Sunday, January 31, 2010

On your mark, get set...

This is something I’ve been meaning to write about for a few Oscar seasons now, about how wrong it seems for a movie to lose out on Best Picture because of overhype or because people are tired of hearing about it. I definitely agree that it’s surprisingly short-sighted to let the ebbs and flows of your enthusiasm for a film direct a vote that decides something fairly longstanding (if not necessarily that significant in the long run). It’s one of the most infuriating things about the Oscars, but it’s also what makes following the race so fascinating.

Because that’s what it is – a race.

Right now, over a month before the Oscars for this year will take place, the Sundance Film Festival has just closed and given out its awards and people are already starting to look ahead to next year’s Oscars (The Kids Are Alright and Cyrus are supposedly the Oscariest ones, if you want to start next year's scorecard). Last year at Sundance, there was a little movie called Push (later to be called Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire) that blew almost everyone away who saw it. Taking the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and gaining the attention of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry who wanted to make sure as many people saw it as possible, it quickly became an early (very early) favorite for Oscar – not only for the devastating performances of Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe, but actual Best Picture buzz. Another Sundance film that got this very early Oscar buzz was An Education, an outstanding film that deserves a spot on any year’s Best Picture list, with a lead performance by Carey Mulligan that most viewers felt sure would earn her a ticket to the Oscars.

Then summer came. The Hurt Locker got a lot of attention from critics, and I remember thinking to myself after I watched it “You know, if it hadn’t come out so early it would definitely be a Best Picture contender.” Next, the Academy dropped a bombshell. The Best Picture field would be widened to ten instead of the traditional five – something that had not been seen in an Oscar race since 1943 (the Casablanca year, incidentally) and something which is widely (nay, universally) seen as amends for the snubbing of The Dark Knight (which I *STILL* don’t see as a terribly spectacular film, other than Ledger’s performance, but whatevs). People started throwing around ridiculous, near-apocalyptic visions of how this would ruin the prestige of the Best Picture brand – including the preposterous notion that The Hangover could actually find itself among The Ten (I can’t wait for the nominations to be announced so people will FINALLY stop saying it – errr, assuming they’re wrong, of course).

A couple of months later was the Toronto Film Festival, where lots of people fell hard for a film called Up in the Air and pronounced it the new frontrunner of the Oscar race. Precious was still in the game, but it had been around since late January and people were ready to talk about new things. Inglourious Basterds had a surprising amount of critical success, but nobody really took it seriously as a Best Picture contender – Best Supporting Actor, sure, and possibly Original Screenplay, but not the Big One. After all, it was no Pulp Fiction (whatever that means, but people said it). Some sci-fi films – not typically Oscar’s favorite genre – got a lot of audience and critical love (two loves rarely bestowed on the same films) and we saw District 9 and Star Trek enter the conversation.

Fall, which is typically when studios trot out their Oscar hopefuls, was surprisingly light on new Oscar buzz. Films like An Education and A Serious Man and The Road, which most critics had already seen on the festival circuit and which therefore had already been in the race awhile, began to trickle into actual theaters. Audiences were seeing these films for the first time, but they had already been chewed through by critics and awards prognosticators for months. The verdict seemed to be that An Education was still in the race, but not enough people saw A Serious Man and The Road was not as impressive (to many) as expected. Soon, Precious made its huge splash at the few theaters where it was available for viewing, and it was looking like a race between Precious and Up in the Air for Best Picture, with The Hurt Locker as a dark horse. The Hurt Locker, which had already left most theaters, had not made a great deal of money. You might think, given how “boring” many Oscar winners might seem, that obscure movies are favored, but a movie that made as little money as The Hurt Locker has not been in a frontrunner position (much less actually been a winner) in many, many years. So money still matters. Precious was getting a lot of attention in November and early December, with the folks orchestrating Up in the Air’s campaign happy (or at least willing) to cede the spotlight for the moment, presumably confident that they would be able to wrest the momentum from Precious later in the season, when it would matter more.

There were still four films, yet to be released or even screened, that Oscar-watchers were keeping an eye on, expecting a few or even all of them to potentially change the landscape of the race – Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, Eastwood’s Invictus, Rob Marshall’s Nine, and the one whose Oscar chances people mostly half-indulged because the last film its director made (twelve years before) had done rather well for itself - Avatar. For about five minutes, it looked as if none of these films would have any impact on the race at all. The Lovely Bones was savagely (and in my opinion, unfairly) trashed by critics, and was considered out of the race for good – not even an undeserving benefactor of the expanded field of the Ten nominees. Eastwood might have some loyalists, but Invictus was not well received; it might slip in, but only if there was not a lot else to fill out the Ten. Nine was uninspired, too derivative of Marshall’s earlier ingenuity in the genre, and a financial flop. And though it hadn’t yet been seen, no one took Avatar as seriously as they pretended to, and a huge thud was fully expected from Camp Cameron and his weird blue people.

