Weekend Update, Oscar Edition – January 8, 2012

8 01 2012

“The funny thing about winning an Academy Award is that this will always be synonymous with my name from here on in.  It will be Oscar-winner George Clooney, Sexiest Man Alive 1997, Batman died in a freak accident…”

– George Clooney accepting the Academy Award for “Syriana,” 2006

“I grew up in a place called Alcobendas where this was not a very realistic dream.  And always on the night of the Academy Awards, I stayed up to watch the show.  And I always felt that this ceremony was a moment of unity for the world because art – in any form – is, has been, and will always be our universal language.”

– Penélope Cruz accepting the Academy Award for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” 2009

“Did I really earn this, or did I just wear y’all down?”

– Sandra Bullock accepting the Academy Award for “The Blind Side,” 2010

Why the Oscars?  Why the attention?

I had planned a whole, in-depth analysis here … but then I got sick today.  I want to get something up, so let me lead off with this: the Oscars are about setting the tone for an industry.  It’s about making and rewarding careers.  It’s about celebrating the best of an industry.  It’s about capturing a moment in time, reminding future generations of what the year meant to those who lived through it.

Revised Predictions

Best Picture

  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. The Help
  4. War Horse
  5. Midnight in Paris
  6. Hugo
  7. Moneyball
  8. The Tree of Life
  9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  10. Bridesmaids

As far as I’m concerned, the top six aren’t going to change.  “Moneyball” may or may not make it in, given the passion for the movie that may or may not exist.  And “The Tree of Life” could sneak in as the top choice of many voters, but I don’t feel comfortable predicting that, nor do I think the late surge of “Dragon Tattoo” love will translate into a Best Picture nomination.

Now, onto the state of the race. It looks like 2008 all over again in the Oscar race.  The little movie that could then was “Slumdog Millionaire.”  It was a consensus critical favorite and won the BFCA (Critic’s Choice), then trumped the more conventional Globes play “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in the drama category, and capped off its all-around sweep by taking the SAG ensemble prize without having any big stars to boast … and then pretty much every guild too just for fun.  You could say “Button” or “Milk” posed a serious threat – and “The Dark Knight” might have been a formidable foe had it not been snubbed – but everyone knew it was “Slumdog” all the way.

Similarly, in 2011, the oh-so-typical Oscar movie yet anything BUT typical “The Artist” looks about ready to lap the competition.  It’s been the critical darling of the year but doen’t have the unanimity that “The Social Network” had last year.  Thus, it has become their gentle suggestion of the best movie of the year, not like the mandate that backfired last year.  It has been scoring everywhere it needs to score – a field-leading 11 nominations at the Critics Choice Awards including Best Picture (which it will most likely win), a field-leading 6 nominations at the Golden Globes including Best Picture, and 3 nominations at the SAG Awards including Best Ensemble.  Now all it needs to do is start winning things to make it undeniable.

Running closely behind is Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” which looks to be the “Milk” of 2011 as it seems to be the favorite for both the Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay trophies.  It could win Best Picture; indeed, it seems likely to win Best Picture in the drama category at the Golden Globes.  But in a year where nostalgia and an old-fashioned yearning for movies to take us out of our misery – not face it – could hurt this movie which is already burdened by comparisons to Payne’s last film, “Sideways.”

Then again, having a virtual monopoly on the brain vote may help “The Descendants” because the heart vote is being tugged in a number of directions.  “The Help” makes a big case as it’s a period piece (Oscars love the past), it’s a feel-good movie (“The King’s Speech” won last year), it has real audience support ($169 million), and it has the actors behind it.  Davis and Spencer are both serious threats to win their categories, and I would definitely consider “The Help” to be the favorite for the coveted SAG ensemble prize.  Given how well-acted the movie is down to its core, this may be the movie that rallies the biggest branch of the Academy.  But if “The Artist” wins that award, I would consider the race to be pretty much over.

There’s also the case to be made for “Hugo,” which harkens back to the pioneering days of moviemaking, and “War Horse,” which reminds all who see it of the weepy sentimentality and soaring scopes of a John Ford picture.  But with neither making blockbuster cash and neither getting a single nomination from the SAG, it’s really hard to see either mounting a serious threat.  It’s particularly problematic for “War Horse” as it missed a Best Director nomination for Spielberg at the Globes and a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination with the WGA.  Spielberg’s legendary status will likely get him into the Best Director field at the Oscars, but not having a screenplay nomination will be problematic.  Not since “Titanic” in 1997 has a movie won Best Picture without having a nominated screenplay, and only once in the last 10 years did the Best Picture winner not also win a Best Screenplay Oscar.

The acting thing is also an issue as it’s pretty rare for a movie to win Best Picture without an acting nomination.  The last time two times it happened was with “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” – both of which had the actors’ support as shown by their wins in the SAG ensemble category yet were consensus favorites anyways.  The nomination may be the prize for these movies.

As a final word on the category, don’t count out “Midnight in Paris.”  It’s been flying under the radar, but it could win Best Picture in the comedy category at the Golden Globes.  Woody Allen has won the category twice before, and this is his tenth film nominated for Best Picture overall.  It’s also his fifth Best Director nomination and sixth Best Screenplay nomination.  All this talk about career rewards for Spielberg and Scorsese need to be equally focused on Woody Allen.  The movie has scored with the SAG, PGA, and WGA – so there’s no reason to take this movie lightly.

