86th Annual Academy Awards

As has become tradition I will drop here my off-the-cuff thoughts on the ceremonies and the winners as they proceed. Enjoy.

Red Carpet

I intended to cover more of the red carpet this year because I haven’t seen an awful lot of the nominated films, but I tuned in about 23 minutes later than I intended to.

As for the films, I typically get caught up in January and February, but have been focused on more new releases. As always, I have come to terms with the Oscars being more of a great show than about who wins for me, but I do still have some people I am rooting for.

With this year’s host not really being a controversial decision I anticipate I will discuss the “material” (such as it is) less.

I’m am extraordinarily bad at realizing people are related. Today’s example: Laura and Bruce Dern.

Amy Adams doing her hair as an homage to Vertigo is a decision I support.

Jennifer Lawrence is “winning” so far. Once Christian Dior was mentioned I realized it made sense. Amazing look.

Some good little segments in this pre-show like the Blue Jasmine costuming and My First Oscars.

Only 12 minute to the pointless thirty-minute pre-show that only delays the festivities!

The countdown clock is up. Everyone is pretty much there. You’re just being tortured at this point.

The good thing about the pre-show is that the nominees start to take over because it seems they just want to get things started.

I haven’t minded the selfie and pizza bits, but if the show is running even later than normal, then maybe, just a little.
A Fresh Prince cameraman is working the Oscars. One of the better tidbits we’ll learn.

The clock makes things go so much slower.

The Ceremony

It started. Nick Hoult is in the audience, the start is a good one.

New oldest nominees, which I was unaware of.

I like the stage and the fact that Captain Phillips and Philomena Lee are there.

That was the joke to end a monologue on. Amazing!

The Oscar clip is the main reason I don’t get Hanks being snubbed.

Jared Leto’s clip was the most convincing advertisement of Dallas Buyers Club yet.

The first political moment of the night didn’t take long, truthfully more important things are going on. Peace on earth all.

Random video segment of the night one: celebrates animation. It’s not like it’s under-appreciated.

“Happy” was the Despicable Me 2 song closest to earning a BAM nomination but missed the cut. It’s a tough category to crack.

Notable acknowledgement of the inclusion of hairstyling in the makeup category. It undeniably changed the process.

Three best picture nominees profiled at a time. Oh boy.

What is a “warm Kodak Theater welcome” exactly?

My take on the short films as a whole, and where to find them, can be seen here. I am glad Mr. Hublot got it, because Disney is a safe bet for the Feature category.

FROZEN! Called it.

Frozen (2013, Disney)

Picking Gravity for Visual Effects is so easy I did it.

Zac Efron, your intro is a musical chord from Hairspray please do more musicals.

So far the most exciting moments of the night have been around the short films. So, so, so, so happy that Helium won. What a gorgeous film that made me cry in its 20 minute run time.

At least The Great Beauty winning supplants Life is Beautiful as Italy’s most recent win.

Not many comments recently because, as per usual, almost nothing is a surprise.

The obligatory joke about the President of the Academy always gets me.

Bill Murray’s impromptu tribute to Harold Ramis wins tonight.

Lubezki won long ago in my book.

“Cuaron wrote, directed and edited the movie, let’s play music on him” The Oscars.

Pink is guaranteed to bring the house down at any award show she sings at. Always a good idea.

The only thing that can get Gravity is … The Great Gatsby of all things, in art categories.

Missed the intro for the 2nd random video tribute. This third one is heroes. OK.

Lost momentum towards the end, but there was little else to report really. Love McConaughey’s speech it was great. Blanchett’s was also a statement of a different kind.

The ceremony was saved from being a complete and utter bore because Gravity didn’t win Best Picture after nabbing most everything else. However, maybe that was foretold by the fact that it didn’t have a writing nomination.

Glad, Cuaron got to speak his entire piece when his turn came again.

Not the most memorable broadcast, but maybe more exposure to the crop will make it stand out. Dallas Buyers Club rose big time in my estimation.

Review- The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games (Lionsgate)

The Hunger Games, as many expected, was one of the most anticipated films of the year. It will likely go down as one of the top earners of the year as its early run totals rank amongst all time highs, and it’s a three-time box office champion. I wanted to read the books but never really did, I borrowed the first book from the library and got through half of the first chapter and didn’t get to renew it. Therefore, I had little foundation to go upon but found the film for the most part to be quite enjoyable and captivating.

The double-edged sword in this film is that the backstory of this world, this dystopian future where America is unrecognizable and not even named as such anymore, is not overtly told. The positive to that is that there are not really any overly-elongated and elaborate expository sequences and the negative is that at times you are left flailing about awaiting the next tidbit of information that will enlighten you. You eventually do get sufficient information to get by but you also get the sense that there are unplumbed depths that are likely the key to the book’s success.

The only other truly significant struggle this film faces is in the game itself Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is steadfast in her character but she only attacks her opponents when in a bind, which is admirable but there is much waiting, hiding and running. Essentially, it’s a slight editorial problem more so than a character flaw. Virtue is a positive and Katniss has it in spades there were just a few opportunities that are better off not presenting themselves if that is to be her approach.

Those minor reproaches aside there is a lot to like in The Hunger Games. Perhaps the best part of the film’s success is that now everyone can see just how awesome Jennifer Lawrence is. She already has an Oscar nomination that she was very worthy of, but it was Natalie Portman’s year, for which she was woefully under-publicized and Winter’s Bone is not the kind of draw that this film is. In a similar vain, I’ve known for quite some time that Josh Hutcherson would be a superstar and this is truly his breakout. Now, Josh has a long track record from the Journey series, to appearing in the Best Picture Nominated The Kids Are All Right, to his early days as a young performer that garnered him a BAM nomination for Bridge to Terabithia, however, here as Peeta, a character who knows the game better than Katniss at the start but isn’t as steadfast or strong-willed as she is, he brings his chops to a big vehicle. That could be the most impressive facet of the film; not only is there action and commentary but also room for performances. You should also look for Stanley Tucci’s great supporting turn.

