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Basic reviews of individual films.

The Great, Or At Least Kinda, Sorta Good, Gatsby

Wait a minute, has it really been since the Oscars that Triangle Movie Talk has hit you with our worth every bit of two cents movie knowledge? Come on, man. Sure, after an incredible year for movies in 2012, not much of note has been on screen in ’13, but where is our philosophical breakdown of Pain and Gain? Well, sorry we’ve been away. I could say we’ve been on some sort of several month spiritual pilgrimage to cleanse ourselves at the feet of the Dalai Lama but, honestly, we’ve just been too busy listening to the new Daft Punk record.

Which brings us to Gatsby. Let’s first get it out of the way. This movie is certainly worth a trip down to your local Hollywood Video for a 3 night rental. DiCaprio alone is worth the price of admission and there’s enough Baz Luhrmann-y stuff to carry you through. But just how much you like it versus how disappointed you are by it may correspond directly with how much of a glass half full versus glass half empty person you are. Or what kind of day or week you had the day or week you watch it.

All the elements are there, but I’m not really sure they’re there enough. I mean, come on, it’s The Great Gatsby, it’s F. Scott Fitzgerald, it’s Baz Luhrmann. It’s Leo!!! It’s the adorable Carey Mulligan, and even has the sad sack-y Tobey Maguire being all sad sack-y. The party scenes are great, but in the words of Emeril Lagasse (who probably should have been cast as Gatsby’s personal chef), Luhrmann should have taken things up another notch. There’s great modern music standing in for the jazz of the 1920s, all the actors are resplendent in period costumes, the colors and the sounds are saturating and create a world in that way Baz Luhrmann creates worlds. And, in moments, it all works. At other times, it all feels very small and the story unexplored.

It’s been a while since I actually read Gatsby. I think it was actually when I was in high school. In dog years, it wasn’t too long ago, but in actual years it’s a pretty long time. What I remember about the book is that it seemed awfully shallow and left the deeper meaning of things largely unexplored. A book like Gatsby cries out for a director who will dig into it, put his or her own stamp on it, and make it a story that matches the world we live in today. And if you want to dispense with all that boring philosophizing, then schmaltz it up, sex it up and let’s go for it. Luhrmann is not necessarily known for his deep grasp of story exposition, so he may not be the go to guy for a thoughtful reading of the book. But he’s certainly the guy to bring you Gatsby in a bubble bath with a bunch of showgirls, singing Al Jolson tunes and eating giant turkey legs while commanding his liquor running business and still throwing the charm onto Daisy. Instead, the movie lurches back and forth, never getting focused enough to decide what it wants to be. It looks good at times, sounds good at others, is a good love story at times, and a decent pot boiler at others, but it never quite gels into a comprehensive whole.

One of the ironies of Baz’s version of Gatsby is that the signature scene, the one that pretty much sums it all up, is not a typical over the top Baz Lurhmann set piece with blast away visuals and some thumping soundtrack. It’s actually a simple, single shot closeup of Leo as Gatsby, the first time the audience and Tobey Maguire actually get a glimpse of Gatsby. Gatsby is, of course, all at once a charismatic, charming, bon vivant, snake oil selling crook. And it’s all there in the shot of Leo’s glowing, yet reptilian smile. He’s all at once beatific, alluring, slimy and scary. All in one shot. Even when the movie strays, that one moment sticks in your mind, and you know this Gatsby is not the in control operator he pretends to be. It’s a great performance by Leo. It makes you think the 1970s version of Gatsby would have been better served casting Warren Beatty to the strains of “You’re So Vain” instead of the boy next door Robert Redford.

The other thing that really sums up the hit or miss nature of this Gatsby are the performances. As mentioned, Leo uses his charisma perfectly in the title role. And the supporting cast, taken individually, is all fine. The problem is that they sometimes seem to be performing in their own private version of the film. So, while Joel Edgerton plays Tom Buchanan with a nice combination of simmering misogyny and a slightly over the top 1920s affectation; Tobey Maguire plays Nick as the wide eyed boy in the city becoming more and more jaded; and Carey Mulligan does her best with the thankless role of a helpless, confused Daisy, they don’t quiet mesh as an ensemble. Plus, DiCaprio and Mulligan are completely convincing as star crossed lovers, but it never feels remotely dangerous. It just feels like a couple of clueless, stunted people not being able to figure out how to act like adults.

Not completely sure how to sum this one up. I sort of enjoyed Edgerton’s mugging, Leo’s posing and strutting, and the party scenes when they worked. But I wanted more. Part of the point of Gatsby is that more and more doesn’t always add up to more and more. But in the movies, sometimes pouring it on is what you want to do. Of all people, I would have expected Baz Lurhmann to really juice it up. It just never quite gets there.

