Friday, February 28, 2003

Oscars 2003: Nominee Reactions

February 28, 2003

If there's one thing worse than being unfair, it's being predictable; that, at least, is the popular theory as far as award shows are concerned. And when the results for this year's Oscar nominees were revealed early on Tuesday, February 11, the only logical thing anyone could do was leap to their feet, throw their heads back in disbelief, and wonder with a certain vexation in their voice, "I waited all this time just for THAT?"

Daredevil / *** (2003)

If the audience indeed knows more about the super-hero essence than most filmmakers do, then it will be interesting to see if anyone can explain the mysterious physical chutzpah behind Daredevil, a crime fighter who leaps great distances between buildings, drops hundreds of feet from the air without the use of specific assets or interference to break his falls, and never seems to injure himself as a result. We can get away with most masked protagonists performing these types of stunts because the evidence is always there to enforce it; Superman's superhuman abilities allow him to fly, for instance, while Batman and Spider-Man suspend gravitational limits because they have nifty gadgets that allow them to. And the mutants of "X-Men" can fly too because, well, they're mutants. With this particular comic book hero, however, no specific explanation or hint of reasoning is applied to the concept, other than the assumption being incredibly acrobatic is achieved simply by someone going blind after an accident with spilled chemicals.

The Guru / 1/2* (2003)

The funniest moment in "The Guru" comes just a hair before the closing credits begin to roll, when a fireman rushes over to a nearby church, interrupts a wedding, and professes his undying love for the groom. The comical timing of this particular moment is so spot-on and alive, it's a wonder that it even exists at all in a film that is almost completely devoid of any sense of laughter. For a good long hour, the movie continuously holds the impulse of delivering its jokes in an uncomfortable and unamusing way, when suddenly a gag like this erupts from out of nowhere. A bit shocking, of course, but it saves this incredibly bad endeavor from falling into that ever-so-dreaded "zero star" club, if only just barely. Don't make too much fuss about it, but know that there is, at least, a shred light at the end of this long and dark tunnel of amateurism. As for the movie itself—it's complete trash, a clunky, idiotic, laughless and amateurish collection of scenes targeted to people who have the intellect of mattress springs. Standard defects of an idiot romance plot, including the notion that any guy can get every woman in a room simply by pretending to be someone else, garnish nearly every frame of celluloid, but the picture only wishes it could maintain characters with any level of low-end intelligence. Every face that passes through the camera lens, in fact, is wasted; the screen personas we have to endure aren't just clueless morons, but dissonant ones as well. At least most idiots in these kinds of plots pop a few brain cells every now and then.

The Jungle Book / **1/2 (1967)

Of all the ideas and arguments that Rudyard Kipling conveyed in his ambitious literature, the one thing that he was never able to answer clearly was why Mowgli the man cub wanted to stay in the jungle. The very idea that a simple boy can flourish on the notion of living life among ferocious lions, tigers and bears (oh, my!), even after being raised by wolves, is not exactly the most plausible explanation for any young adventurer, after all; in fact, countless stories about naive little boys or girls at least give the heroes some basic sense of knowledge or instinct, even if it's slightly misguided. Kipling's motivation behind the Mowgli persona in his "The Jungle Book" doesn't necessarily have that forethought; his protagonist is a basic archetype for absent essentials, a rowdy, foolish and inept tyke who refuses to realize his own limits of strength and wisdom, even when he is staring directly into the eyes of a tiger who is born to destroy him.

The Jungle Book 2 / *1/2 (2003)

Disney's "The Jungle Book 2" is a flea market of cheap ploys and meaningless ideas designed to rob parents of hard-earned money, an inane excursion into such lame and forgettable territory that it barely has the thrust to occupy a video store shelf, much less a theater screen. And yet there it is, sucking life out of the projector room as if anyone observing it could feel remotely engaged by its endless mediocrity. The excuse? The only one, I gather, actually seems to have been a goal of the mouse house for many recent years: to cash in on name value rather than administer any kind of product with a shred of merit. It certainly doesn't help matters that this is a follow-up to a less-than-stellar feature cartoon to begin with.

Old School / *** (2003)

The biggest laughs of any gross-out comedy are never those that push the envelope of bad taste, but those that require actors to simply abandon aesthetics and let a script willingly take them across a plain of twisted absurdity. The recent movies of this flavor have lost most of that charm because filmmakers now allow those extremities to completely overtake the stars and their stories. Consider for a moment the hairsplitting perversions of "Freddy Got Fingered" and the overwrought thrust of "Slackers"—certain endeavors like these are so busy lowering the bar of taste that they have little time in putting focus on the elements that cause laughter in the first place. Can any movie in this vein, after all, replace the value of watching the characters of "There's Something About Mary" or "American Pie" get caught up in all sorts of embarrassing scenarios? Hardly. Just as audience's need to be able to respond to the jokes, so do the players who are on screen enduring them.

Friday, February 7, 2003

Oscars 2003: Nominee Predictions, or "How We Will Honor Crap and Ignore Greatness"

February 7, 2003

The headaches are coming, people. Just imagine it: months and months of speculation, discussion, argument and excitement over the year's finest achievements in filmmaking are all about to be flushed down the toilet as we inch ever so closer to Sunday, March 23, the day when Hollywood stands still, brilliance is left without reward, and highly-promoted underachievers walk up to podiums to accept awards that have about as much lasting impression on viewers as a Rob Schneider flick. And if that isn't enough to suggest oncoming migraines, just imagine this: award winners opening up folded sheets of paper to dish out some long-winded and sappy acceptance speeches, only to have their words sidelined by a gung-ho orchestra trying hard to keep the ceremony under a four-hour running time when they know darn well it is nearly an impossible feat.

25th Hour / *** (2003)

Spike Lee knows perhaps more about man's attitude in the post-September 11 milieu than most of us are probably willing to admit. Take his latest film, "25th Hour," as such an example; revolved around characters who live in New York City following the tragedies at the World Trade Center, the movie mercilessly attacks our reshaped cultures without so much as blinking, challenging widely-accepted attitudes of positivity and hope as it struggles to understand society's vapid sense of justice. Viewer alarm is not immediately instituted by the director's fearless tone, however, but rather by his courageous excursion into such unpopular and ignored human focuses. The catastrophe of that tragic day no doubt brought a lot of its victims together in sadness, but we cannot also forget how angry and radical some of our reactions were, either.

Shanghai Knights / **1/2 (2003)

"Shanghai Knights" is about two guys who spend their entire time together fighting off enemies, plots of conspiracy, pickpockets, sexual urges, and in some cases personal stupidity on the road to maintaining an adequate partnership. Take away the faces of Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan, and I've just described the plot of any buddy picture dating back to the days of Abbot and Costello. It has become an accepted tradition, you might say, to revolve two knuckle heads such as these around big and moronic adventures because it provides a wide array of possibilities for them to leap from. That doesn't mean the result will always be an inspired one, but when is it not amusing to see two unlikely heroes match wits for a common goal?