Aside from the aforementioned concern in the Game the film’s pace stays rather brisk even if its running time tops two hours. The tale is a bifurcated one: before the games and the games themselves and they are distinctive sections of the film that are a bit different but they balance quite well. The before the games section builds up some good drama and anticipation and to an extent the game brings good sequences and tension.

The Hunger Games also presents a pretty interesting vision of a futureworld most vividly conveyed by the production design, which is amazing and also the makeup and costuming. Now the latter is not something I was not instantly enamored with but it was a bold and consistent choice and it is a class distinction that is a kind of interesting future-retro hybrid, as the exaggerated hair and makeup hearkens eons past where powdered wigs and ivory faces were status symbols.

The ending of the film foreshadows much larger hurdles and problems to come in the series that even teases it will grow outside just the insular world of the Games and branch out into the politics of this world. Perhaps the upcoming installments will fill in some of the nagging blanks.

When a film does a lot very well the few things that leave you wondering do tend to stand out a little more than they would otherwise but this is a very enjoyable, occasionally funny, romantic, dramatic and thrilling film.

8/10

Review- X-Men: First Class

Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox/Marvel)

I believe, when grading or reviewing a film, that taking a film for what it is and not comparing it something its not or not trying to be is of paramount importance. Thus, I will look at films from not just a genre perspective but also within the confines of subgenre and in some cases franchise. This clearly applies to X-Men: First Class.

It’s an action film, it’s a superhero film but moreover it’s a film in the X-Men series. I will state in the interest of full disclosure that I am a fan of the X-Men and it’s mainly through other interpretations be they the TV series I was hooked on as a kid or the films that came later.

I will here echo sentiments uttered quite astutely by my friend Joey Esposito because they are true and have bearing on any interpretation of this film. Those thoughts being that the connection many can feel to the X-Men are usually for either of two reasons: first, the mutants all feel outcast and most people at one point feel like outsiders, some more poignantly or persistently than others- this instantly adds to the appeal of the characters. However, perhaps the most intriguing dynamic in this universe is the dichotomy between Xavier and Magneto who have two diametrically opposite views on how to deal with this struggle and better yet anyone can see the logic in both approaches.

While I liked the previous installments in varying degrees, save for Wolverine, these truths and this philosophy was always hinted at and alluded to but never became central to the narrative. The films were engaging, flashy and fun, in short good entertainment that lacked that little something extra that made it necessary or desirable to revisit the film two or three times or more.

I have already seen X-Men: First Class twice because it not only gets everything I was talking about but delivers on it in spades. Never are you left wondering as the geriatric lady of infamy in the 80s advertising campaign said: “Where’s the beef?” Instantly the characters of this tale are built we see the circumstances that set Magneto on his course, likewise with Charles Xavier.

The films opening scenes are absolutely hypnotic and quickly establish suspense. The drama of the situation aided by Kevin Bacon who gives a wonderful and memorable turn in his first villainous role in some time confronts a Young Karl, played with utmost brilliance by Bill Milner, a young actor I’ve long contended is the best of his age group and he keeps proving me right. He is pushed and traumatized beyond his breaking point and it crystallizes his view of humanity. Meanwhile, Charles (Laurence Belcher) also gets a perfect introduction, not without its own bit of suspense, and we see him exhibit his nurturing, befriending nature.

Very quickly, dramatically and effectively the film establishes its characters before it really sets the story in motion, It’s a gripping start and I responded emotionally immediately which is rare. Like a few of the X-Men films it has memorable scenes with its lead characters in younger incarnations such as Cayden Boyd as Young Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand or Troye Sivan as Young Logan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What this film does is deliver on the promise that those early scenes show, in fact, there is a string of absolutely outstanding scenes that kick-off this film in tremendous style and the scenes end perfectly, carry great tension and importance are numerous in this film.

The success of this film hinges greatly on the strength of its script and it is simply put outstanding. The dialogue most of the time is sharp and concise and even though it wanders into typical superhero banter on occasion it is always purposeful and almost never wasted. Furthermore it communicates the philosophies of its characters, which needs to hit home, very well.

The characters are also made more interesting by the fact that they too have things at stake aside from the stakes of the plot. Not to knock that either. It’s hard to up the ante more than this film does but we’re not just seeing a spectacle because the characters are personally invested in their mission with different motives and that just makes it work that much better.

A few cast members were already singled out but a few more deserve mention. What wasn’t discussed in Kevin Bacon’s bit prior is that he, like a few other actors, was asked to speak a few lines in languages which are not his own and it just makes the experience that much more real and immediate. Having English as a substitute for foreign languages in a film is a slippery slope and I’m loving that people are trending towards using the foreign idioms themselves.

Clearly a lot of the kudos acting-wise need to go to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, who play the two principal characters. They are the ones that intrigue us most and who bear most of the burden and knock it out of the park. While this role isn’t a showcase of her considerable talent as Winter’s Bone did Jennifer Lawrence does very well playing Mystique and each of the initial assemblage of mutants played by Nicholas Hoult, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz and Lucas Till each have their moments to contribute.

The bottom line is that this is the best cinematic representation of who the X-Men to date are and why they are loved. The story is engaging and exciting but equal in intrigue are the characters. Add to that brilliant handling of how Xavier and Magneto whom are initially friends but just can’t see eye-to-eye philosophically and you have an absolutely dynamite film.

10/10