Best Director

  1. Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  2. Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  3. Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
  4. Steven Spielberg, “War Horse”
  5. Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

It’s never wise to predict a split Picture-Director ticket … even when the director is as widely regarded as David Fincher, who may come into play as a dark horse for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  But in my mind, the top four is set with Hazanavicius, Payne, Scorsese, and Spielberg, who were all BFCA nominees (and all but Spielberg were HFPA nominees).  Woody Allen, to me, seems like the logical fifth nominee.  The director’s branch has nominated him six times, four of which were not a complement to a Best Picture nomination.  They like him, even when they don’t like his movie.  While Terrence Malick may have crafted a more ambitious, director-driven movie, I still don’t see them opting for him over Allen.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  2. Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
  3. Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
  4. Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”

The top three are locked in after getting nominations from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Fassbender can’t be put in the same category since he missed with the SAG, the group with the most overlap with Academy voters, but he seems pretty safe given that the nomination would be a reward for his ubiquity just as much as his performance.  In addition, physical commitment to a role always plays well with the actors branch; see nominations for James Franco in “127 Hours” and Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler” as proof.  “Last Tango in Paris,” another controversial NC-17 film, received a nomination for its leading actor back in 1973.   However, his name was Marlon Brando.

Leonardo DiCaprio, after garnering notices from all three of the major groups, would normally be considered a lock.  But here’s my hangup on predicting him: this is a category that almost always requires a quality movie behind a quality performance.  You have to look back to ten years ago when you saw a movie with a Rotten Tomatoes score below 70% – “Ali” at 67% and “I Am Sam” at a staggeringly (and unfairly) low 34%.  “J. Edgar” currently stands at 42% on the review aggregator. Not since 2005 has anyone with nominations for BFCA, SAG, and HFPA missed an Oscar nomination in this category, and that was previous winner Russell Crowe who was up this time for “Cinderella Man.”  It also happened to Paul Giamatti for “Sideways” in 2004, the victim of Clint Eastwood coming out of nowhere and scoring a nomination thanks to the rising tide of “Million Dollar Baby.”

But if DiCaprio misses, who gets in?  Ryan Gosling is having a great year but his two performances could cancel each other out, and neither “Drive” nor “The Ides of March” seem to have much momentum.  There isn’t consensus either on which is the more deserving performance; BFCA nominated him for “Drive” while HFPA nominated him for “The Ides of March.” I feel like this is prime territory for a dark horse candidate to rise … but who will it be?  Michael Shannon for “Take Shelter?”  Joseph Gordon-Levitt for “50/50?”  Woody Harrelson for “Rampart?”  Or will SAG nominee, but still underdog, Demian Bichir capitalize on the actor’s love for his work in “A Better Life?”  Unfortunately, there’s not much opportunity for any of these candidates to gain traction in the race, so you either go smart and pick Leo here or go with a hunch.

Best Actress

  1. Viola Davis, “The Help”
  2. Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  3. Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
  5. Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

For the past 15 years, the SAG field has provided a clue to at least 4 of the 5 eventual nominees for Best Actress at the Oscars.  The top four in the field – Davis, Streep, Williams, and Swinton – have all scored nominations from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA.  Then, the plot thickens. The way I see it, there are three actresses competing for that final slot.  History says go with the SAG nominee, which is Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs.”  But Charlize Theron is also a threat for “Young Adult” after cracking the field for both the BFCA and HFPA.

And I definitely don’t think anyone can count out Golden Globe nominee Rooney Mara for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”  People sensed the passion wasn’t there for this film, but it’s been stealthily building a healthy résumé throughout the season.  It was one of the top ten movies for the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute; this week, it was nominated by both the Producers Guild and the Writers Guild.

The movie has supporters where “Albert Nobbs,” which currently sits at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, has few. But love from producers, directors, and critics doesn’t provide any direct aid to Mara, who must be nominated by her peers in the acting branch of the Academy.  They may be more inclined to vote for Glenn Close because she’s a five-time nominee who worked tirelessly for three decades to get this story on screen, whereas Mara is making her first big splash (and will likely have two other chances to be nominated for this role) and Theron seems to have had her moment in the sun.

Here’s an interesting mini-trend I’ve picked up on: since 2003, only once has the Academy not included an actress under the age of 30 in the field.  Michelle Williams is now 31, so only Mara (or dark horses Felicity Jones and Elizabeth Olsen) fills this new quotient.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  2. Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
  3. Albert Brooks, “Drive”
  4. Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  5. Brad Pitt, “The Tree of Life”

At once, this is the most solid and the most fluctuating race this year.  The frontrunner still is – and has been since June – Christopher Plummer for his incredible turn in “Beginners.”  I don’t really think anyone else has a prayer because this is both a sentimental, Lifetime Achievement Oscar (think Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin) and a consensus pick (think Tim Robbins and Javier Bardem).  Of course, this assumes that he will steamroll to wins from the BFCA, SAG, and HFPA, a scenario which I think is incredibly likely.