 

 

 

 

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Oscar Talk 2013 Pt 5 The Picks

Sarah and Doug put Triangle Movie Talk on the line this year with our 2013 Oscar Picks. There is the usual discussion and, for those of you scoring at home, we have bolded in the actual picks for easy reference. A few things we clearly establish is that Flight being nominated for writing might be the single worst nomination in Academy history, Doug is a little too in love with the technical prowess of Life of Pi, and Sarah needs to get a t shirt made up that says “It’s Lincoln’s To Lose”.

Doug: Right off the bat, Best Picture is tough… Damn!

Sarah: I think we think it’s Lincoln’s to lose. And it could lose, if some of these others split the vote.

Doug: And by “others”, we’re saying you’ve got Lincoln, Silver Linings, Argo, and Life of Pi?

Sarah: You have to put Zero Dark Thirty in there, too. It’s a good category. Even Django could get some votes. Maybe we shouldn’t start the picks with Best Picture. Maybe this one is too hard.

Doug (laughs): We’ve got to pick it at some point. I’m gonna pick… Crap. Maybe I’ll narrow it down to Lincoln and Argo. Life of Pi, I don’t think, ultimately has quite enough of a following. And Silver Linings doesn’t quite have…

Sarah: The weight?

Doug: There’s the Affleck factor. Aw, hell, I’m going to pick Lincoln.

Sarah: I do still think it’s Lincoln’s to lose. I don’t see how the others pull it off. So, we’re both going Lincoln. Do we want to name dark horses or underdogs?

Doug: Well, why don’t we just make it clear that it’s an unbelievably tight race this year where any number of movies could win.

BEST PICTURE       Sarah: Lincoln                Doug: Lincoln

Sarah: OK, Actor In a Leading Role.

Doug: Come on, right? I’ll let you say it.

Sarah: Daniel Day-Lewis.

Doug: DDL.

Sarah: Do we need to even discuss this?

Doug: Nope.

Sarah: Done.

BEST ACTOR        Sarah: Daniel Day-Lewis         Doug: Daniel Day-Lewis

Sarah: Actor In a Supporting Role.

Doug: Here we go. It could be any of four people. Let’s eliminate Alan Arkin.

Sarah: And I don’t really think Robert De Niro has a chance, but only because of the other three nominees. I mean, look at the other three.

Doug: Uh, oh. I was actually thinking about picking De Niro. It’s De Niro, he hasn’t won in a while?

Sarah: I know we’re picking who we think will win, not who we think should win. If I had the ability to cast a vote, it would be Hoffman or Waltz in this category.

Doug: I’m in complete agreement with that.

Sarah: But I think Tommy Lee Jones is going to take it.

Doug: Which is funny, because my initial reaction is that it’s a Jones vs De Niro showdown. And I’m going to go with De Niro. And you’re going Tommy Lee Jones?

Sarah: I’m going Tommy Lee Jones.

Doug: Alright, you could pick up the key point in this category. T.L. Jones is a good pick. I could regret this one.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR      Sarah: Tommy Lee Jones      Doug: Robert De Niro

Sarah: Actress In a Leading Role. You could really flip a coin on this one.

Doug: Wow, it’s another tough one. Are we going as many as three ways on this one, no raciness intended?

Sarah: Don’t you think it’s coming down to Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence?

Doug: You’re right. I was thinking that Emmanuelle Riva for Amour could sneak in there, too. And it’s such a bad way to think about things, but she is quite a bit older, and she could have the whole “last chance” thing going on for her. But I’m picking Jennifer Lawrence here. You’ve convinced me on the greatness of Chastain’s performance, but I’m still going Lawrence.

Sarah: We’ve discussed before that the Academy has a tendency to undervalue subtlety in performances. Again, I would vote for Jessica Chastain if I had a vote, but I think I’m going to surprise you a bit on this one and say that the voters will swing for Jennifer Lawrence.

Doug: Hmmm. OK.

BEST ACTRESS         Sarah: Jennifer Lawrence     Doug: Jennifer Lawrence

Sarah: Actress In a Supporting Role.

Doug: Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve covered this one a ton already. We love Amy Adams, we want Amy Adams, and Amy Adams is going to get 2% of the vote, if she’s lucky. Anne Hathaway wins this one.

Sarah: Yup. And it’s going to be disappointing.

Doug: A little disappointing. But even though she doesn’t have a whole heap of screen time, Anne Hathaway was pretty amazing in Les Mis. All of these categories have a lot of deserving nominees this year. So, there might be some disappointment, but I do think she deserves it. They should hand out multiple trophies on some of these.

Sarah: It’s true. How about if Paul Thomas Anderson just gives his own award to Amy Adams for saving his movie. And speaking of The Master, Philip Seymour Hoffman being in the Best Supporting category instead of Best Actor is pretty annoying.

Doug: That is annoying. We’re going Anne Hathaway here, I take it?

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS      Sarah: Anne Hathaway      Doug: Anne Hathaway

Sarah: What are we going to skip to next? Do we want to do Animated Feature?

Doug: Sure.