Critics started to give out their awards, and it looked like Up in the Air had indeed benefited (at least with the critics) from the slow and steady start. The Hurt Locker appeared on more critics’ Top 10 lists than any other film of the year; people had definitely not forgotten about it. Precious, however, was losing steam – still a sure thing for the Ten, and even one of what was being called the “top tier” of the Ten (i.e., it would be a Best Picture nominee even if there were only five). But no longer a frontrunner. It had peaked too soon.

Then people saw Avatar. And behold, it was good/not terrible/awesome-beyond-belief-and-don’t-you-want-to-die-because-Pandora-isn’t-real. There was a special screening for the Academy, who ate it up with a spoon, and it was suddenly the frontrunner. The classic December surprise. Golden Globe nominations came out, and no matter what people say about them, they do indeed shape the race, even if the awards themselves don’t amount to much. Between the Globes and the Screen Actors Guild nominations, a summer movie that had been all but counted out started to come up from behind and enter the conversation. Inglourious Basterds.

Meanwhile, other guilds announced their nominations. Eyes were especially fixed on the Directors Guild, who gave weight to the “top tier” theory that placed its nominees’ films - Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, and Up in the Air - at the front of the Oscar pack. Five more will be on Oscar’s Best Picture list, but it’s widely believed that they’ll just be lucky to be there and won’t stand a chance at actually winning. I disagree rather strongly with that, by the way, because of the new preferential system of voting. But I’ve gone on enough about that already.

Here’s something hilarious (perhaps only to me). There were three big award shows over the course of just over a week recently. The top prize went to different films for each. The Broadcast Film Critics chose The Hurt Locker, the Globes chose Avatar (and The Hangover, but I still say no way it’s in the race), and the Screen Actors Guild went with Inglourious Basterds (which is actually for ensemble cast, but it’s their equivalent of Best Picture). Just a couple days later, the Producers Guild named The Hurt Locker their Best Picture. This was indeed a stunner, because they usually go with a box office hit, but you’d think from the blogs and other prognosticators that Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. Suddenly, The Hurt Locker was “back in the race” – um, when did it leave? It won the BFCA not much more than a freakin’ WEEK ago! I mean, I know it’s a race and the littlest thing can make or break a film’s stride, but the fake drama and OMG surprise is a tad much.

So the Oscar race really is a race, with frontrunners and pulling ahead and surprising up-from-behind finishes. There’s a pacing to it, so that a studio has to be careful that its film doesn’t peak too early and lose its momentum. And yes, if people are sick of hearing about a movie, they are likely to forget all about how they loved it once upon a time.

The acting categories can be even more like this, by the way. In the summer, everyone was talking about how the race would be between Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan (Gabourey Sidibe, while a shoe-in for a nomination, would be unlikely to win for her first film – it may have happened for Jennifer Hudson on her first film, but she wasn’t nominated as a lead, and that matters). Now, Sandra Bullock is in the mix. For real, in the mix, and it looks very likely that she'll pull a Julia Roberts “everyone loves her, and this is probably her best shot, so let’s just give it to her” victory. I don’t mean that in a flippant way, by the way, but I do think (and I think Sandra is aware of it as well) that all these voting bodies are expressing their love for her as much as that single performance. And at this stage, something as small as an acceptance speech at another award show can affect how Academy members feel about casting their vote for an actor or actress.

Best Actor is another interesting case, of course. After Colin Firth won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, it was between him and George Clooney for the win. And then Fox Searchlight went and dropped Crazy Heart into the mix and Jeff Bridges instantly became the man (excuse me, the Dude) to beat.

Interesting how far we can come in a year. Precious and An Education are both still highly respected films, still getting plenty of buzz (as they have all year), but neither of them is a frontrunner. One is on the bottom rung of the “top tier” and one is … probably going to be in the Ten, but who knows. Obviously, opinions inevitably change as people see more films over the course of the year, but – as crazy as it may sound - momentum matters every bit as much as quality.

All that endless piffle to say that the Oscars, while often remembered long after they are given out, are largely a product of their time, the results of months of work done by people who had nothing to do with the actual making of the movies awarded. They’re horses in a race, and if they don’t pace themselves and protect themselves from injury or attack, they’re not going to get the roses. Having an excellent jockey obviously helps as well, as no one rides a horse to victory quite like Harvey Wenstein. Which is perhaps a better reason than any other to take Inglourious Basterds very seriously. ;-)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Scenes Made of Awesome - Gold Diggers of 1933

If you recognize the name Busby Berkeley, you probably get an instant image in your head of elaborate, kaleidoscopic musical numbers. There always seemed to be an element of the ridiculous in his choreographic efforts, as impressive and awe-inspiring as they were. Especially when you think about where most of them are supposed to be taking place - a tiny stage in a Broadway theater.