Branagh is the only other sure-fire nominee after scoring nominations from all three of the big organizations thus far.  Brooks also seems pretty secure, although the SAG omission raises some eyebrows since the Oscars have matched the SAG five in this category for the past two years.  I would also say that given the support for “Moneyball,” Jonah Hill seems like a decent bet after SAG and HFPA nominations.  It’s that very support and presence that I think is the X-factor for him and perhaps the nail in the coffin for Nick Nolte, whose movie “Warrior” is totally absent on the precursor scene.

As for that final slot, I’m going gusty and saying it will be Brad Pitt in “The Tree of Life.”  I don’t see why this performance can’t ride in on the coattails of his sure-fire nominated one in “Moneyball.”  And it would make Pitt both a competitor and a co-star of Jonah Hill; how awesome would that be?  Dark horse nominees, unnoticed by the big three organizations, happen in this category – look to Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road,” William Hurt in “A History of Violence,” Alan Alda in “The Aviator,” Djimon Hounsou in “In America.”  But this is a gusty pick; smart money always goes the SAG five.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
  2. Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
  3. Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
  4. Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

BFCA/HFPA/SAG only agreed on Bejo, Spencer, and Chastain.  This is the only category where, to my knowledge, getting all three of these nominations does not ensure a nomination.  Last year, Mila Kunis missed for “Black Swan,” and Cameron Diaz missed in 2001 for “Vanilla Sky.”  It happens, although I’d say that that was more of a character judgement disapproving of some of their other, non-Academy friendly projects.  None of these actresses seem to be at risk for a similar fate.

I’d call Bejo the frontrunner because there might be some vote-splitting for the scene-stealing Spencer and the year-stealing ubiquitous Chastain.  If Viola Davis emerges as the one to beat for Best Actress, I would guess that the urgency to reward one of the ladies of “The Help” here will go down.

The race gets murkier beyond that, though, as the three organizations differed on how to fill those final two slots.  BFCA went Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” and Shailene Woodley in “The Descendants” (they nominate six, so Carey Mulligan was also in there for “Shame”).  SAG went McCarthy and Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs.”  HFPA went Woodley and McTeer.  Again, the rule is usually to follow SAG … but I just don’t think Melissa McCarthy can manage a nomination because comedic actresses just aren’t usually the Academy’s cup of tea.  I think the only precedent is Robert Downey Jr. being nominated for “Tropic Thunder,” but that was a lot more daring and probing of a performance.  McCarthy just – drains her plumbing in a sink.

McTeer disappears in her role (so I’ve heard) and Woodley is in the #2 movie of the year.  I think those are my other two.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. The Artist
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Win Win
  5. 50/50

Here is where I think the surprising “Bridesmaids” love – among the top movies feted by the AFI, SAG, HPFA, PGA, and WGA – will register.  It’s a well-written movie where the comedy is so heavily in the dialogue and the plot; while Apatow movies have yet to show up here, there has to be a first time for everything.

“Midnight in Paris” and “The Artist” are slam-dunk nominees destined to duke it out until the end, unless “The Artist” just pulls away and can’t be stopped.  I hope the WGA nominees “Win Win” and “50/50” translate their success there into Oscar nominations, but this category could go a number of directions.  It’s hard to imagine that they would spring for a slate of five comedic nominees, but it could very well happen.

There’s a chance that “The Tree of Life,” thinly plotted as it is, will show up here.  “Beginners” is also an option; “Margin Call” could surprise.  It was a very good year for original screenplays, so many things are fair game.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Descendants
  2. Moneyball
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

“The Descendants” is about to lap the field here; barring a huge surge for “Moneyball” (which would make Aaron Sorkin a back-to-back winner), I don’t see anything standing between Alexander Payne and a second Academy Award win in this category.

As for the rest of the field, it’s kind of a mess.  I went with the WGA five here, which subbed the surging “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for the sagging “War Horse.”  (Funny enough, that would make Steven Zaillian nominee again in the category – the Oscars are seeing double this year!)

I think Tate Taylor, who will most likely miss for Best Director, can earn a nomination here for his work adapting “The Help.”

And while “Hugo” is a director’s movie, I don’t see why hot scribe John Logan (who also penned “Rango” and “Coriolanus” this year) can’t score a nomination.

“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” ineligible at the WGA, could also sneak in for a nomination given its labyrinthine plot.  But given its total radio silence during the season, I’m seeing that as a long shot at best.

Tune in this time next week for my LIVE BLOGGING of the Golden Globes!

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Weekend Update – August 7, 2011

7 08 2011

“I felt kind of trapped in that material. I felt, This is not my boat. I’m just a passenger, but I’m going down and there’s no way out.”

– James Franco on hosting the 2011 Oscars

“Here’s my guess: Critics will be out to kill [‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’] and blame me for it just because they are out to kill me. Last year people were pretty nice. This is the year when people are going to have fun going after me. I don’t feel the same way about ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ as I do about ‘127 Hours’ or ‘Milk.’ It was a ­different kind of acting.”

– James Franco on the media in Playboy, July 2011

Credentials

This week, I went to a promotional screening for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”  I decided to show up an hour and a half early because I knew the line would be ridiculously long.  However, I didn’t anticipate that the theater would already be full by the time I got there!

Reeling, desperate, dying to see the movie, I resorted to a card I had yet to play.  I went up to the rep and said, “You may not believe me but I’m a member of the press.”  I wasn’t lying.  And no, I’m not a member of the press just because I write a blog.