Sarah: My best guess is Wreck It Ralph to win this one.

Doug: That was easy. That’s what I would go with. But you’ve pointed out what a good year it was for animated films, or “cartoons” as I call them. I might lean more toward Frankenweenie if it hadn’t espoused the theory that said don’t make your kids play sports, because if you do you’re just going to end up causing their dog to get run over.

Sarah (laughs): I’m not sure that’s the whole lesson I took from it, but I was OK with that lesson. Let’s celebrate the little artists and scientists.

Doug: I’m on your side. And, remember, if you’re a kid and you play sports your dog is toast unless you can electrocute him and bring him back to life.

Sarah: I also liked the message in that one that says parents aren’t always right.

Doug: You should always follow your own heart. It’s a great message. OK, so Wreck It Ralph wins for Animated Feature.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE      Sarah: Wreck It Ralph         Doug: Wreck It Ralph

Sarah: Let’s do Cinematography next. Life of Pi, probably. I think maybe I’ll go Skyfall, though, because I think it should win something.

Doug: Do it, do it. It will give me a chance to pick up a cheap point on you.

Sarah: Just kidding. Life of Pi.

CINEMATOGRAPHY         Sarah: Life of Pi           Doug: Life of Pi

Sarah: Costume Design?

Doug: Costume design? Really?

Sarah: It’s got to be Les Mis or Anna Karenina. I kind of suspect Anna Karenina will win.

Doug: Alright, you want to both pick Anna Karenina?

Sarah: Sounds good.

COSTUME DESIGN         Sarah: Anna Karenina       Doug: Anna Karenina

Sarah: Best Director!!!

Doug: Oh, boy!!!

Sarah: It’s another tough one.

Doug: I can see an argument for everyone on this list to win except probably the Beasts guy.

Sarah: Yeah, probably. Although I don’t know that Ang Lee can pull it off.

Doug: That disappoints me. But I agree that I’m not sure he will win. We’ve talked this one over quite a bit, and we’re on the same page, but he did so much as a director.

Sarah: The skill he had to bring to creating such a beautiful, well done movie out of such a pretty thin story was amazing.

Doug: You pointed out that he brought two distinct skill sets, and you could probably say it’s more like three. The technical stuff, the guiding of the actors and putting an almost imaginary vision up on the screen.

Sarah: I hope Ang Lee gets the proper credit for all that, but I’m not sure it’s going to result in the trophy.

Doug: So, who do we go with? Are we going to cop out and just go Spielberg.

Sarah: I do think on some of these larger categories, it’s Lincoln’s to lose. Maybe the math could work out where the vote gets split so much that one of the others wins.

Doug: they’re definitely splitting the vote. Part of me is sort of bothered by the idea that in some of these categories, somebody can walk away with an Academy Award with as little as, say, 25% of the vote. I wonder sometimes if it might be better if they’d keep doing ballots until somebody has at least 50%.

Sarah (laughing): You’re advocating for a runoff election for the Academy Awards?

Doug: Let’s have runoff elections. I understand that the winners of these things aren’t going to be running the country after their victories, but it might be nice to see a winner who gets more votes. Anyway, I am going to be ticked off when I pick Spielberg to win as a safety pick and Ang Lee ends up winning…

Sarah: Pick Ang Lee. Pick Ang Lee. Do it.

Doug: Is it more important for me to go with what I really want, or is it more important for me to defeat you in the contest?

Sarah: That’s the question that you have to ask yourself.

Doug: You have to ask yourself the same question, you know. Is victory more important…

Sarah: Victory, in itself, is not so much important to me. But being right is pretty important to me. It’s not just beating you that’s important, it’s just being correct.

Doug: Aw, such a nice thing to say. So, you’d be happy if we both got everything right?

Sarah: Sure. You can do what I’ve been doing and say you’d vote for Ang Lee if you had the vote, but you’re picking Spielberg.

Doug: But I really think Ang Lee has a shot. Dammit, I’m going Spielberg. Are you going Spielberg?

Sarah: I’m going Spielberg.

BEST DIRECTOR      Sarah: Steven Spielberg      Doug: Steven Spielberg

Sarah: How about Film Editing next?

Doug: I always like the editing category. Looking at the list, I’d say it has to come down to Argo or Zero Dark Thirty.

Sarah: I was thinking Zero Dark would be in there. The last sequence of Argo was really well done, and that was mostly down to editing. But, overall, I find myself leaning toward Zero Dark Thirty.

Doug: I’m leaning toward Argo. I’m not sure I thought it was a great film, but I do think the movie was pretty skillfully put together. There were a fair number of mood changes in it, and the editing handled it all really nicely. I think I’ll go Argo here. You’re Zero Dark?

Sarah: Zero Dark Thirty for me.

FILM EDITING       Sarah: Zero Dark Thirty          Doug: Argo

Sarah: Where do we go next?

Doug: I’ll let you choose. Whatever you’d like to take a shot at, I’m in.