"Remember My Forgotten Man," from Gold Diggers of 1933 has many trademark elements of a Berkeley number, but it's something quite different indeed from what you might expect to come from him. The film itself, though fully a part of Depression-era spectacle cinema, is steeped in its own cultural context. Theaters are closed and performers are out of work, so it's a very big deal when someone can actually put on a show and give them a job. The film, for the most part, follows in much the same tone as 42nd Street and Footlight Parade - lots of smart, elegant comedy, with occasional glances at the troubled times in which the films are taking place. Until the end, where Berkeley turns his creative eye to those same troubled times and the crushing poverty of the Great Depression. Inspired by the 1932 Bonus March (along with some German expressionism), Berkeley conceived this rather astounding and emotional musical number, featuring the voices of Joan Blondell and Etta Moten. If this doesn't move you to tears, you're dead inside, man.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Final Girl Film Club - Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath

This month's entry in the Final Girl Film Club is an anthology film made in 1963 by the great Mario Bava, Black Sabbath (or The Three Faces of Fear). There's an intro and outro to the three tales, presided over by none other than Boris Karloff, who assures us that monsters are real and all around us. Also, that vampires like going to the movies, so there could be one sitting right next to you, muahahahahaha!

Some fun trivia: - Black Sabbath the movie is indeed where the band Black Sabbath got its name. - Black Sabbath inspired Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary in their writing of Pulp Fiction.


And yet another plot rendered obsolete by the invention of cell phones and caller ID. I sometimes miss the days of less technology, when something like The Telephone would have been truly unsettling for a contemporary audience.

This is a fairly good Polanski-esque real-world (i.e., not supernatural) thriller with some interesting twists, especially for so short a story. Bava, as usual, displays his wonderful eye for sets and of course for lovely women. This starts as your standard "threatening phone call" plot, and at first I couldn't help thinking of the silly story of The Viper, who keeps calling this woman at her apartment ("This is The Viper! I'm coming up!") and is mistaken for someone with ill intent until he arrives with a bucket and says "I am The Viper! I'm here to vipe and vash your vindows!" Yes, I'm well aware of how lame it is, but I thought of it every time the phone rang at the beginning of this story.

So basically Rosy is receiving some threatening phone calls, which eventually no longer remind me of The Viper but instead of the famous opening of Scream with Drew Barrymore. The caller seems to be close by, apparently spying on Rosy, and says he's going to kill her. Rosy calls her ... friend, Mary (okay, ex-lover), for help, but the caller (who we eventually surmise is a man she knows named Frank, who has recently escaped from prison after Rosy was responsible for putting him there) seems to be aware of this as well. There's a nice couple of twists that I won't spoil, but they do have some classic flaws that force you to draw your own conclusions and connect some dots. That's really the only thing I can say against it, as it's otherwise a very effective bit of suspense.

This works well on its own, but if he had wished, Bava could have expanded it into a feature. The spare details leave lots of room to explore the characters and the way their lives intertwine. In fact, some viewers seem to have done a bit on their own. For instance, on the Wikipedia page, the article's author has taken an exchange between Mary and Rosy and extrapolated it to draw the conclusion that Rosy is actually a prostitute who has testified against her pimp (Frank). That is certainly a possibility, though there isn't enough to go on in the story to actually make that a solid conclusion, but it's a place you could go if you wanted to expand this story.

Where The Telephone is a story that could have been made into a full-length film, The Wurdalak feels like a story that should have been. There is enough story here to fill a feature, and the main flaw is that it's simply too much to cram into what is already the longest of the three shorts. The story follows a Russian Count, who finds a decapitated corpse on the side of the road. The corpse belonged to a "wurdalak", a living corpse that is sustained by human blood (in other words, a vampire). The wurdalak most craves the blood of those he loved in his life. The Count, Vladimir, stops at a small cottage inhabited by a family who is anxiously awaiting the return of the patriarch, Gorcha (played by Boris Karloff), who has gone out to kill the wurdalak - successfully, it appears - but who warns his family that if he is not back in five days, they will have to kill him, because he will have become a wurdalak himself. Don't ask me what's so special about five days - this is one of many things that could have been better handled in a longer film.

Gorcha returns at the stroke of midnight on the fifth day, and sure enough, the family's worst fears are confirmed. They are reluctant to kill him, because they love him, but this reluctance brings terrible consequences as he kills his son Pietro and kidnaps and eventually kills his little grandson Ivan. Pietro is staked and beheaded, to prevent him from returning as a wurdalak, but the child's mother will not permit such a thing to happen to her little boy, so they bury him without taking the extra steps. Of course, he rises from the grave as a wurdalak, and in one of the saddest things I've ever seen in a horror film, goes back to the house and begs to be let back in, which will naturally lead to the demise of the rest of the family who are unwilling to act against one another.

This is a surprisingly strong vampire story, and it reminds me once again of one of the many things that bothers me about the Sparkleverse. One thing that unites all other vampire tales is that there is a definite karmic cost to being a vampire. Vampirism is a curse, It's not like a bad haircut or being from the wrong side of the tracks. What strikes me the most about The Wurdalak is how sad it is, how tragic, that their love for one another turns them into monsters.