I guess it’s time for me to make a big announcement, one that I should have made several months ago.  My work now appears on The Christian Science Monitor‘s webpage.  That’s right, selected posts from “Marshall and the Movies” now appear on a section of the Monitor‘s site called the “Culture Café,” which pools a handful of bloggers for their opinions on the culture at large.  Since May, 8 posts from my blog have appeared on their webpage, ranging from reviews of new releases to Classics Corner posts and even, most recently, a “F.I.L.M.”

Don’t believe me?  Check it out for yourself by clicking on the link below!  I’ll do a better job from now on including links to the posts they syndicate on “Weekend Update,” but know that you can always read it here first!

In case you missed it…

Not much went on at “Marshall and the Movies” this week.  Running frantically behind, I resorted to publishing a lot of reviews I’d been holding back for a long time, “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest” and “Burlesque.”  I did, however, strategically publish my review of “Howl” as James Franco had a big movie opening this week.

Yesterday, I reviewed “The Change-Up.”  What a disaster that was.  In case you don’t want to read the whole review, let me sum it up for you in one fragment: AVOID AT ALL COSTS.

The F.I.L.M. of the Week was Charles Ferguson’s “No End in Sight,” a documentary about the American occupation of Iraq.  It’s still a fascinating watch even though the end is in sight … hindsight, as a matter of fact.

And because I didn’t get a chance to point it out in last week’s post, the July edition of “Classics Corner” took a look at Mel Brooks’ timeless comedy “Blazing Saddles.”  Thank goodness people like it enough to put clips on YouTube so I can embed them here.

Recommended Reading

And here’s what I read this week.  You should read it too, unless you are illiterate.  Then find someone to read it for you.

Other cool things I read this week from non-blogger types:

James Franco and the Rise of the New Celebrity

You’re always hearing something about James Franco.  Whether it’s him pursuing yet another degree, opening yet another movie, publishing a book, announcing a directorial venture, or appearing on a soap opera, the man seems to keep reinventing his own celebrity as he goes.  But at the same time, we can’t help but ask, “Who is James Franco?”  A Renaissance Man or a jack-of-all-trades spreading himself too thin?  An entertainer or an artist?  And I think that’s the question he wants us to be mulling over constantly.

The one thing that is certain about James Franco, however, is that he is brutally and blatantly honest.  The man will say what’s on his mind and act his feelings; he won’t take pull any punches or hide behind any veneers.  Case in point: the Oscars this year.  You may or may not have read the quote at the top of the post, but he hated the material and was very vocal about it.  In that same interview with Playboy, he said that he told the producer of the telecast that “I just don’t think this stuff’s going to be good.”

So how did he react?  With boredom and a complete lack of enthusiasm while Anne Hathaway tried to exude enough enthusiasm for both hosts.  But for those of us who know James Franco beyond the obvious filmography, this isn’t really a surprise or something we haven’t seen before.  Have you seen 2008’s “Camille,” a little indie he starred in alongside Sienna Miller?  If you haven’t, don’t because it’s awful.

Here’s the thing about “Camille” – Franco knows it’s terrible and acts accordingly: bored and brutalized, much like how those of us stupid enough to watch the movie feel.  Or if you saw “Eat Pray Love,” you’ll see a similar display.  The guy caught in the thankless A-hole ex-boyfriend role isn’t an exciting place to be, and Franco doesn’t act thrilled at all.  But honestly, should he be?  If you see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” you’ll see a similar side of Franco: bored and acting like he’s above the material the whole time.

My question to you, the reader, is this: is James Franco justified in showing his feelings toward the movie on screen?  Is he allowed to say “Yes, this is a paycheck movie, but that still doesn’t mean I have to like it” through an inferred glance?  Or does he need to swallow his pride and just act?  Because in the end, do we pay to see James Franco or the person that James Franco is acting as?  Do we need to be able to separate the actor from the character?  Or can we accept a post-modern blurring of the two?

Now allow me to shift gears while you mull over the tremendous amount of questions posed in the last paragraph.  Back in March, when the Charlie Sheen phenomenon was raging out of control, the brilliant author Bret Easton Ellis (“American Psycho”) wrote a fascinating editorial for Newsweek cleverly titled “Charlie Sheen IS Winning.”  In it, he broke down how Sheen epitomizes the modern (or post-Empire, as he calls it) celebrity.  While acknowledging that there may be some mental or substance issues present with Sheen, he lays out a convincing case for Sheen as the smartest celebrity in Hollywood because he understands what the public wants.  Try arguing with this:

“To Empire gatekeepers, Sheen seems dangerous and in need of help because he’s destroying (and confirming) illusions about the nature of celebrity … What Sheen has exemplified and has clarified is the moment in the culture when not caring what the public thinks about you or your personal life is what matters most—and what makes the public love you even more (if not exactly CBS or the creator of the show that has made you so wealthy)…

… Do we really want manners? Civility? Empire courtesy? Hell, no. We want reality, no matter how crazy. And this is what drives the Empire to distraction: Sheen doesn’t care what you think of him anymore, and he scoffs at the idea of PR.”

So, is James Franco the bellwether of a new kind of celebrity entering the mainstream consciousness without having a drug-fueled implosion?  Or is he something else entirely?  Weigh in!





