  

As Donnie Azoff, Hill is able to play a character that would probably be a really good guy to party with.  This is also the guy that you would regret opening your home up to.  With that doughy face and Chicklet grin, some of the stuff that comes out of his mouth (ok...maybe the majority of it) is pretty damn shocking.  Listening to Donnie talk about how he married his cousin and had kids made me laugh so uncomfortably during Wolf.  The mixture of amusement and awfulness makes him feel surprisingly unpredictable.

One of my favorite things about Wolf is the bromantic chemistry between Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio's Jordan Belfort.  After they smoked crack together, I was hooked.  Hill gives a hell of a fun, twisted performance, and I never thought I would say that I liked him in a movie.

Evil is manic by Biblical proportions in Michael Fassbender's portrayal of Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave.  To be honest, I responded to Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o more the first time I saw 12 Years.  It's not that I doubted Fassbender's ability or thought he was bad by any stretch of the imagination.  He didn't shake me the first time I watched him like I thought he would.  I think my expectations were too skewed.  I don't know. 

Upon second viewing, I could feel Epps pressing in on me.  When a bully closes in on you, you instinctively want to take a step back or move away from them, but you can't do that in a movie theater.  Fassbender's Epps prides on how he treats his slaves.  The inhumanity is unspeakable.  He and his wife (played by Sarah Paulson) dance a macabre Macbethian tango around each other the entire film, and you could conceivably have an entire portrait of that marriage up on screen.  

Edwin Epps is the embodiment of man's contempt for his fellow man.  It's riveting and terrifying in how immovable he is.  I go back and forth between him and Leto for my vote.  

Honestly, I think Rayon is fabulous.  I have a soft spot in my heart for characters that refuse to be anything but themselves, and Rayon is that ideal.  

The thing I admire most about Dallas Buyers Club is the film's ability--and permission--to let Matthew McConaughey embrace his macho anger.  Leto's Rayon, on the other hand, is the face of the disease that is ravaging both of them.  Rayon is the kind of tragic character whose fate is already sealed.  We weep over characters like this.  We love them.  Rayon's sass and genuine heart make him so easy to love, his heart so accessible.  

He's not a saint, though.  While one may smile at Rayon's one liners or warm to his gentle sensibility, one may become angry at his character's drug addiction, something we learn after we fall in love with him.  I am not condemning Rayon whatsoever.  People's opinion of addiction is rather ugly, and when Leto shows Rayon shooting up, it's ugly.  

There is one scene, however, that you cannot deny its power.  Rayon visits his estranged father to ask for money.  To be a father in 1986 and have your child admit to you that he has AIDS must have been absolutely heartbreaking and scary.  Leto stands across from his seated father, his hair pulled back how a man would tie a simple ponytail and his suit jacket a little too big.  Broke my heart when I revisited Dallas.

I love Fassbender and Leto...but if I had to choose, I would pick the latter.  But, who knows?  I might switch at the last minute. 

I Believe Mackie Can Fly

Anthony Mackie as Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier?  Yes, please. 

Chris Evan is definitely muscle eye candy, a specimen on pure poetic display in the Marvel series, but I think I will be turning my attention to a different hero (Is he a hero?  A villain?  Eh, I don't care if he's good or bad) in the Captain America sequel.  Mackie so pretty.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wait a Minute...Am I Excited for Godzilla?

Back in 1998, my buddy Dan convinced me to go see Godzilla with him.  He was super excited, and I thought it looked really lame.  When we left the theater, he told me he had a good time, and I agreed with his mother that it was a big piece of stinking lizard poo.  It might be the earliest memory of me yelling at someone that a script made absolutely no sense.  Ah, the root of so many fights.   

The teaser for the Godzilla reboot came out a while ago, and I was embarrassed by how much I wanted to see it.  Settle down, I told myself.  It's just a teaser.  Wait until a full length trailer came out, and then see how you feel.  Well...a feature length trailer hit yesterday...and I am amped for it.  Big, loud, stupid action movie, here I come!  