Sarah: How about we take a guess at Production Design?

Doug: I think this could be another somewhat technical category that Life of Pi could win. I’m going to go Life of Pi. You had some pretty amazing production designs going on in Lincoln, Les Mis. Impressive period looks in both of those. But, I stick with Life of Pi.

Sarah: OK, well just to be different then, I’m going to throw it to The Hobbit.

Doug: Good one. Part of me can roll with the theory that says if something like The Hobbit just gets the one nomination, maybe there’s a reason for it in that category.

Sarah: I’m throwing a bone to The Hobbit.

PRODUCTION DESIGN        Sarah: The Hobbit        Doug: Life of Pi

Sarah: Do we want to do Sound Editing next?

Doug: Like I said, I’m in for whatever.

Sarah: OK, f*&k it. I’m throwing it to Skyfall. We’ve got to get a win somewhere for Skyfall.

Doug: I have no idea, so I’ll just pick the same. To use your lingo, f*&k it.

SOUND EDITING      Sarah: Skyfall       Doug: Skyfall

Sarah: Do you want to go Visual Effects next?

Doug: If Life of Pi is on there, I’ll go with it.

Sarah: Life of Pi is on there.

Doug: I’m going with it. Anything that has to do with appearance or technical aspects, just put me down for Life of Pi.

Sarah: I love the fact that The Avengers at least gets a mention in this category, but I’ll go Life of Pi here, too.

VISUAL EFFECTS     Sarah: Life of Pi       Doug: Life of Pi

Sarah: Alright, the writing categories. Adapted Screenplay. Another strong category.

Doug: A strong category, but I probably feel more strongly that Lincoln will win here than I do about any of the other categories we’ve picked, other than DDL for Best Actor.

Sarah: Yeah, you’re right, it’s Lincoln. If I’m saying it’s Lincoln’s to lose on all of these categories, why should I change here.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY     Sarah: Lincoln       Doug: Lincoln

Sarah: Original Screenplay? I know your pick is going to be Flight, right?

Doug (laughs pretty uncontrollably): At least where on the same page on that. I like it when there’s at least one thing that we agree unequivocally on. The writing in that movie was so bad that it was offensive, was it not?

Sarah: Yes, I finally saw it, and it was just incredibly bad. It didn’t even rise to after school special levels of quality.

Doug: Oh, yeah, the writing wasn’t as good as what you’d see in after school special. You know the writing in a movie is bad when the least offensive part of it is the plane flying upside down. I mean, I serious doubt that physics would allow it to be possible to fly a plane upside down, but the plane flying upside down scenes still rang more true than pretty much anything else in there. Yup, not as good as an after school special. At least with an after school special, you’re usually watching it when you’re 11 years old.

Sarah: Maybe Flight was meant for 11 year olds.

Doug: Flight couldn’t win the screenwriting Oscar even if the Academy voters are all 11 year olds.

Sarah: Just really, really, really bad. Let’s focus on the good stuff in this category. Because there’s a lot of it. Incredible writing from Wes Anderson in Moonrise Kingdom, as is so often the case with a Wes Anderson movie. I really kind of want Moonrise to win here, but it’s probably too far under the radar.

Doug: This might be one that Michael Haneke could win. Amour will probably only win for Best Foreign Language Film. But Haneke gets a ton of respect for the depth and themes of his movies, and this could well be a category that he gets recognized for. I get the sense that, while I thought it was great, some felt that Django didn’t rise to Tarantino’s accustomed levels.

Sarah: I thought it rose to Tarantino’s normal levels. A lot of mention has been made that the original script for Django would have produced a 5 hour movie, so there’s that. But I thought it was well done.

Doug: Yeah, the criticism of this one is that he didn’t take enough out. I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s the criticism, if there is one.

Sarah: He does clearly love his own stuff. My question is how much other good stuff was there. Did he pick the best stuff to leave in? I had read that Tarantino had offered Don Johnson a choice of about 5 or 6 characters that were in the original draft of the screenplay. Apparently, Don Johnson picked Big Daddy as the one he wanted to play because he felt that Big Daddy would never get cut, while some of the other roles could get cut. It just gives you an idea for how monstrous the original script must have been.

Doug: And that’s interesting, because while the bumbling KKK scene was certainly Tarantino-esque, you could argue that it didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the movie. It was almost too farcical compared with the rest of the film. As a stand alone section of the movie, it certainly is funny, though. Zero Dark Thirty has some really good journalistic style writing in it. But, can you give a writing award to a movie that hinges on the journalism style when you’re questioning the authenticity of some of it?

Sarah: The writing category is often the category where they sort of go for the more offbeat movies. This is a really tough category. I would hope Moonrise could get in there as the offbeat choice this year. But it’s been so long since it’s been out. And maybe Zero Dark and Django might have taken over in the writing category.