The shortest and strongest of the three. This is most people's favorite, I think, and for good reason. It could really stand alone as a short film, and it's a GREAT ghost story that you could totally imagine being told by a campfire, except that you really have to see it to get the full effect.

A nurse goes to the deathbed of her patient to prepare the body for the funeral. She notices a ring on the woman's finger, and while the housekeeper is in another room, she steals it. Suddenly, she notices a fly buzzing around, but this doesn't really surprise her, as it's perfectly natural for flies to be around a dead body, but it unsettles her for some reason. When she arrives home, she hears the sound of dripping water. She goes to the bathtub and stops the dripping from the faucet. The sound stops. She goes into another room and begins to hear the dripping again. She goes to a sink and does the same thing, and it stops. Until she leaves the room and it starts again. She notices her umbrella, still wet from the rain and dripping on the floor. She picks it up and shakes it out, lying it flat so it won't drip anymore and finally, permanently, the dripping stops. But she's pretty wigged. Adding to the sense of dread is some strange light effects coming in through the window, as if this nurse, living in the (as best I can tell from the costume) early 20th century, is next door to an all-nite Krispy Kreme.

What follows is a classic ghost story "gotcha" sequence that's made all the more frightening by the creepy visage of the dead woman (pictured above). This was apparently all done with a mannequin, but GAH is it ever terrifying. There's a cool little twist at the end that suggests someone else might meet the same fate as the poor nurse. Bottom line - don't mess with the dead. They'll get you!


Great little trilogy of films. Thanks as always to FinalGirl for the impetus to watch it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Myth of the "Best Editing" Oscar

I've gotten more deeply entrenched in the Oscar race this year than in any previous year. It's been at once fascinating and infuriating, because 1) the level of politics and the whole concept of this being a "race" (which I may post about soon) is rather astounding, and 2) because this has been one of the most interesting and unpredictable Oscar races in recent memory - and the nominations haven't even been calculated yet! Even though some contenders (Jeff Bridges, Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz) practically have their names already engraved on a statue, other races may actually be impossible to guess until the envelope is opened on March 7. And one of those is, amazingly, the Big One.

But pundits do like their little predictive tools, and I've heard more than one person say that we'll know Best Picture when we know who wins Best Editing.

*screeching brakes sound* What?

That may be gobble-dee-Na'vi to you, but this has been a long-standing myth in the Oscar race. I remember James Cameron saying back in 1998 that he'd know if Titanic was going to win Best Picture if it took the Editing award, because since everyone votes on every category for the final vote, most voters don't really know what goes into editing and just vote for whatever they're voting for for Best Picture. That made sense to me at the time - the editing nominees are actually decided only by other editors, but the winner is voted on by everyone, so there might be some favoritism at play rather than an honest look at what's the best in that field (which is probably why a lot of Best Pictures rack up so many total awards). But I don't think it's true that it's always (or even often) just a blind vote. First of all, I think actors - the biggest voting branch in the Academy - are VERY well aware of how editing works, because the editor is the one who decides how much of their performance ends up on screen. This is why one of the secrets of good screen acting is to make nice with the editor. Second, people in general just know a lot more about how editing affects a movie. Most of you have seen those re-edited movie trailers, where for instance The Shining is re-cut with different music to look like a family comedy. People aren't that stupid.

But there are still Oscar pundits who point to historical data. Data which I have to assume they are pointing at without even looking at it, because the history is NOT on their side in the Editing = Picture argument. Let's look at the past 20 years and see if it's really held up by the facts, shall we?

2008 - Editing: Slumdog Millionaire, Picture: Slumdog Millionaire - MATCH
2007 - Editing: The Bourne Ultimatum, Picture: No Country for Old Men
2006 - Editing: The Departed, Picture: The Departed - MATCH
2005 - Editing: Crash, Picture: Crash- MATCH
2004 - Editing: The Aviator, Picture: Million Dollar Baby
2003 - Editing: Return of the King, Picture: Return of the King - MATCH
2002 - Editing: Chicago, Picture: Chicago - MATCH
2001 - Editing: Black Hawk Down, Picture: A Beautiful Mind
2000 - Editing: Traffic, Picture: Gladiator
1999 - Editing: The Matrix, Picture: American Beauty
1998 - Editing: Saving Private Ryan, Picture: Shakespeare in Love
1997 - Editing: Titanic, Picture: Titanic - MATCH
1996 - Editing: The English Patient, Picture - The English Patient - MATCH
1995 - Editing: Apollo 13, Picture: Braveheart
1994 - Editing: Forrest Gump, Picture: Forrest Gump - MATCH
1993 - Editing: Schindler's List, Picture: Schindler's List - MATCH
1992 - Editing: Unforgiven, Picture: Unforgiven - MATCH
1991 - Editing: JFK, Picture: The Silence of the Lambs
1990 - Editing: Dances With Wolves, Picture: Dances With Wolves - MATCH
1989 - Editing: Born on the Fourth of July, Picture: Driving Miss Daisy

So in the last 20 years, 11 Best Picture winners have also taken the Editing prize, while 9 have not. A majority, but barely. And in the last 10 years, it's been split exactly in half, five-for-five. In the last 5 years, it has matched 3 times and not matched twice.