Bryan Cranston provides initial voiceover, so I guess they want people to wet themselves over his presence and then cry when they realize Breaking Bad is still over.  It's great to see him all Malcolm-in-the-Middle-y and clean shaven again.  Hello, dimples!  Cranston is such a fucking great actor, so putting him at the very beginning of the trailer only enhances my excitement.  

Of course there is a decent level of destruction from the get-go, but they do a pretty good job of not showing Godzilla near the very end.  The monster does look rather CGI, but are we surprised by that?  I sort of love the long shot of him roaring while a set of doors close to hide him.

One thing we have neglected to mention is the sheer hotness of star Aaron Johnson.  We get to see him only briefly (only a bit more than the title baddie), but sweet mercy is he sexy.  

"Can you kill him?"

What?  I'm sorry, I wasn't listening to...what...are we talking about exactly?  Did I miss something?  And then there is the minuscule presence of Juliette Binoche.  Rude.  


So, am I the only one excited for this?  Is my Godzilla coming out story similar to anyone else's?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

AMC's Best Picture Showcase Breakdown: Part I


Every year, I see all of the Best Picture nominees.  No surprise there.  What might be surprising, however, is that I would like to sit through all the nominees back-to-back, and this is because of AMC's annual Best Picture Showcase.  I go every year, and it's always such a great day of seeing movies.  I have gone every year since the Showcase started, so it's sort of become a tradition.  Back in 2006, I was working as a shift leader at a local Carmike Cinemas, and my friend Brittany and I noticed that the AMC in Pittsburgh was showing all the Best Picture nominees in one day.  Babel, The Queen, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, and Little Miss Sunshine was the lineup.  When we got there, there may have been 25 people in the audience.  It was very relaxed, and Brittany and I had a great time hanging out at the Waterfront all day.  Since then, it has sort of exploded into a phenomenon--at least in smaller cities like Pittsburgh anyway.  

Last Saturday, I spend the entire day with a group of friends watching 4 of the 9 films up for Oscar's biggest prize.  There was some craziness last year regarding the ticketing, so AMC at the Waterfront downgraded their Showcase to a smaller theater.  My logic is that I am going to be there all day, so I should make sure that I am comfortable.  I prefer to sit in the front row of the stadium seating so I can rest my feet on the bar--seats very much coveted by others who attend this annual event of snacking on popcorn and catching up on movies that we may have missed throughout the year.  My roommate Andrea and I were waiting outside at 5 am.  Yes, I am insane.  Yes, the cleaning crew was concerned by our presence outside the theater.

Me waking up at 3 a. m.  Liquid gold in this cup.

Yes...I was first in line...for about 3 hours...

One of the best things about the Showcase is hearing all the reactions from people who have clearly saved these films for these two weekends.  I wanted to talk about the reactions from the people in the theater as well as the chatter I heard throughout the day.  Let's go through the lineup as it came, shall we?

Philomena was a small movie that sneaked up on everyone in my showing.  Perhaps it flew under everyone's radar, because all the people I talked to at the Showcase had no idea what it was about.  They didn't see a trailer, and they were surprised by how much they loved it.  Throughout the entire day, I kept hearing, "I LOOOOOVED Philomena.  That's my vote for Best Picture."  I forgot how much I liked the movie, and I really appreciated Steve Coogan this go around.  The screenplay was funnier to me this second viewing, so I wouldn't mind if it won on Sunday night.  

The last time I heard such a rumbling response to a movie was when The Blind Side was screened, and I considered suicide.  There is a woman I see every year who has an uncle in the Academy (I believe he is in the costume designers branch), and she told me he voted for Philomena.  

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical as to how this audience was going to respond to Dallas Buyers Club.  Sure, it features some Oscar-y performances, but I thought they might be turned off by some of the gritter aspects to it.  The menage a trois that opens the movie...or the entire character of Rayon.  I don't think a lot of "average" moviegoers are used to seeing a portrayal of a transgendered person on screen.  Maybe they accept it right off the bat, because it's included in their packaging of Best Picture nominees.  When I first saw Dallas, I was disgusted by one gentleman's reaction to the word "fag" uttered repeatedly.  He laughed every time it was mentioned, and he sort of...dare I say relished in how some people treated Jared Leto's character.  I was cautious.  I was afraid that I would experience the same thing again.  