(Again REALLY Belated) Weekend Update – July 31, 2011

31 07 2011

“Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.”

– Meryl Streep

“You have to show violence the way it is. If you don’t show it realistically, then that’s immoral and harmful. If you don’t upset people, then that’s obscenity.”

– Roman Polanski

Out and About in the Community

As a sort of cop-out for not publishing this on time, I’m going to overpublicize two events I participated in recently over at the Large Association of Movie Blogs (The LAMB), a giant database of bloggers that get together and pool ideas and posts.

The first was the LAMB Acting School, a monthly series that gathers reviews and retrospectives centered around a single actor.  This month, it was the legendary Meryl Streep, the woman who may well be the greatest actress of her generation.  For those who get sick of her or claim that the Oscars are overly obsessed with her, just look at her filmography and tell me that the diversity of roles present and the dexterity with which she pulls them off isn’t flooring.  Her emphasis is obviously on the drama, but she can pull off comedy just as easily.  She is often lauded for her ability to change the accent of her voice to fit a character; however, it’s that incredible Streep pathos that she brings to every role that has made her a symbol of consistency and reliability in a volatile cinematic climate.

Not to mention I owe Meryl Streep a very special favor myself.  If it hadn’t been for her and “Julie & Julia,” this blog probably wouldn’t exist.  She has changed my life for better and for always, and I am eternally grateful.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Click on the graphic to go see all the posts, but here are links to what I have reviewed from her illustrious career:

It’s Complicated

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Julie & Julia

Adaptation

Music of the Heart

Then, a week prior, I participated in the “LAMBs in the Director’s Chair” event, which celebrated the career of Roman Polanski.  I haven’t seen too many of his movies and have reviewed even fewer, but I admire his skill behind the camera and don’t wish to comment on his legal status.  I saw “Roman Polanski: Wanted & Desired,” which I found an interesting portrait of a haunted man, and it just made me even more torn.

Nonetheless, “The Pianist” may be one of my all-time favorite movies.  It is so powerful and moving, perhaps the only intensely personal non-documentarian account of the Holocaust we will ever get.  I’m really hoping “Carnage” is another big success – I always love a good play adaptation.

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Again, click the link to be taken to the post with reviews and commentary. Here’s what I submitted:

The Ghost Writer

Classics Corner: Rosemary’s Baby

A Week in Review

This week, I reviewed the two non-Smurf new releases, “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Crazy Stupid Love.”  My expectations were high for the former, low for the latter; the output was low for the former, high for the latter.  Click the pictures to be transported to the reviews.

I also celebrated my two year birthday/anniversary, whichever it is – without the pomp and circumstance.  And I’m totally OK with that.

Recommended Reading

Here’s some of the great work I read this week:

The Rant

This is a thought I had upon further thought on the sex friend movies of 2011, “No Strings Attached” and “Friends with Benefits.”  (Believe it or not, it is possible to think on them.)

Isn’t in hypocritical that the MPAA has begun a crusade against cigarette smoking yet have done nothing about what I think is a much bigger issue in movies nowadays: the casual attitude towards unprotected sex.  While I’m not going to dismiss smoking in movies as something that can influence kids and teenagers, I would argue that they are much more likely to imitate the sexual behavior of screen characters.  Smoking is a social behavior, so kids see it out in public all the time.  Movies just reinforce what they see in real life.

Sex, however, is a very private matter.  Their education nowadays is abstinence or a very sanitized, conservative, condoms-on-bananas approach, like Coach Carr from “Mean Girls” (see the clip below).  What they see in the movies defines how they perceive it in the real world.

While sex on film has evolved with the constantly changing societal norms, from “Carnal Knowledge” to “Brokeback Mountain” to the 2011 duo touting casual sex, I’m surprised that public awareness (and perhaps anger) of how sex is being portrayed on screen hasn’t caught up with the times.  While the conservative definition of sex as an act between man and wife was thrown out quite a while ago, that isn’t an excuse not to care.  Attitudes may have changed, but that doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye and abandon all responsibility simply because we don’t fully agree with something.

The routine nowadays for sex is two people start passionately kissing, find a flat spot, disrobe each other, and begin thrusting.  Is it really that hard to add the simple, responsible step somewhere before the thrusting begins of adding a condom?  Would it really disrupt the scene that much to add in a shot of a Trojan wrapper on the ground?  A hand reaching in the drawer for a rubber?  We don’t actually have to see it slide on, but for kids who believe that movies reflect real life, there really needs to be some sense conveyed that these people have taken measures to be safe.  Otherwise, there should be consequences.

Only two mainstream movies (to my knowledge) have really dared to have any major results from having unprotected sex, both coming in 2007: “Knocked Up” and “Juno,” both of which featured characters who had to deal with a life-changing pregnancy either willingly not using a condom (the latter) or accidentally not using one (the former).  Both tackle the issue in a respectful manner but also serving as subtle cautionary tales.  But other than those, the only other movie I can think of that shows safe sex being practiced are, ironically, “No Strings Attached.”  (I should also credit 2005’s “Must Love Dogs,” a lame Diane Keaton rom-com that featured a scene where she and John Cusack choose not to have sex because they can’t find a condom.)

