Monday, February 29, 2016

Contention in the Contest: A Final Word on the 2016 Academy Awards

Audiences who descended on the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on Sunday night were certainly expecting active discussion about the diversity issue at the Academy Awards, but when Chris Rock took the stage to open this year’s ceremony, they probably didn’t expect it to be as sharp and insistent as it wound up being. What it also was, even amongst the numerous laughs, was an opportunity for the comedian to use his tongue to spread around the underlying blame of the issue, even to those on his side of the aisle. In one of the night’s most memorable jokes, his aim fell directly on Jada Pinkett-Smith, who lashed out after her husband, Will Smith, wasn’t nominated. “Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties,” he shot back. “I wasn’t invited!”

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Movement of Trophies: 2016 Oscar Musings and Predictions

As we draw closer to the 88th Oscar telecast, a very visible dark cloud has nestled over the motion picture academy in what many are calling a divisive year of contention. It is a scenario made all the more prominent by the very public outcry made by members in the voting body, who have called for a boycott of the ceremony because of a distinct lack of diversity in the actor’s playing field – namely, a shortlist that includes no black actors. Spike Lee, one of the more vocal members, refuses to participate or watch. Others have suggested that Chris Rock, who is assigned hosting duties, to resign from participating. And with various other members of the debate lending support – or opposition – to the cause, the prevalent feeling is that all the attention of possible winners has been absorbed by the politics of the scenario, creating distinct divides that have both escalated the issue and opened old wounds.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Passion of the Christ / 1/2* (2004)

Let’s have a serious discussion about context. Does it have a place in faith-based storytelling? Isn’t there a danger in exploiting the connotations of an event if it is far removed from the perspective of reasoning? We are hard-pressed to find a decisive assessment in many an instance of these sorts of pictures, but Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” argues against the rules of film directors modulating their own creative process. Some level of horrific overzealousness possesses his instincts in this chronicle of Jesus’ crucifixion, empowering him to use his camera as a sadistic observer in the cruel and gratuitous sacrifice of the Christian messiah at the hands of incessant tormentors. So great is the violence, however, that his endeavors leave us with two nagging questions: 1) how, anatomically speaking, was it possible that any man (even the son of God) could survive long enough to make the ascent up the hill to be nailed to a cross?; and 2) how does the mere notion of his death lead an established veteran like him down such a grotesque and unsightly road of contemptible values? Show me any scenario that justifies these extremes and then tell me how it all fits into any framework other than pornography.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Amorous / ** (2014)

Generally speaking, a movie must usually be tasked with two primary objectives: setting a scene, and then filling it with plot and characters. Joanna Coates’ “Amorous” has the former down to a science; the camera catches images within the lens that are evocative and spacious, and serve the purpose of creating a world well suited to what is about to transpire. Then the question becomes one of direct concern: what exactly do these images mean to the faces that are about to populate them, and what must drive them beyond the necessity to be caught up in all sorts of random frivolity? The four leads, each of whom have come together after apparent alienation in the big city to lead a life of contentment in the English countryside, are less displaced by a sense of cultural alienation and more caught up in the confusion of the impulse. They don’t even seem eager or happy to wind up where they have arrived. And that’s troubling for any audience that is attempting, wholeheartedly, to find an entry point into this story in order to generate empathy or general interest in what transpires. What they get is not so much a study of characters as it is a simplified examination of behaviors, all of them too far out of context to be the source of any significant dramatic depth.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Deadpool / **1/2 (2016)

Wade Wilson may have been manufactured in a universe with few similarities to ours, but in a movie climate overrun by noble superheroes and domineering tyrants hell-bent on world destruction, his arrival could have not come at a more apropos time. A staunch practitioner of all things vulgar, he comes to be the lightning rod for which desensitized audiences can rest their cynicism on, occupying a space in his social culture that arms him with a scathing editorial analysis of all things loud, obnoxious and completely absurd. Such intentions are made known quite early on in the new movie about him; waiting for the arrival of a slew of enemies he is destined to slaughter, he narrates in sardonic oratory that breaks the proverbial fourth wall of movie awareness. Endeavors with less alert protagonists would hardly have the audacity to regard their destinies with some level of cheeky discernment, and yet here is a man whose life experiences Рand colorful observations Рwork directly in favor of that proclivity. The funny thing about costume-wearing warriors is that the more abundant they become, the less likely they are to comment on how clich̩ their own origins might be.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fifty Shades of Grey / *1/2 (2015)

There is something inherently unsettling about a young handsome billionaire that spends all his time thinking about aggressive sexual desires. To witness him come to fruition in the frames of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is to partake in an intriguing case study, in which we become transfixed by the strange dichotomy of an upstanding citizen as he delves into pleasures that are as devious as they are time-consuming.  How does anyone, indeed, come to be so successful and dependable in the business world without taking a break from getting off? Christian Grey, an ego-maniac who lives and works in sterile spaces, doesn’t seem as if he has lived with any other interest beyond the possibility of luring a poor unsuspecting girl into his chamber of dark fetishes. It possesses him so incessantly that there is almost no time for business calls or important meetings – just enough to follow someone around to social jaunts or into secluded areas in order to exude erotic authority. In some strange paradoxical way, the poor subject of these actions finds them endearing, almost romantic. But who in any self-respecting audience is going to share in that perception without feeling uneasy? In a story with a tone this uncertain, Christian plays less like a Casanova with conviction and more like a brute eager to replace Patrick Bateman on the creepy meter.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003)

The rhetoric of commoners would have you believe that animals only occupy the personalities we attach to them, but more perceptive minds know better: they can sense the gears of attitude lurking underneath a trajectory of common instincts and silent routines. Part of what attracts us to such creatures – be they pets or otherwise – is that they know how to hold their own in a world of conventional disinterest, often catching our notice by acting in such a way that is indicative of some kind of internal spark. Sometimes that comes in the form of relentless affections, other times strength or defiance. The constant is that there is a necessity in them to be noticed, especially if it relates to their very survival or comfort. How perceptive they must be to have so thoroughly sharpened their associations with human beings over the centuries, especially as it has been instrumental to their endurance in a world that continues to offer new dangers at every given moment.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hail, Caesar! / **1/2 (2016)

As a straight narrative, “Hail, Caesar” by the Coen Brothers represents a shocking misfire of intent, but as a collection of scenes that offer a slice of their infectious wit, it is an exercise in some of the most delightful chuckles of recent memory. How rare to arrive at the embrace of so much joy and enthusiasm in the midst of a perpetual nothing of a plot. It’s not as if there wasn’t an underlying set of values going for it all, either; set in the days of old Hollywood when the concept of movie illusions kept us at bay from the realization that pigs and idiots could populate the sets of our treasured epics, there is a great sense of comic awareness running through every scene – not cynical or insulting to the legacy of the craft, but certainly cognizant of the strange motives of the puppet masters. A wide array of sequences showcase these ideas to the peak of possibility, and like eager schoolboys these dependable filmmakers wrap them in a subtext that disregards seriousness, embraces the absurdity and caps it all off in a show of charm and wisdom. It’s just that pesky nuisance of a story that seems to louse it all up.