The Screen Actors Guild's equivalent of Best Picture (Best Ensemble Cast), meanwhile, which most Oscar pundits dismiss as an actual predictor, actually has a (very) slightly better record at predicting Best Picture. 6 of the last 10 Ensemble winners at the SAGs went on to see their movie win Best Picture at the Oscars. The record in the last five years matches the Editing statistic. I can't go back 20, because the awards only go back 15 (and the Ensemble award for movies only 14), not counting this year's, of course. And yet next to NO ONE is predicting Inglourious Basterds to take Best Picture after last night's SAG win.

What does all this mean? Diddly-squat, probably. All I'm saying is that, in a year with 10 slots for Best Picture and preferential ranking votes (as opposed to just one vote for the winner) for whichever of those 10 movies gets the crown, the Best Picture could very well be an upset. Who knows - even my beloved Up might find itself on the pages of Oscar history.

[Pictured above, Thelma Schoonmaker, winner of three Academy Awards for Editing - for Raging Bull, The Aviator, and The Departed.]

Saturday, January 23, 2010

House (1977)

It's very rare for me to see a movie twice in a theater here, especially in the evening when it's $12.50. So when I say I saw this film for the second time last night, know that it's probably something remarkable.

I saw the trailer for this film a few weeks ago on one of the movie blogs I read and discovered that it would be playing a one-week engagement at the IFC Center. It's a notoriously hard-to-see film, the only home version available being German-made with no subtitles (not that this film needs them, exactly), and the trailer impressed me so much that halfway through I found myself clapping like an idiot. So seeing this was a priority, though I worried that, like so many movies with promising trailers, the reality wouldn't measure up.

Oh, man. Was that ever not the case with the awesomely bizarre 1977 Japanese freak show Hausu.


This movie is quite simply beyond words for conveying it's surreal whack-tastic weirdness. I could tell you the plot, but plot is way, WAY down the list of this film's priorities. I could tell you some of the freaky things that happen, but even if you believed me it would still not be enough. Okay, you know That Scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - you know the one I'm talking about, I don't even have to say the word "boat" - that's like a crack pipe stuffed with crazy student film techniques? Imagine, if you dare, 110 minutes of that, and that's something resembling what this movie is like. But still, not quite.

How about this - if "Pee Wee's Playhouse" and The Shining were to have a baby, and then Suspiria and The Grudge (or rather Ju-On, the Japanese version) had a baby, and then those two babies grew up and had a baby, it would be (again, something like) Hausu.

Aw heck, here goes nothing.

The movie starts with seven friends, most of them one-dimensional Types, all of them with helpful and descriptive names - Gorgeous (our heroine), Fantasy (the dreamer and scaredy-cat), Prof (the Velma of the group), Melody (the music lover), Sweet (the housewifey one), Mac (short for "stomach," the food-lover), and Kung Fu (three guesses what her distinction is, but she has her own freakin' THEME SONG - Awesome!). The girls have one more week of school before summer vacation, and they're having fun, talking about their plans, and for some reason blowing lots of bubbles. This part of the film, in fact the first half hour (at least), plays like a trippy 1970s music video or a commercial for cereal or shampoo or hula hoops (before this film, the director made his name directing television commercials, many of them experimental in style). I half expected a cartoon sun to dump two scoops of raisins on the proceedings.

Gorgeous goes home to find her father, who has just returned from composing a film score for famous Italian director Sergio Leone (no, really - he says at one point that Leone thinks his scores are better than Morricone's). He introduces Gorgeous to a woman named Ryoko, who seems to be perpetually standing in front of a wind machine that blows her hair and her white scarf very romantically. Ryoko is to be Gorgeous's new mother, and Gorgeous is not pleased. At all. She writes to an aunt that she hasn't seen in ten years and asks if she and her friends can come and stay with her. The aunt sends back a letter in the affirmative, along with her cat Blanche. I won't even ask how the cat beats the letter there, but it does. Logic is not something this movie cares very much about.

The girls take a train (pictured above - yes, really) to get to the aunt's house and Gorgeous fills them in on her story. This backstory is told through a silent film style vignette, which is interesting as it is, but my favorite part is that the girls are commenting on what we're seeing. As if Gorgeous said "Hey, I have this film of my aunt from the old days. Let's watch it!" There is much swooning over how men looked more manly back then, and we learn the story of the aunt swearing to wait for her fiance at the family house until he returns from the war, which he never does.

The gals deboard the train and take a bus for most of the rest of the way, and when they get off the bus, we're treated to a nice little moment of absurdity, though not the first and certainly not the last. The close shot of them at the bus stop clearly shows a matte painting of trees and mountains as the background. But when it switches to a much wider shot, we see real trees and mountains behind the painted ones. This movie is nothing if not self-aware of its own silliness.

Check where the girls are standing under the tree - totally a matte painting of the matte painting behind it!