Does Hollywood really expect us to believe that 95% of the time, there are no consequences of having unprotected sex?  Wouldn’t it be so refreshing to see Katherine Heigl get chlamydia in her next romantic comedy?  Or after a drunken one-night stand, have Jessica Alba get pregnant?  These are things that happen to real people when they don’t act responsibly, and by dwelling on the small percentage of times that unprotected sex has no ramifications, they are promoting an illusion that could damage lives.

In our immediate gratification culture which demands movies on DVD sooner, data quicker, and social information faster, I find it almost unfathomable that people have chosen to fixate on eradicating smoking from cinema with all of its LONG-TERM effects.  Lung cancer takes a while to develop; you start to feel pregnancy within a month or so, a sexually transmitted disease sets in even sooner, and emotional scarring may be present the next morning.  While the wages of sex are usually not life-threatening, that doesn’t mean we should just turn a blind eye to Hollywood’s dangerous condoning of an irresponsible practice.

Check back for more “Weekend Update” on August 7 … hopefully it will be published on time!





(Super Belated) Weekend Update – July 26, 2011

26 07 2011

“He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin.

He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved … New York was his town, and it always would be.”

– Woody Allen as Isaac Davis, “Manhattan” (1979)

Empire State of Mind

In case you couldn’t tell from the epigraph, this post is going to have something to do with New York City.  This post is so late because I just got back from a fantastic vacation there, a “graduation trip” of sorts.  I chose this domestic locale rather than some European hotspot mainly for one reason: Broadway.  I’ve been so busy being in shows for the past four years – 10, to be exact – that I haven’t had the flexibility to get up to see shows.  So, as a celebration of my semi-retirement from theater, I chose to see four musicals in the hotbed of the business.

But before I get into the shows, I have to talk about the city.  Just walking around, you feel the cinematic quality of the town.  More than anywhere in the world, New York City has been a muse to countless filmmakers from Scorsese to Woody Allen, who might as well built a celluloid shrine to the place.  It’s a city full of character and life, beauty and squalor, successes and failures, but above all a sense of passion in the air, a passion that can only be found in truly great cities.

First, it was off to “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.”  Even those who don’t pay attention to musical theater HAD to have heard about this show, be it the cast members getting injured, the plot problems, the dreadful music, or the direction turmoil – all amplified by the biggest Broadway budget ever.  With all the problems and publicity, they made a wise move to stop the show for a month to iron out the kinks, and about a month ago, they opened a “reimagined” version.

It could have been absolutely dreadful originally; however, what I saw was nothing short of incredible.  The story wasn’t all that great, and some of the music didn’t really work for me.  However, as I often say about cinema, theater is not only a written medium, but also a visual one.  If a work can be truly stunning to the eye, showing innovation, creativity, and imagination, then it can still be successful.  So in that regards, consider the musical version of “Spider-Man” the “Avatar” of musical theater.  Both are breathtaking experiences that push the boundaries of what we consider possible from their respective artistic media.  Say what you will about them being shallow works of art, but we need them just as we need movies like “The Social Network” and “Pulp Fiction.”

Then it was on to “The Book of Mormon,” this year’s Tony Winner for Best Musical.  It was probably the main reason I wanted to come to New York this summer in the first place; I mean, who doesn’t want to see the guys from “South Park” and “Avenue Q” take on Mormonism in a musical?  And to have it win 9 Tony Awards just increased the allure.  It’s now the hottest ticket on Broadway, and we were very lucky to get seats as cheap and as early as we did.  Try getting one now and you’ll probably be asked for $900 to $1,000.  Unless you are a politician paying for love, that kind of money for that amount of time just isn’t reasonable for most people.

I don’t know if I could ever justifiably fork over that much for any one show, but I can tell you that I’d easily pay $500 to see “The Book of Mormon” again.  It’s the musical you’ve been praying to see your whole life – smart, funny, electrifying, and a rocking good time.  While musical theater has generally been considered an artistic medium solely for escapism, Matt Stone and Trey Parker turn the tables on the preconceived notions, delivering a shocking work that deserves to be deconstructed like any other piece of intelligent literature.

I may not personally agree with all that Stone and Parker have to say, but anyone who dares to tackle an issue as big as religion in this age of artistic repression amidst commercial domination deserves a listening ear.  “The Book of Mormon” is not anti-religion, but it will ask of you to keep an open mind and ponder certain notions that you’d probably prefer to leave alone.  It certainly weeds out the weak at heart by the fourth number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (if you want to know what it means/ruin the surprise, go ahead and listen).  It’s bold but never brazen, mocking but never disrespectful, offensive but never off-putting, and challenging but never condemning.  While art nowadays consists so much of staying far away from the fine lines of acceptability, “The Book of Mormon” takes joy in finding those lines and having a rollicking song and dance number on them.

I can’t recommend this show enough.  Now that you’ve read this, I’ve officially dubbed every day that you spend in New York without seeing this show a wasted day.  It’s a musical theater experience unlike any other I’ve ever seen, and if for nothing else, see it for a laugh.  I laughed more in one scene of “The Book of Mormon” than I have at the movies ALL SUMMER.  Yeah, it’s that good.