Doug: Something tells me that the offbeat thing to do in this category this year is to vote for Amour, which is probably the least offbeat of all the nominees for writing. A pretty universal theme, the difficulties with the end of life. I have a sneaky feeling about Amour. If Django wins, I can still say, “I told you so.” But I’m going to go out on a limb on this one and go with Amour.

Sarah: So, you’re going Amour? It bums me out that Moonrise Kingdom probably can’t win. I don’t buy that Haneke can win for Amour. I think it comes down to Tarantino versus Mark Boale for Zero Dark Thirty. I’m going with Tarantino.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY        Sarah: Quentin Tarantino      Doug: Michael Haneke

 

 

 

 

Oscar Talk 2013 Pt 4 The Lovefest

In part 4 of this year’s Oscar Talk, Sarah and Doug gush a bit over the respective greatness of Life of Pi and Jessica Chastain.

Sarah: So, let’s try to save you from the last conversation where you were the cranky old fuddy duddy. You did like Life of Pi, so I have to give you credit.

Doug: I loved Life of Pi. I’m a Life of Pi guy. Yeah, let’s talk about it. I’m sure some of the sappy and simple criticisms I have for Silver Linings are the same ones you could make for Life of Pi. It’s interesting that a movie that was so fully focused on religion specifically, and not just general spirituality, has been so well received by critics. Pi may have jumped around in his religious preferences, but he still took from specific ones and used religion in a positive way to sort of get him through.

Sarah: He was certainly committed to the idea that there is a God, and that God was responsible for a lot of what was going on, including him surviving.

Doug: Right. And he also used the dogmas of a lot of religions, to work a Kevin Smith movie reference in, which we always have to do.

Sarah: Always have to work Kevin Smith in, that’s right. As far as the theme of the movie, he was definitely using the teachings of all of these religions, and clearly talking to God throughout the movie, and acknowledging the consistent themes of all the religions he was learning from.

Doug: I think you still have that subset of people that is a little anti religion, and so the popularity of this movie to a more liberal group of people is interesting.

Sarah: I get that, but for me the movie was more inspiring on a purely human level, just his own ability to survive. I loved the way the movie had Pi using his own imagination to craft a scenario in his mind that he could live with as he was trying to survive out on the ocean. It was more about the power of imagination, for me, than about the power of religion.

Doug: I agree with that. I think I’m sort of wondering if a movie that so explicitly and, really, sort of matter of factly and simply acknowledges the good that religion can do for people and the comfort it can provide can win for Best Picture. And I realize I just massively stereotyped Hollywood.

Sarah: And I’m not so sure it deserves to win for Best Picture, anyway. I found it enjoyable and a very beautiful movie to look at. But I think you probably found it much more moving than I did.

Doug: Yeah, probably. What, for me, raises Life of Pi to another level is all the inspirational themes we’ve been talking about plus it was so incredibly cool looking. And really groundbreaking. Maybe not groundbreaking, but this film will be studied by film makers for the right ways to use 3D.

Sarah: The visuals are amazing. And, as we’ve talked about before, I could easily live with Ang Lee winning best director. Because on top of the incredible use of 3D, there’s not really anything there except a dude and a boat.

Doug: Yeah, it was almost more like a play brought to life.

Sarah: And that had to be a real, true vision from the director, and an ability from his actor, Suraj Sharma, to react to that vision. It could have been really terrible.

Doug: And the whole “older Pi” narrating the story for the journalist was super contrived, and that also could have gone horribly wrong. But Irrfan Khan was so good, and he had such a synergy with Suraj Sharma as “younger Pi”. It’s very rare when I see a movie that has the younger/older dynamic where they actually seem like the same person. Here, they absolutely seemed like the same person.

Sarah: They definitely seemed like the same person. The suggestion at the end of the movie that there could have been alternate stories was really driven home by Khan as “older Pi”.

Doug: And Khan as “older Pi”, to use a fancy word, had an absolute gravitas that resulted from his life experience. He seemed wiser than a normal guy. He came out of this experience, and he really gets life. It was cool.

Sarah: I’m certainly not going to knock Life of Pi, and Ang Lee deserves a whole lot of credit for bringing that vision to the screen.

Doug: Director has to be between Spielberg and Ang Lee. If Spielberg wins, you’re not going to be able to say anything bad about it. Michael Haneke isn’t going to win, but Amour will win Best Foreign Language, if for no other reason than that nobody’s heard of any of the other nominated foreign language films.

Sarah: It’s true. Maybe Emmanuelle Riva will get a nod for Best Actress for Amour.

Doug: There seems to be some buzz for that, but I think that one goes to Jennifer Lawrence.

Sarah: I’m putting it out there that Jessica Chastain was great. She had a sort of unemotional character to play in Zero Dark Thirty. And we’ve talked before about how I tend to give more credit to the more subtle performances, and how I think they’re often harder to play. But she also had some really emotional moments in there, too. And she plays those just right.