Most of the time, my senses are heightened to everyone's reactions during these presentations, and I am happy to report that the general consensus was very pro-Dallas Buyers Club.  Talk afterwards always led back to Matthew McConaughey and Leto.  As I walked around on break afterwards, I heard the host of the event (my buddy Chad), ask the audiences response to Leto's performance to pretty enthusiastic applause.  The first time I watched this movie, I think I watched the performances too closely, and this viewing allowed me to relax into it.  I wish Jennifer Garner would have been featured more in the first half of the movie, because you can see her building something towards the end.  McConaughey and Leto are so fucking good.  I love their married couple-ish chemistry.  

Here it is.  Here's the movie in the lineup I was afraid to experience with a big audience--Martin Scorsese's greed opus, The Wolf of Wall Street.  From the get-go, the audience was with it.  They were laughing, and I distinctly heard a woman behind me repeatedly mutter, "oh my GOD!" as more things drop kicked us.  

The "controversy" surrounding Wolf's release was obnoxious.  Maybe controversy is the wrong word.  Very prominent outcry or discussion?  Is that better?  How one can think that Scorsese is condoning these men's behavior is bonkers.  I was afraid of seeing this movie with this audience, because I was legitimately afraid of their reaction.  I love Wolf, and I was terrified people were going to be bogged down by it.  Right before it started, someone relatively close to me made the discovery that it was about 3 hours long.  That caused a ruckus, and I couldn't help but roll my eyes.  I was so excited to see it again, and I stand firm that it doesn't ever feel long or tiresome.  

There was a lot of movement in my theater about two thirds into it.  By the time they are on the yacht Naomi, people checked out a bit.  It played even better for me.  I felt I really paid more attention to Jordan Belfort's different relationships to all his inner circle more.  I love how bold Wolf is.  The audience...didn't feel the same way by the time it was over.  The friends I have made over the years (yes, I am not ashamed to admit that friendships form) ask each other eagerly between movies what they thought.  Almost everyone said they thought it was too long...too repetitive.  Oh, well.  I love it, and I hope it wins something.  There is almost no point in arguing with some people.  

We had some time to relax and have dinner after The Wolf of Wall Street.  Chad, our fearless leader, indulges us with some trivia and talks up the crowd.  He is very generous, and gives us lots of movie swag for answering questions correctly.  My other pal Chad was in the throws of experiencing his first Best Picture Showcase.  He is clearly ecstatic to win a little movie buff trophy.  

The first day of the Best Picture Showcase ended with Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, my personal choice for Best Picture.  Why would they end with such an intense film?  Most of the time, AMC ends with day with a serious Best Picture contender (back in 2010, The Social Network and The King's Speech played back-to-back), so I think that is the reasoning for ending such a long day with a somber piece of filmmaking.  

I was anxious to see this again since I had only seen it once in its initial release here in Pittsburgh.  Everyone I attended the Showcase with had their reservations, because the violence had gained so much publicity.  I am an avid fan of how McQueen shot the film, and I felt like I was going on and on about how much I loved it.  The reaction was intense in the theater.  You could feel the weight on the audience, and they, for the most part, were captivated by it.  In the end, I think a lot of people were undecided.  While they admitted to being emotionally engaged throughout, I heard a lot of talk of it being a tough sit for the end.  

Last year, AMC opened with Michael Haneke's Amour, a film that hadn't even reached Pittsburgh yet.  At ten in the morning, that movie really strikes you, and perhaps AMC didn't want to do that again.  I do think, however, that the audience might not have been so resistant to it if they hadn't just had dinner and just hadn't sat through a three hour Martin Scorsese film.  I don't know.  I was a bit disappointed that everyone didn't feel as enthusiastic as I did.  

Week two comes this Saturday with the other five films.  I am ready to see them all again.  Until next time.

