Monday, December 31, 2012
Queen of Versailles was my Christmas Eve morning movie, a weirdly appropriate look at a case of extremely conspicuous consumption. Lauren Greenfield's documentary follows Jackie and David Siegel, a couple engaged in a grotesque level of indulgence in the American dream. David is the 74-year old CEO of Westgate Resorts and, thus, a real estate magnate with so much money he's planning to move his family from their 17-bedroom mansion to a 30-bedroom, 10-kitchen, skating rink, baseball field, separate wing for the children, Florida replica of Versailles. Jackie is David's 43-year old trophy wife: an ex-model and pageant queen who leads the viewer through the unfinished husk of her future palace and flatly shows you a future closet the size of a large master bedroom. The building is an insane endeavor, and brilliant raw material for a documentary. When Greenfield started filming (in 2007), the Siegel's were on track to completing Versailles without incident...then, the economy tanked. As everything falls apart, we watch the Siegels confused attempts to scale back, keep up appearances, and hold on to a modicum of pride. It's a fascinating approach to economic ruin, and the Siegels are such an oddly lovable bunch of brats that I found myself almost feeling bad for them as they cluelessly bring home a half dozen carts of impulse buys because they're "saving money" shopping at the Wal Mart.
Monday, December 24, 2012
The Guilt Trip attempts absolutely nothing new. It's a buddy movie, a road-trip movie, a movie about the relationship between a son and his overbearing mother. It doesn't try to be edgy, it doesn't seek out drama where it doesn't need to, it never dares to make its characters anything less than likable. If you were to evaluate The Guilt Trip on its raw contribution to the film arts, you'd be forced to cast it off with a sneer as essentially just not worth a mention. Then again, if you were to evaluate The Guilt Trip based on its merit as a piece of art you probably don't belong talking about film in the first place. The Guilt Trip is not art. It's not Oscar bait. It's a mildly amusing, charming enough, cute without being cloying movie you take your mother to when you both just need a break from everything life throws at you. It's that type of movie, and making a successful, passable version of that type of movie must be a more difficult venture than it would appear, because - let's be real - for every dozen or so You Agains and Mad Moneys released, there's only one general audiences can swallow without throwing up.
The Guilt Trip is not vomit-inducing. In fact, if you have a parent (mother or father) who could be cited as having typical Jewish Mother traits (a term I employ quite lovingly), chances are you'll find the film not only palatable, but accurate and oddly endearing. Since my own mother is a fan of not only Barbra Streisand, but Seth Rogen as well (she loves his muppet laugh), The Guilt Trip was a non-negotiable outing from its inception, and one I have to admit I wound up smiling through without incident. Rogen stars as Andrew, a vaguely melancholy young organic chemist who is struggling to get his invented cleaning product stocked on the shelves of your local big-box store. He's embarking on a driving tour of America, traveling to corporate headquarters near and far to pitch his organic cleaner to anyone willing to buy it. An early stop finds him visiting his widowed mother Joyce (Streisand), and as a pang of pity mixes with stroke of good will, Andy decides to ask Joyce if she'd like to take the trip with him, though he knows full well how overwhelming she can be. From New Jersey to San Francisco: hijinks ensue.
There were points during Judd Apatow's brutal dramedy This is 40 where it was easy to laugh, where real life woes were mined to biting comedic effect and the barbs were traded without incident. For all of these honest, funny points, there seemed to be just as many scenes I had trouble digesting, where I felt like I was trying to convince myself that something redeeming was happening on screen. This is 40 is a tonally imbalanced piece of work with unclear motivations and characters who are frequently hard to sympathize with. The film technically stands as a "sort of sequel" to surprise hit Knocked Up in that it focuses on the family of the Katherine Heigl character's sister, all of whom served comfortably as supporting characters in that film. While thankfully Heigl and Seth Rogen's couple do not make an appearance in 40, at times we wish they did merely to break up the wearisome, often awkward time spent with Pete and Debbie, our struggling couple.
Friday, December 21, 2012
I wasn't particularly excited about The Hobbit. If we're being really honest, I'd been sort of down about the whole endeavor. It was one thing when the film was just supposed to be one storybook sized film, quite another when Peter Jackson ballooned the novel out to a three film stretch. J.R.R. Tolkien's book is, of course, one for children. Compared to its semi-sequel trilogy The Lord of the Rings, it's a relatively loose, frothy, fairy story adventure; one that does not need the nine or so hours of screen time it's about to get in a time-released delay between now and the end of 2014. Yet, the decision has been made. We have two films to go to complete this Unexpected Journey. Whether you read the split as a money grab or buy into it as a labor of love, my problem with the division has shifted in the last week. Where before I'd been annoyed it would take as many films to round out the simplest book as it did the trilogy, now I'm just pissed off I have to wait until 2014 to finish the goddamn story.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
here), the film adaptation serves as an often to-the-letter illustration of Mark's struggles and triumphs. For all his time in the iron lung, he's an accomplished individual, a well-educated poet with a keen sense of humor and a quick-witted way with words. We spend time with him in the 1980's where, upon being hired to write an article in which he interviewed other disabled people about their sex lives, he falls for his lovely young assistant and begins to contemplate the 'what ifs' of his own wholly absent sex life. She's not into him, but that's ok. Mark begins casual, conversational confessions with a relatively easy going priest (William H. Macy), and with Catholic approval, Mark signs on to see Cheryl for a max of six sessions. It's a different kind of rehabilitation, one that will allow Mark to feel as though he's in contact with his own physicality in some way while also giving him a sense of personal pride. Cheryl is not a prostitute, of course, she's a caring, very gentle medical professional, and while their sessions are equipped with several awkward moments, the film succeeds in making the viewer really like Mark. We want him to succeed. We want him to get laid.