After an encounter with a strange man selling fruit and apparently not knowing basic facts about personal space, the girls arrive at the house (excuse me, HOOOOOOOUUUUUUSEUH), meet the aunt (who is wheelchair-bound), and squee over how beautiful everything is. It doesn't take long for one of them (the scaredy-cat, Fantasy) to notice that something is not quite right, but the other girls don't believe her, despite some very strange happenings. Eventually, though, they can't quite ignore how their number seems to be dwindling.

Yes, this is an actual frame from the film. Not the weirdest thing to happen in the movie BY FAR.

It turns out that the aunt has actually been dead many years and that her spirit (and it seems her rage as well) has been absorbed into the house itself. And before long, we're into some very strange flavors of good old-fashioned horror show, with the girls being picked off one by one in completely bizarre ways. I mean, you have no idea how bizarre, not even with that picture above. One of the girls is eaten and digested by a piano...

... while another is smothered to death by pillows - I don't mean a person shoving a pillow in her face until she's dead, she's literally ... attacked by pillows and smothered by them. Another girl is attacked by a chandelier, which flies around the room with her kicking flailing legs dangling out of it. Gorgeous, meanwhile, seems to have psychically become her aunt. And their teacher, who for some reason is headed to the house to hang out with a bunch of teenage girls, it turned into a pile of bananas (SERIOUSLY!) before he can get there.


Most of the third act has to be seen to be believed, and there's no way I could explain it, even if I tried, even with the aid of screencaps. At one point, during one of many acid-trip-esque sequences, one of the girls shouts "This is ridiculous!" which is exactly what you'll probably have been thinking for at least an hour if you make it that far into this movie. Perhaps my favorite part is the introduction of the movie's theme music, which at one point the Blanche the Cat - I kid you not - meows note for note. The cat, by the way, is the most evil cat in any movie ever.


This movie is not terribly scary, but it's so freaking strange that it's downright unsettling. It's full of practically every cliche camera technique in the book (mattes, animation, iris effects, the works), but somehow they're not like anything you've seen before. Strange though it may be, there's a kind of sick genius about it. If you can get past the "what the WHAAT?" factor, it's really quite a remarkable movie. An exercise in absurdity from start to finish.

I will leave you with the subtitled trailer below, which will give you but a taste of the hysteria. If you follow the embed to the YouTube page, there are a few notable clips from the film (such as the piano death scene) for your viewing, errr, pleasure. I feel the need to point out that none of the effects, not even the cartoon house that gets taller and grows arms, was a marketing invention purely for the trailer - IT IS ALL PART OF THE FILM.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Brief (and late) thoughts on the Golden Globes

As we’ll be doing this all over again this weekend with the Screen Actors Guild awards, I’ll try to keep it short. I thought it was a fun show and that Ricky Gervais did a great job hosting … when he was allowed to, that is. I’m not sure if they planned to use him more and just cut some of his bits to end the show on time or what, but he was not used enough.

Here were the standout moments (for me).

MOST HEARTFELT ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: Mo’Nique, winning for Precious
Given her previous appearances, I was worried she might fall into what I call her “stump speech.” She did use a bit of it – the “brilliant,” “fearless” Lee Daniels who “would not waver” has made several appearances and appeared Sunday night. But the bulk of it was very obviously spontaneous. She gave an incredibly moving tribute to her husband and his support of her, and an emotional call to action for people who have been molested to speak out. If anyone had any illusions about her being a diva who’s too good to campaign for awards, surely they think differently now.

MOST SURPRISING PRESENTER MOMENT: Robert DeNiro, paying tribute to Scorsese
I have literally never seen him so animated and relaxed at something like this. And I don’t care what anyone else thought, I cracked up at his comment about dirty YouTube videos of Scorsese having sex with film, especially when they cut to him and his “eh, can’t deny it” expression.

BEST HOST MOMENT: “Unless the next man is Mel Gibson.”
There’s not much to choose from for host moments, but that was a perfectly pitched zinger at an actor who was a pretty good sport about it.

Not too big a surprise, as the Globes love to honor new shows, but pleasing nonetheless. I haven’t seen Modern Family, by the way, so I can’t comment on whether (since it’s also a new show) it should have won instead. There are things I don’t like about the show, but what I love is how well it taps into the frustration of being good at something, especially being good as an ensemble, and having no one outside that ensemble appreciate or respect it. High school, man.

MOST CREATIVE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH: Christoph Waltz, winning for Inglourious Basterds
If you also saw the Broadcast Film Critics Association awards, then you might have noticed an emerging pattern with the odds-on favorite in this category. At the BFCA awards, which are called the “Critics Choice” awards, Waltz talked about choices – Quentin’s choice to hire him, Brad Pitt’s choice to play Lt. Raine, and ultimately the critics’ choice to honor this film and Waltz’s performance. At the Globes, he talked astronomy – Quentin’s universe and orbit and the planets, all Globe-related imagery. I look forward to him winning the Oscar and talking about being schooled at Tarantino’s “Academy.” ;-)

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Avatar taking the two big prizes
Yes, I know these awards don’t mean jack-squat for the Oscars (though I still contend that the nominations certainly push the Oscar race in a particular direction). And yes, I’ve heard how much Hollywood in general loves Avatar, while many, many critics remain divided as to its merit. But I do think this is a movie that’s going to be in our cultural consciousness for a long time, and there’s something kind of satisfying about seeing the context of our time played out in these awards. As for Cameron speaking Na’vi, I don’t get the outrage. He was just being a dork, for crying out loud. I think he’s allowed.