Doug: She did play them just right. I’m not sure I can put my finger on why I think Jennifer Lawrence should win instead of Jessica Chastain. We’re talking about two awesome performances. There were tiny, tiny moments where I didn’t always find Chastain believable. And, again, I can’t put my finger on when they were. So, if I can’t give examples, I should probably just shut up about it. Chastain was incredible, Lawrence was incredible. I’ll be happy if either one of them wins. Jessica Chastain over the last couple of years has had just an unreal run. Compare the role she gets nominated for this year in Zero Dark Thirty, as real and gritty a character as you can play, with the role she was nominated for last year. I mean, in Tree of Life, she barely had any lines. She was playing almost more a concept than an actual person.

Sarah: Yeah, gosh, I forgot that was her. And she’s fully three dimensional in Zero Dark Thirty. It was interesting because she was often so unemotional. The character was clearly designed to come off as abrasive at times. But yet she had to also play the character as being cool at times, but having the passion and the emotion come flying out at certain times. Her character was often, to be kind, an unpersonable person. And she had to pull that off.

Doug: Like you say, Chastain’s was a full performance. One of my favorite moments of her performance was when she had to convince Edgar Ramirez as the head of the surveillance team to do what she needed to do as far as tracking Bin Laden’s messenger. Ramirez was set on not having the man power to do it, and not believing in Chastain’s hunches. Chastain had tried the abrasive, and she quickly spun into the softer, human connection. She brings him a beer, reasons with him, connecting and getting him to do what she needed him to do through another method. It was a great moment of acting, I thought. Hey, you’ve convinced me on Chastain. Lawrence. Chastain. It’s a tie.

Sarah: I don’t know who they’ll go for in the end, but for me the sort of balls out performances like Jennifer Lawrence’s in Silver Linings are a little easier to pull off, so I give a lot of credit to what Jessica Chastain did.

Doug: It’s a little bit apples and oranges when you put it like that. You sort of wish you could give them both…

Sarah: Split ‘em up.

Doug: There’s going to be a lot of crap to have to live with in the acting categories. Best Supporting Actress, I am perfectly fine with Anne Hathaway winning, and she surely is going to win. But we have both clearly staked our lot with how much we loved Amy Adams.

Sarah: Yeah.

Doug: Best Supporting Actor, same thing. Christoph Waltz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, freakin’ De Niro? Come on.

Sarah: If I was going with the one I would want to win, it would be Christoph Waltz. But Philip Seymour Hoffman is pretty much the main thing that makes The Master even watchable. He pretty much had to carry that film. And the fact that he’s in the Best Supporting category instead of straight Best Actor seems sort of dumb.

 

Oscar Talk 2013 Pt 3 The Discovery

In part 3 of this year’s Oscar convos, Sarah and Doug make their peace (sort of) with Zero Dark Thirty, Sarah reveals (maybe) her favorite of the Best Picture nominees, and Doug is revealed (or not) as possibly being a cranky party pooper.

Doug: Well, I don’t think either of us has gotten in the right mood to watch Amour yet.

Sarah: It does seem to be a bit of a downer, although I did read a review of it in Rolling Stone. Of course, I don’t know if it ever really played around here.

Doug: More curses to the demise of the beloved Galaxy Theater. It’s a tough one to say you’re just going to sit down and mindlessly watch it on a Saturday. Being subtitled, you actually have to…

Sarah: Pay attention to it? Well, to keep the Zero Dark Thirty conversation going, I read an interesting article with Kathryn Bigelow and the writer guy, whatever his name is.

Doug: Mark Boale?

Sarah: Sure. Well done, Doug. Anyway, they were saying what we were talking about, that the Maya character wasn’t one person, but for Boale he wanted to make the character a woman because there were so many women involved in the process that he wanted to emphasize that. He said he was struck by just how many women were in a lead role during the search for Bin Laden. And also, they were saying how originally the movie was going to be about a failed attempt to capture Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but in the middle of scouting for locations they got him. So they had to basically start all over.

Doug: Yeah, I had seen that. Kathryn Bigelow was sort of like, crap, this is one of the biggest stories of our generation. We get the guy, so who’s going to want to see the movie about us not getting him? Like you said, start it all over.

Sarah: I also saw Kathryn Bigelow on Stephen Colbert addressing the torture conversation. She was saying that the point of the movie was that they didn’t get the key information from torture, that they ended up getting the key information out of a file, and that information had been there all along. Which is interesting, because I wouldn’t think the connection would have been made to the “found” file without the information that got about the Bin Laden messenger guy from some of the tortured people in the beginning of the movie. Seemed like Kathryn Bigelow was putting forth a pretty liberal interpretation of her own movie.

Doug: Hmmm. I see what you’re saying. It seemed to me that the movie was trying to throw out the idea that a lot of pieces of information came from a lot of different places and through several different methods. And, on top of it all, some of the key breaks came through pure luck. A lot of a viewer’s interpretation, I think, is exactly how much information the viewer thinks certain methods actually produced. But I definitely didn’t think the movie was trying to say that torture had nothing to do with it, I agree with you on that.