After “The Book of Mormon” blew my mind at the matinee, I moved onto the revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” that evening.  Yes, that IS the musical with Daniel Radcliffe.  I’ve never had any reason not to admire him, but this was a very smart career choice.  While I’m sure Emma Watson and Rupert Grint are fretting about how to break away from their Harry Potter personas, Radcliffe has already proven that he can do just about anything he can put his mind to.  Here, he sings and dances like a trained professional Broadway star.  He has charisma and charm totally independent from his world-famous character.

It takes time to get used to him speaking in an American accent, but after a while, the strangeness subsides and the fun reigns.  He and John Larroquette are an awesome duo; neither are classical musical theater actors, yet it’s so evident that they are having so much fun on that stage that it reverberates through the whole theater.  Call it the anti-“Spider-Man” with its top-notch satire on corporate ladder-climbing and its simple, resourceful set design.

And then, because I’m stupid, I tried waiting for him Daniel Radcliffe at the stage door for a picture/autograph.  Big mistake.  Huge.  I even left the show before the bows on a tip that as long as you left a little early, you were all good.  Well, all the “Harry Potter” fans were already lined up, so I was WAY in the back.  Then everyone else came out, and I was caught in this claustrophobic clump of hot, sweaty fans all voraciously craving an autograph.  I like to think I was most deserving since I made him a big sign for his birthday, which I couldn’t even raise above my head due to the crowd’s tightness restricting the motion of my arms.  This picture is all I have to show for my hour of waiting.  He’s the short, scrawny looking one in red – not the big one in orange.

My last stop on the musical theater tour was “Anything Goes,” the Cole Porter classic that was this year’s Tony winner for Best Revival.  While everyone loves contemporary, there’s something to be said for the classics, and this one reminded me of why musicals keep getting revived.  This production featured the incomparable Sutton Foster, a name you should start knowing.  She’s the Bernadette Peters of a new generation, a fantastic performer abounding in skill and smiles.  In the past decade, she has been nominated five Tony Awards and won twice – and she has only been in six shows!  Those are stats that would make Meryl Streep blush.

So get on board the Sutton Foster train; you won’t be disappointed.

What Else …

Not much.  I had a bunch of stuff planned, but I’ll save it for next week when I can do a better job.  I’ll throw in a few links here so a few people will actually read this post.  But until the next reel, hasta luego.

  • Sam of “Duke and the Movies” premiered his interesting new series, featuring capsule reviews by a variety of bloggers published each Sunday.  I’ll throw my hat into the ring this week because I’m back home.
  • While I wished happy birthday to Daniel Radcliffe from afar on Saturday, Andrew at Encore Entertainment was wishing happy birthday to Philip Seymour Hoffman and did a picture retrospective of his roles.  Gosh, that man can act.
  • Jim Turnbull at “Anomalous Material” counts down the best 10 actor-director combos.  It makes me feel bad that A) I haven’t seen a Kurosawa movie and B) James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock weren’t the chosen combo.
  • The LAMB Photoshops turning adult films into kiddie flicks are great for a laugh; I highly suggest you click on it.
That’s about it for me.  In case you missed my reviews this week, I’ll save you the trouble of a scroll and link here.




Weekend Update – July 17, 2011

17 07 2011

An Introduction

“Writing should be useful. If it can’t instruct people a little bit more about the responsibilities of consciousness there’s no point in doing it.”

– Edward Albee

So what is this “Weekend Update” thing that Marshall wants me to read now?  Is it some rip-off of the “SNL” feature that seriously needs to get another good-looking girl on it (sorry, Seth, but we need a Tina/Amy) and just roasts American politicians and other assorted morons?

Well, to answer the questions that I posed for you to hypothetically ask me, it’s a new feature on “Marshall and the Movies” that conveniently borrows the non-trademarked name of a popular, long-running “Saturday Night Live” segment.  It seeks to provide a lot of the same things for its audience as that segment – humor, commentary, and all sorts of fun characters.  Ultimately, it’s something dependable that is always here on the weekends no matter what else I’m writing about, just like no matter how poor the “SNL” writing is nowadays, you can always get a giggle from “Weekend Update” sandwiched in the middle.

Now, as to the epigraph of this post, it mainly refers to my random factoid series, which, as you may have noticed, has gone the way of the VHS tape.  It was, simply put, a pain in the butt to come up with some new nugget of commentary every single day.  I would get ridiculously behind on posting them, and writing became a chore rather than a passion.  So with “Weekend Update,” I’ll get the chance to provide you some of that clever witicism I like to think I’ve been providing through the “Random Factoid” series – just on a more manageable timetable.  Who knows, maybe I’ll still surprise everyone with a factoid every now and then when I get REALLY worked up about something.

So without further ado…

In case you missed it…

It was a very Potter week at Marshall and the Movies, in case you couldn’t tell by my changed header (which previously adorned the 2010 Oscar favorites from October).  I got the chance to see the movie early on Monday, which was totally AWESOME.  To show you how true of a fan I am, just 12 hours before the screening, I had all 4 of my wisdom teeth removed.  When the Warner Bros. logo flew at me in 3D, I could still feel some of the anesthesia lingering in my bottom lip.

Read my review of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.”