Friday, December 14, 2012
This week I feel like I've gained a sudden understanding of sports fans. A few of my friends and I have been indulging in a certain brand of nerdism for the past several years: we go through the process of nominating and voting in our own miniature version of the Oscars. It's mainly an excuse for a party, but because we enjoy it so much the idea of a fantasy football style awards league has been thrown around for awhile. This year, we actually decided to devise a system and go for it; not just with the Oscars, but with a whole calendar of awards show and end of the year top 10 lists. Now, we're by no means the first people to ever do this, and our self-appointed "Movie Commissioner" (we'll just call her S.) went through the process of conducting the research on working methods, pulling up the data, and setting up one hell of a master spread-sheet. She started with the process from the guys at Getchya Popcorn Ready, and we've adapted it from there.
Last Sunday the five participating members of the newly established "Sweet Jesus, What Have I Done?" league (yes, in honor of and because we're so sick of seeing Hugh Jackman talk about his interpretation of that song) gathered to pick our draft picks and put the finishing touches on the rules. This is how we went about it:
1. We decided on a snake draft and each drew a number. Beginning with one, up to five, backwards back down to one, and continuing in an ouroboros.
2. We would each pick TEN standard films, ONE documentary, ONE Academy eligible foreign film, and THREE purposely "shitty" picks.
3. We decided we would be counting points for nominations and winners in each of the following awards shows. The established and professional awards: Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, Spirit Awards, Critics Choice, BAFTAs, Producers, Directors', and Writers' Guild. The two "wild cards": People's Choice Awards (which we hadn't realized were already selected) and The Razzies.
4. We also decided to count four established Year End "Top 10" lists: Roger Ebert's, The Chicago Tribune's, The New York Times, and the American Film Institute's. As the National Board of Review's had just been released the day prior, we opted to ignore it.
5. Any film nominated for the equivalent of a 'Best Picture' receives 5 points, if it wins it receives 25. Technical, acting, and directing awards receive 2 points upon nomination, 10 points for a win. If a film makes it on a top 10 list it receives an automatic 10 points.
I won't share everyone's (I'll leave that up to them if they so desire), but here are my picks. Seeing as I was number three in the draft and smack in the middle, I'm pretty happy with the way it panned out:
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Promised Land
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
21 Jump Street
Queen of Versailles
The Third Half
Rock of Ages
Twilight: Breaking Dawn pt. 2
My strategy on the 'shit' picks (which I think several shared) was to pick a thing or two that could just as easily sneak into a People's Choice or random Globes category as it could into the Razzies.
As this was a huge week for awards show nominations, the e-mails and texts have been flying with friendly, soon to be vicious competition (my favorite email thus far simply said "HOPE SPRINGS BITCHES"). The big contenders (Lincoln, Les Mis, Argo, Django, and Zero Dark Thirty) are spread across the league, so the claws will soon come out and it's anyone's game. Since I'm feeling insanely ambivalent about the awards this year, I'm weirdly alright having a reason to cheer on the Kathryn Bigelow movie I'm not particularly excited about even seeing (honesty).
Now, on to yesterday's Golden Globe nominations. Hit the jump...
Thursday, December 13, 2012
I got in a conversation with someone a few weeks back that consisted, mostly, of her complaining about the lack of comedy recognition come awards season. She's right, of course. We tend to take comedy for granted, though it's something most of us know from experience is very difficult to manage. The Oscars, certainly, are guilty of maligning any number of ballsy comedic performances, and when the stakes come down to a question of whether to recognize a harrowing dramatic role vs. a masterful exercise in comic timing, there's little question on who the victor will be. For a comedy to sneak successfully into the awards lineup it needs to hit us with pathos, but veer away from sloppy melodrama. Its characters need to be comically human, suffering but sparkling, drawing attention to some simple truth in a way that makes us side - laughing- with them. Annie Hall and Little Miss Sunshine stand as comedies that have managed this balance best, and Silver Linings Playbook can be added to their ranks. It's a film that doesn't hit us while we're down, that opts to ignore deep dramatic turns, and which keeps us laughing.