Prepare Ye for Oscar

It's Oscar week!  Naturally, I only have golden statues and acceptance speeches in my head.  My party blowout plans are in full swing, so prepare for Movie MoJoe to be dominated with Oscar speculation and prediction talk.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Size Does Matter: Part of Godzilla Revealed

A new poster dropped for the Godzilla reboot, and it appears we are getting small glimpses of the monster. 

We get his back from a distance in this one sheet for the summer release.  Is it bad that I hope either Juliette Binoche or Sally Hawkins is in that giant suit? 

Audra McDonald's Latest Role Should be a Movie

It was announced today that Audra McDonald's next stage role will be as Billie Holliday in the play Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill.  She will step into the play before she stars opposite Oprah in a revival of Marsha Norman's night, Mother in the 2015-16 season.  I am amped for another McDonald performance as the next guy, but I wish they would put her in the starring role as a feature film.  Hear me out!

Last year was a landmark year for African American cinema.  With 12 Years a Slave, Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels' The Butler, audiences are getting mature works featuring black directors behind the camera and powerful performances from black actors on screen.  Wouldn't it be awesome to see a female, black actress take the lead in a musical biopic?  Ray was a celebrated work back in 2004, so why can't Billie Holliday get the same respected treatment on the big screen?

McDonald already has a big following on television.  My fiance clued me on how big of a role she played on Private Practice, and I didn't realize she was nominated for three Emmys for her work on the show.  And, in case you missed it somehow, she's a Broadway legend.  She already has five Tony Awards.  Surely this play or her work opposite Ms. Winfrey will garner her more nominations--if not wins.  I mean, come on...

It's no accident that she is one of the most awarded Tony winners in history.  She was one of the best things about the televised Sound of Music.  Let her take it to the next level!  Put her on the big screen, people!

Maybe she doesn't want to move to film.  I might be pushing her in a direction she has no interest in going.  You have to admit, she'd be even more luminous on a big screen.  Audra McDonald could take over the world.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bette Midler to Make Oscar Debut. Confuse Me?

The Diving Miss M will be performing at this year's Academy Awards.  Can I take a moment and just squeal, because the first person I ever saw in concert was Bette Midler.  Still don't know how my mother didn't know I was a flaming baton of homosexuality.

When I heard the announcement this morning, a shocking thing coupled every headline.  Midler has never performed at the Oscars?  Surely, that wasn't true.  How the heck could that be?!  You would think she would have performed when "The Rose" was nominated, right?  But then you must remember that the song wasn't eligible that year.  Stupid music branch.  Nathaniel Rogers properly brings the painful memories back in this piece over at The Film Experience.  

I assume she will be singing during the In Memoriam segment.  Thank goodness someone decided that a diva needs to sing for this so the applause doesn't change so drastically.

Luminous Ladies Cover EW

This issue hits newsstands on Friday.  Can Cate Blanchett and Lupita Nyong'o please star in a movie together?  Like, right now?  

Live Up To Your Shirtless Potential, Chris Pratt!!!

Welcome to your shallow post of the week!

The trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy debuted yesterday, and that's the one question I have after watching the teaser.  Chris Pratt is an adorable stoner-esque dude with a lot of beefcake potential.  Why isn't he capitalizing on it?  Remember last year when those pictures of his bod were released from the set of Zero Dark Thirty?  

Have mercy.

In Guardians, Pratt plays Peter Quill, an American pilot who calls himself Star Lord.  He steals a mysterious orb that the villainous Ronan wants, and now everyone is after him.  Or something like that.  All I could turn my attention to in this trailer was the following image.

I mean, come on.  You can watch the trailer below, but how can everyone not be clamoring to see this stud work out his arms on a daily basis?!  Pratt is a lovable, funny guy, and while Parks & Rec is on hiatus, he needs to keep that specimen of a body in tip top shape.  