And then, because I couldn’t miss the opening night festivities, I had to go on Thursday night as well.  I got all dressed up, wearing my Gryffindor Quidditch robe from Halloween … in third grade!  I also had my Deathly Hallows T-shirt and Platform 9 3/4 cap (won at Monday’s screening) along with a wand borrowed from a friend.  Oh, and I rocked the Harry Potter 3D style glasses that I got at the Monday screening as well.  No one had them at the 7 P.M. screening I went to, so they were quite the rage.

The first time was a charm for this movie, but that didn’t stop me from seeing it for the third time on Saturday.  I was babysitting, and the decision was easy between this, “Green Lantern,” and the torture better known as “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”  I got to see it in the lovely RPX, a nice way for Regal to charge slightly more money for a slightly better experience.  Still, the 3D is totally awesome on this movie, something I’ve been longing to say about a movie since … well, “Avatar.”

But the week wasn’t without its sad moments too, as the joy of this momentous occasion also brought the sorrow of knowing that there will be no more “Harry Potter” movies to bring us all together in a night of magic and fun.  With that in mind, I ranked all eight of the films on Thursday – you’ll have to read it to figure out which prevailed.

See how I ranked the “Harry Potter” films.

And there was also a Friday DVD release (can you say random?), so I posted my review since I saw the film back in its theatrical run.

Read my review of “Rango.”

Recommended Reading

Here are some of the best posts that I’ve read in the past week from other bloggers.  For future reference, I’ll probably post things here that are either ridiculously intelligent or ridiculously funny.

And in case you thought I was the only one talking about Harry Potter, think again:

Hard to Say Goodbye

“Harry Potter” truly went out with a bang this weekend, scoring countless monetary records.  The biggest midnight opening ($43.5 million).  The biggest single and opening day ever ($92.1 million).  The biggest opening weekend and three day stretch ever ($168.6 million).  The biggest worldwide opening ever ($475.6 million).  In case there was any doubt that J.K. Rowling’s series is a truly exceptional phenomenon, the record books can speak to its magic.

But this opening speaks to something more than just a movie.  While “The Dark Knight” is definitely an all-time favorite and a far superior movie, I’m not as sad as I thought I would be to see its 3 year run at the top end.  That was a movie that gained prestige over the weekend; there wasn’t such a rush to see it (I, for example, waited until Sunday).  It also had the Heath Ledger factor that contributed to its massive opening, bringing crowds that normally wouldn’t see a comic book movie but had to see the character that brought about his demise.  They came back through the floodgates in record numbers because beneath that performance, Christopher Nolan had actually made a fantastic movie that totally transcended a genre.

“Harry Potter,” on the other hand, is a phenomenon unlike any other in this generation.  It’s an event picture, one that brings together people around the medium of cinema in a way that renews interest and passion in moviegoing.  No matter if you were an avid reader of Rowling’s novels, just saw the movies, or have no interest in Hogwarts, if you love movies, you had to be happy on Thursday night.

The “Harry Potter” movies renewed my faith in an experience that many people are convinced is dying: the communal movie theater experience.  Over the course of cinematic history, we’ve gone from watching movies at a theater to television screens to computer screens to iPod screens to cell phone screens.  Just in the past decade with the series, our availability options have increased dramatically.  When “Sorcerer’s Stone” enchanted us in 2001, we had to go to Blockbuster or Hollywood Video to get our DVDs (and VHS tapes).  Now, we can rent and buy movies on our computers, phones, televisions, video game consoles, and disc players.  Needless to say, times have changed.

So, taking all that into account, seeing everyone gathered in the lobby of my local theater on Thursday night was an incredibly magical experience.  We were all gathered around a common experience: a movie, a character, some enchantment, and the end of an era.  The Christian Science Monitor called it correctly when they called that night the bookend of a generation.  I find this especially apt for people in my grade; as we head off to college, we tie the bow on a part of our youth with the completion of the “Harry Potter” series that we grew up with.  When we were nine, the first movie was released, and their progression roughly matched our aging through puberty, middle school, high school, and finally off towards the rest of our lives.

And as the Monitor article also points out, the books and movies have also endowed a shared moral compass to our generation.  While life won’t always be as simple as an all-encompassing evil like Voldemort, we can learn to be brave and triumph over our shortcomings like Harry, facing whatever life throws at us with courage.  It’s a rare movie series that can do that in addition to bringing the masses to the theater.

On an NPR segment I listened to a few months ago, an expert said that a result of our fragmented culture is our dearth of moments that connect a generation to each other.  Nowadays, it’s almost strictly limited to tragedies.  We will all remember where we were when 9/11 happened, just like we will all remember where we were when Michael Jackson died.  But the “Harry Potter” series defies the times and has produced several moments that have brought together not only this generation, but others as well.  Between midnight book releases and movie premieres, this series has forged positive bonds and provided many experiences that people will remember for a lifetime.  It is only fitting that the last one (at least for now) be the biggest one of them all and, more than that, the biggest movie opening ever.

As J.K. Rowling said at the London premiere, “Whether you come back by film or by page, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”  So although I, along with a world full of grateful readers and moviegoers, am saying goodbye to hellos for the series now, I do so knowing that the magic will always be there in the movies and books.  It has brought magic to the screen for a decade, and this week, it brought the magic back into the theater.  At least for this generation, it will linger there for the rest of our lives, a comforting thought even if at times it feels out of reach.

So thanks, J.K.  Thanks, Harry.  You may have just saved movies.