Sarah: And Kathryn Bigelow’s point was that they were absolutely not trying to make the case for the detainee program. They only wanted to acknowledge that the program took place, so they couldn’t just ignore it. Which I think is probably pretty fair.

Doug: We’ve talked a lot about Zero Dark Thirty in our conversations. And I’ve kind of softened up on the whole over analysis of the politics of it. I enjoyed the movie a lot and, as for the torture, yeah would it have been better if they had just pretended it never happened?

Sarah: And that’s kind of what Bigelow and Boale were saying. They were saying they had to acknowledge the detainee program’s existence. Now I will say that I thought they put an awful lot of emphasis on it in the movie, and I thought maybe they put too much emphasis on it. But I guess if, at the end of the day, their point was to start a conversation about the detainee program and how long it lasted, etc, I’d probably say that the way they handled it in the movie was probably as good a way as any.

Doug: One problem is that in a movie like that, the amount of screen time you give to any one method used to get information at least gives the suggestion to how important the film makers thought each method was. So, when they come out after the fact and make their arguments, it doesn’t make the arguments invalid, but what they put on the screen is what they put on the screen. At times, the movie got a little bit unfocused and the viewer was left lurching around a little bit as to what methods were producing what. Even the politics that were going on, the changing tides against the detainee program and whatnot. They were touched on, but they weren’t always focused on quite as clearly as I thought they could have been.

Sarah: Although the one scene where the male agent decided he needed to go home, and he was talking about the changing politics, and he said, “Be careful, you don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar.” That was pretty telling there.

Doug: That’s a good point. And, to be fair, while I would have liked a little more detail here and there, it’s still a movie and you still have to have some dramatic license. I doubt, for example, that the “found” file happened exactly like that, with some low level staffer finding something in the back of a file cabinet. But something like that surely happened, so if it’s not portrayed exactly correctly, it’s fine. So, if Bigelow and Boale want to say they weren’t endorsing any one method, I buy it. I felt like the movie threw it all up against the wall and said, there’s no real science to this. You take the information and find it any way you can. But, hey, in the end I still like the movie the same. It was very good, not at the tip top of my list, though.

Sarah: I’m with you, it was a very good thriller, if nothing else.

Doug: I’ve been bumming a bit that The Dark Knight Rises didn’t get more end of year and awards love. We’ve talked about how good a year 2012 was, so I get it, but Dark Knight was right up there as one of my top 3 of the year. But it’s not on the Oscar list, so I don’t want to go off too much about it.

Sarah: It was certainly better than Les Miserables. But alright to you on your Dark Knight love.  Let’s talk some Silver Linings Playbook. This isn’t the weightiest of movies, but as far as just being an enjoyable film, it’s right up there for me. You definitely feel good when you leave the movie theater. And of all the Best Picture nominees, that’s probably the only true feel good movie on the list. You’re not skipping and whistling out of too many of the others.

Doug: I’m with you on that. None of the other movies have the champagne wishes and caviar dreams feel that Silver Linings has. You can’t say it’s not a nice feeling movie. You might say it’s a little too cotton candyish in the way it deals with some pretty serious issues. That is, if you want to overanalyze, as I often do.

Sarah: The problem was more how neatly tied up the story was at the end. I don’t think you can say David O. Russell treated mental illness too cavalierly, though. He never made any light of any of these serious problems.

Doug: Definitely. Not only did he not make light of bipolar disorder, he correctly pointed out that these are all just regular folks. And also that every single one of us have our own issues. Every character in that film had strong issues of their own. But every single character, including the two leads, were treated super respectfully and not judged or used as a comedy bit at all.

Sarah: Right, the leads certainly had mental illnesses, and have been treated for it. But the characters around them were often presented in much less favorable lights, which made the case that we’re all dealing with things. We’re always figuring out how to manage.

Doug: All those parts of it, I liked a lot. The thing that made it fall just short of great for me was how tidy everything was wrapped up at the end. Which is ironic, since the feel good stuff is usually right up my alley. We’ve all got complications in our lives…

Sarah: Your “people are complicated” line that you say a lot. The bottom line is I, and most of the people I’ve talked to about this movie, left the theater feeling really good.

Doug: If you want to see a movie and leave the theater feeling good, which is a pretty good reason to see a movie, maybe Silver Linings is tops on the Best Picture list. Are you saying that Silver Linings is your favorite on the list.

Sarah: It’s probably the one I enjoyed the most on the list.

Doug: Now, let’s talk about this. Because when we saw Lincoln, it was us and all of you political folks in the group we saw it with. And, I liked it, but when we were in the theater, I’m thinking that you guys are going to be all over this movie. You political wonks are going to see this as straight up red meat. So, did you like Silver Linings better than Lincoln?