Sweet baby Jesus.  Oh, and if you want to watch the trailer, here you go.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Someone Give Me a Life Raft From Life Raft Movies

A behind the scenes look at Angelina Jolie's Unbroken debuted during the Olympics this past week.  Jolie's second directorial effort focuses on the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II.  The preview lets us get a glimpse of the actual Zamperini as well as a look at Jolie's film.  

One of the sequences that stuck out in the trailer for me was the part that details how Zamperini survived on a life raft for 47 days.  I don't know if I can do another extended sequence in the ocean.  After Life of Pi and last year's All is Lost, I feel like another segment lost at sea will make me nothing but seasick.  Yes, Pi was a very emotional journey, and Lost wasn't my cup of tea, but my head started to swell thinking of this section of Unbroken.  I realize that it is not the focus of Jolie's film (at least I don't think so), but, for now, I can't handle it.  

It will be exciting to see what Jolie's second directorial effort brings out.  Her first, the Bosnian war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey, received mixed reviews but received a Best Foreign Language Film nomination from the Golden Globes.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Short, Late Damning of 'That Awkward Moment'

Here's the thing.  I know I shouldn't go see movies like That Awkward Moment.  In the mood for something mindless, I attended a showing with some friends hoping for some mindless entertainment with hot boys.  What I got was one of the most maddening examples of characters that should all be kicked in the nuts.

Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller play three guy friends who are continually looking for the next piece of ass.  Well, Jordan isn't, but he is getting back in the game after his wife leaves him.  Yes, his wife.  How old is this kid?  Within the first scene that featured Jordan, I was met with that awkward moment when I knew this wasn't going to sell me anything remotely realistic.  Nothing in this movie is real.  Nothing.  Not one single iota rings true in That Awkward Moment, and that's the most shameful and troubling thing about it.  Is it simple, escapist romantic drivel?  Yes, it is, and I knew that going in.  I knew what I was getting myself into, so I don't have anyone to blame but myself.  Shame on me for wanting to be surprised by something.  

Efron, Teller and Jordan make a pact to not get into serious relationships, so, naturally, they all start dating girls behind each other's backs.  Kate Hudson would be so proud!  In the end, when they all discover that they are all indeed in some form of relationship, I was mainly disappointed that this wasn't going to turn into a sausage fest triad.  Efron actually exclaims, "Wait!  You're in a relationship?!"  Later down the road, Efron's girlfriend's father dies and he doesn't attend the funeral.  His reasoning?  If he would have gone, she would have thought they were dating.  Or in a relationship.  

But don't worry.  He delivers a tearful speech at the end and gets back together with her.  These guys are all douches, and you shouldn't spend their time with them.  

My Favorite Mr. President

I wasn't going to write anything coinciding with Presidents Day, but I was browsing my bookshelves for something to watch, and I spied my copy of 2000's political thriller, The Contender.

Starring Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, and Jeff Bridges, The Contender tells the story of the first woman appointed to Vice President after the current one dies.  A Republican U. S. Senator Shelley Runyon (Oldman) believes that Hanson is not qualified enough for the position, and he begins an investigation to bring her down.  Apparently, an incident involving Hanson and a drunken college orgy is discovered, and Runyon begins a very public smear against Hanson.  

Bridges plays President Jackson Evans, and he stands by Hanson.  I remember seeing The Contender with my dad back in 2000, and it has stayed with me since then.  Both Allen and Bridges received Oscar nominations for their performances, and Bridges remains my favorite cinematic president.  

Sure, I could've picked other movie presidents from my upbringing.  I could have selected Bill Pullman for his rousing, blockbuster-y speech at the end of Independence Day.  I could have even picked Jack Nicholson's over-the-top asshole of a commander-in-chief from Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!  Bridge's speech near the end of The Contender has stuck with me since seeing it almost 15 years ago.  

So, Happy President's Day Jackson Evans.  You would have gotten my vote.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts: Dark and Brooding

We talked about the nominated animated shorts last week, so I wanted to dive into the live action entries this time around.  I was taken aback by how serious most of the shorts are this year (save for one), but that doesn't mean there aren't compelling stories on display here.  I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for a lot of them.  