BEST BEARD: William Hurt
It seemed like all the dudes in the room were growing out their beards - George Clooney, Jon Hamm, etc. But William Hurt's was by far the most impressive and perhaps frightening, approaching Ahab-ian lengths.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Liveblogging the Golden Globes

I do it every year, and I plan to do it again, but I won't do it here, for two reasons:

1) I can't hide the bulk of the text here (though I probably could if I knew more about html), and it will get way too long for one post.

2) I've always done it on LiveJournal and it's just easier. And when you're trying to enjoy the show while simultaneously trying to record your thoughts for "posterity," easier is always better.

So if you want to read my running blather-a-thon, click here.

So excited! Good luck to everyone nominated!

Oh, and by the way ... many, many critics and journalists have bewailed what a sham the Globes are and how incredibly bad they are at predicting who actually goes on to win Oscars. I won't argue either of those points, but I still think they're incredibly significant as a precursor. Forget the actual awards. When the nominations for the Golden Globes are announced, the Oscar race begins to take a definite shape. If someone is not nominated for a Golden Globe, it's not likely they'll show up on the Oscar nominee list (though there are always a few wild cards). What the Golden Globes do is affect the conversation. The Oscar season is about way more than the movies. It's about getting out there and talking to people and making yourself visible, and there's no better venue before the Oscars to do that than the Globes. And something as seemingly small as a heartfelt (or phony) acceptance speech can affect the trajectory of the race.

So yeah, maybe they're a load of crap. But they're still important, I say.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

One more reason why I love Meryl Streep

When she was on "Inside the Actor's Studio," Meryl Streep talked about one of her first forays into dramatic study, where for an assignment she got up on the stage and pretended to be an aged actress who was going into retirement and giving a speech thanking everyone who had made her what she was. She got so into the character, incidentally, she actually found herself crying. A very auspicious beginning, to be sure, since she is probably the most lauded actress alive (I won't say Greatest Living Actress, because she seems to find that distinction ridiculous).

It's been a while since she won an Oscar (27 years ago, for Sophie's Choice), but she's been on many other award stages in recent years, and on top of the enormous talent that has brought her such accolades, the woman gives the best speeches. One of my favorites was a Golden Globe speech she gave a couple of years ago (for The Devil Wears Prada) where she said that if you want to see movies like Volver and Pan's Labyrinth and The Queen and Little Children but can't because they're not playing where you live, then you need to go to your local theater manager and ask them why.

Here's her latest (which I have been trying to embed for the last 20 minutes, to no avail), accepting Best Actress honors at the New York Film Critics' Circle awards for Julie and Julia. Best line by far: "I'd like to thank Sony and Amy Pascal for sending me to real Paris, unlike Fox on The Devil Wears Prada, who sent me to Midtown, so I had to like pretend. It was really hard."

Friday, January 8, 2010

January Movie Releases

Okay, I'm going to see if I can do this for months other than "Oscar buzz" season. Here are the January releases. This is the season when many studios "take out the trash," as it were. There's not too much quality, perhaps because most of the big award-grabbing November/December releases are still trickling out to the rest of the country and people are seeing them instead. Or Avatar for the hundredth time. :) Some of these have piqued my interest, though.


Bitch Slap - Ho, yeah. So looking forward to this. YES, I'M SERIOUS!

Crazy On the Outside - Directed by and starring Tim Allen. No way, man.

Daybreakers - I'm intrigued by the concept of a vampire-dominant world where humans are legitimately harvested for blood. I like the cast as well. My only hesitation is that the directors don't have much of a resume, and their last movie was 2003's <i>Undead</i>, a tepid little Kiwi zombie comedy that played BNAT 5. Still, I'll probably see it.

Leap Year - Everything in my mind, body, and soul is telling me not to see this. So many rom-com cliches, just in the trailer. I also can't stand the idea of yet another movie chick who makes her whole life revolve around getting married. But ... it's Matthew Goode. With a goatee. And an Irish accent. Oh, alright. But only at the cheap show before noon.

Wonderful World - I love Matthew Broderick, but I'm not sure I can take a depressing misanthropic movie like this right now. Plus, the script sounds loaded with way too much pop self-reality.

Youth In Revolt - Part of me longs to see this very much, even though one-half of Michael Cera's performance is the now stock "Michael Cera character." The trailers have been hysterical, and it looks like something genuinely original. However, this is yet another story about teens who are smarter than the adults. I mean, the girl is a huge fan of Jean-Paul Belmondo, for crying out loud. Oh, who am I kidding - that's pretty freakin' awesome right there.