Helium is the story of a sick boy named Alfred and an eccentric hospital janitor named Enzo.  Instead of telling the boy that after he dies he will go to heaven, the janitor explains there is another place called Helium.  A big, flying blimp will come take Alfred whenever he is ready to go, and he will be able to live in a beautiful world where all of the houses float on their own piece of land.  Alfred will be able to be as happy as he ever was before in Helium, and because Enzo is just a janitor he can only tell Alfred so much at a time  As Alfred's time begins to run out, Enzo becomes frantic to finish the vision of this alternate realm.  

To be honest, I thought they would put Helium later in the short film lineup, because it has an obvious emotional wallop by the end.  The other films are also serious, but this has a colorful whimsy to it.  The special effects are gorgeous, and it's done very well.  Like, but didn't love.

The Voorman Problem features something that the other shorts don't--famous people.  Martin Freeman (The Hobbit series, and BBC's Sherlock) plays Doctor Williams, a psychiatrist that is called on to examine a mysterious patient at a prison.  The patient in question, Voorman, considers himself to be a god, and the rest of the inmates spend the hours chanting his name.  No one is actually sure what Voorman's crime even was, because all the files in the prison have been lost.  

Tom Hollander plays Voorman, a scruffy fellow strapped to a chair in a straightjacket.  He tells Dr. Williams that he created the universe in 9 days.  Williams shrugs him off, convinced he's a whackjob.  As Williams goes to leave, Voorman says he will prove that he's a god by making Belgium disappear.  I don't want to ruin what happens, because it's only 13 minutes long.  

Voorman has a mysterious quality to it, somewhat menacing actually.  I wish it were a bit longer, though.  Voters may got for its sleekness and humor.  Or they may want to vote for actors they recognize.  

Just Before Losing Everything is the story of a woman who has decided to leave her abusive husband.  Its tension throughout took me by surprise.  

Miriam goes to the Wal-Mart-esque store she works in order to negotiate her termination.  She brings her teenage daughter and young son with her, and she just wants to get out before her husband finds her.  Her boss tells her that he will fire her so she can receive a severance package, and when he asks her if she is going to press charges against her husband, she tells him that there isn't any time.  Miriam's sister is on her way to pick all of them up after she finishes her business at work.  

The short dives right into the action of Miriam fleeing, and that's my favorite thing about it.  We don't see her home life, and we are given the situation from the middle rather from the beginning.  At first, I honestly didn't know what was going to happen or even what the story was, but rather than frustrate me, it intrigued me.  The acting from the cast is very good.  Lea Drucker, as Miriam holds everything together even though you can see her ripping at the seams.  There is a scene where her husband shows up at work, and the entire time you are hoping that he doesn't catch on to what is happening.  It's one of my favorites.

Aquel no era yo (That Wasn't Me) is my favorite short of the five, and I was expecting to hate it. 

Paula and Jaunjo are two Spanish aid workers traveling with a guide named Teniente.  They are making their way through the African countryside, and they are stopped at the border by two child soldiers.  Right when they are about to cross the border, they are stopped by the General who pulls them out of their jeep and accuses them of kidnapping child soldiers.  

The three are taken hostage.  The General asks a large group of children soldiers who is brave enough to kill their captives.  He shouts at them, assuring these kids that they will always be respected when they have a gun in their hands.  What transpires for the rest of the short is truly horrific and unforgettable.  The images of these children with machine guns in their hands is nowhere near as terrifying as the confidence that is seen in their eyes.  

I don't think I breathed the entire second half of this short.

The Finnish short Pitaako mun kaikki hoita (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) is a wise choice for the closing short.  It's only 7 minutes long, and it is a comedic glimpse of a small family hurrying to get ready for a wedding.  

After waking up late, nothing goes right for this family, and every twist is pretty amusing.  The daughters dress themselves in costumes, they lose the present, and the mother takes a tumble while running to the church after missing the train.  Since it's the last short in the program, maybe voters will go for something with less gravitas.  A short that makes people laugh might make people tick their ballot.  It's slight, but very funny.