The Book of Eli - The Hughes brothers' first movie since 2001's From Hell. Also, in addition to Denzel Washington, it also features Sirius Black, Dumbledore, and Madame Maxime. And TOM WAITS. I'm there.

Chance Pe Dance - Never heard of it, and I can't find anything about it that makes me want to see it.

Fish Tank - (only in NY, but I think it's already open in the UK) A festival darling this past year, though I can't help seeing the trailer and seeing "Chavtastic: The Movie." However, people who've seen it do seem to love it. AND it has my other British boyfriend Michael Fassbender (Hicox, from Inglourious Basterds). I'd like to try and see this.

The Lovely Bones - Finally, the rest of the country can slap eyeballs on this beauty. See my BNAT review for more details about this one. And don't listen to the bad reviews. The haters can suck it.

The Spy Next Door - *sigh* I miss old-school Jackie Chan. No way on earth I'm seeing this.


Extraordinary Measures - Probably not my top priority, but I'm certainly interested. The story is quite compelling, and it's nice to see Harrison Ford in a dramatic role again. Also nice to see Brendan Fraser not playing silly.

Legion - They had me at the evil old lady in the trailer. "Your baby - it's gonna burn!" YOU GO, GRANDMA!

The Tooth Fairy - I'd rather eat my own face.

To Save a Life - Someday, one of these mega-churches that makes films will make a movie that provokes reactions stronger than "Well, it's pretty good ... for a Christian movie." This doesn't look like that movie.


Edge of Darkness - I'm sorry. I know how people feel about him and that this is about the sixth movie with this plot in the last year or so. But Mel Gibson is acting in movies again. I have to go, even if the BAH-ston accent is atrocious.

When In Rome - What ever happened to that rumored Veronica Mars movie? *pouts* Kristen Bell is literally the only reason I'd go to see this. I'd much rather watch Roman Holiday or Only You for my Italian rom-com fix.

Bitch Slap
The Book of Eli
The Lovely Bones
The Edge of Darkness

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Dear Oscar pundit whiners

Why, oh why, do you continually complain about how predictable an Oscar race is? Your job, ESPECIALLY if you work for a site that focuses on the Oscars, is to look at all the factors that go into who gets nominated and who wins in the attempt to figure this out in advance. To make educated guesses in the hopes of being vindicated by the results.

No one reads your Oscar predictions because they want to know what you think SHOULD happen. They want to know what you think WILL happen. If someone truly wants to be surprised by nominations and winners, I'd suggest they not follow the race too closely. The Oscars are just like anything else - the more you know, the more you investigate, the less likely you are to get something you're not expecting. Someone who doesn't obsessively follow all the critics and guild awards has no idea what to expect on February 2, much less March 7 (nomination day and awards night, respectively, for you Oscar non-wonks who might be reading). Many of these people love following the Oscars and the nominations, just not the now exhaustive lineup of precursor awards.

I've been an avid follower of the Oscars since 1991. Since 1995, I've either been up watching the announcements live or (more recently, as websites got faster about putting them up) refreshing my internet browser to see the Golden Globe and Oscar noms as soon as they become public. Since those early years, I've become more in tune with things like momentum and backlash and overhype and all the ingredients, political and precursory, that go into those lists of nominees and winners. Yet instead of bemoaning predictability, I feel a nice sense of calm going into the awards season, having gained through the course of the long prediction game a fairly balanced, realistic look at what might actually happen, as opposed to pinning all my hopes on something that doesn't have the odds in its favor. I don't know if this is why other people follow such things, but it's why I do.

It frustrates, nay, angers me to see posts like this, and the comments that go with them, complaining about how "safe" the guild choices (or whatever we're whining about this week) are. The whole reason you look at something like the Directors Guild nominees is because you want to know/confirm - especially in this possibly less predictable Year Of The Ten - who the frontrunners are for Director and Picture Oscars. Right? It's not an earnest and singular curiousity about this body's opinion, completely divorced from its place in the Oscar race. If it were, you wouldn't be yammering about all the "frontrunners" who were deemed ineligible for the Writers Guild awards. You can look forward to the unpredictability of the WGAs all you want, but you know as well as anyone else that the absence of so many of the established frontrunners makes it fairly useless as a tool for predicting the Oscars.

So yeah, the DGA went with what you already guessed were the "frontrunners." Go you! You're one step closer to having been right about Oscar night! Yet instead of being happy about this, you moan about the predictability of the race.

Sweethearts, if you don't like predictability, you should really get out of the predicting business. Because, again like many things, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Excuse me if I don't pat you on the head and say "Poor thing" for doing exactly what I expect you to do when I read your articles.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Great, this is going to be stuck in my head all day.

Obviously fanvids and filks are nothing new, but the idea of writing songs for a Goonies musical is kind of awesome. Check out "Tubes" below and get it stuck in your head, too!

There's a pirate ship.