Sarah: Yes. Spoiler alert, Lincoln gets shot. So, Lincoln is not exactly ending on a true, feel good note.

Doug: And you don’t really get to see the results of this momentous political victory.

Sarah: Right. Lincoln was certainly inspirational in a lot of ways, but it wasn’t feel good by any stretch. The doggedness, the speeches, the people that really wanted to see this get done were all really inspirational.

Doug: In those ways, I thought it was almost less inspirational than it was just a really great procedural.

Sarah: For sure in showing how it all got done, it was very procedural. For me, the putting your head down, wanting to get something done, and getting it done was very inspirational. In the middle of the Civil War, they win these political victories. It was the end of slavery, the granting of rights to an entire group of people who had been denied them…

Doug: Oh my gosh, how much of a jerk do I look like now for saying it wasn’t so much inspirational. I mean, when you put it like that!!! I guess it was pretty inspirational.

Sarah (laughing): I just thought I’d correct you on that, Doug.

Doug: You’ve now called me out to all the readers of Triangle Movie Talk as a non-feeling jerk.

Sarah (laughing some more): Yeah, you didn’t really like Silver Linings Playbook as much as you should have, you’re not fully inspired by Lincoln, you’re really starting to become a downer.

Doug: I’m supposed to be the Candyland, everything is always supposed to be happy and work out guy, and I…

Sarah: What’s going on over there, you getting cynical on me?

Doug: I’m becoming cranky, cantankerous old guy over here. Lincoln? Bah, humbug. What’s inspirational about that?

Sarah: It’s just a procedural.

Doug: And Silver Linings? Two people who have faced super hard periods in their lives and fall in love in a heart-warming way? Don’t try to get me to buy that.

Sarah: I’ll dig you out of the hole, because I know you really liked Life of Pi.

Doug: I loved Life of Pi. And thank you for bailing me out. So, let’s talk about it next time.

 

Oscar Talk 2013 Pt 2 The Suggestion

With even more to come, the second part of our conversations on everything Oscar 2013 covers the Daniel Day-Lewis juggernaut, the across the board amazingly loaded acting categories, our biggest suggestion to improve the Academy Awards overall, and the respective allures of Matthew McConaughey and Susan Sarandon.

Doug: Do we even need to talk about the Best Actor category? Does anyone other than Daniel Day-Lewis really have a chance?

Sarah: Look at the lineup of nominees. I mean, come on. Who else could take it?

Doug: To give props where they’re due, though, Denzel Washington was pretty amazing in Flight. I went off on the writing in that movie, but Denzel’s performance took a movie that, with anybody else in the lead, could have been one of the worst movies I’ve seen in a theater…

Sarah: Which is kind of a great way to look at it. Remember last year, you said pretty much the same thing with Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady.

Doug: And Denzel is on fire in the first 20-30 minutes of Flight. He’s electric. Honestly, anytime he’s on screen the movie is highly watchable, which is amazing that he was able to overcome the terrible writing.

Sarah: You’ve said the performances weren’t really what made Flight craptastic. Unfortunately, we know that generally the overall quality of the film is going to have some weight when it comes to winning an acting category. So, maybe Denzel was great, but he’s not in a good spot to win.

Doug: Yeah. Hugh Jackman, despite the Golden Globe win…

Sarah: He won the Golden Globe, but they have the separate categories for lead acting, the drama and comedy/musical categories, so Jackman wasn’t going up against Daniel Day-Lewis directly, there.

Doug: Right, not even in the same category. And while different groups of people are voting for the Golden Globes than vote for the Oscars, you have to say that the fact that Bradley Cooper can’t beat Hugh Jackman in the same category at the Globes doesn’t bode well for Mr. Cooper. And what to do with Joaquin Phoenix?

Sarah: He wasn’t our favorite, but we’ve already talked about how other actors will probably love his performance, so you never know how the voting could go. But I just can’t see anybody but Daniel Day-Lewis in the end for Best Actor. Again, though, you just never know if actors will vote for Phoenix or not.

Doug: I will say they were totally different types of performances, so there is that. Phoenix, as much as we didn’t like him, had a lot to do with creating a wholly original category. Whereas Daniel Day-Lewis was largely mimicking someone. Which are two completely different skill sets.

Sarah: To inhabit somebody that actually existed, and pull it off the way Daniel Day-Lewis did?

Doug: Oh, DDL is going to win. Let’s just move it along…

Sarah: Actor in a supporting role? Probably one of the strongest categories.

Doug: And we didn’t even get our guy McConaughey in there.

Sarah: We wanted McConaughey. We want him, really, for anything.

Doug: That’s your line.

Sarah: I mean I want him for any of his many great performances this year.

Doug: That’s what she said.

Sarah (laughing): For any one of his many performances. Bernie, a flawed movie, but a great supporting performance by Matthew. And your favorite, Magic Mike.

Doug (in lame McConaughey impression): Alright, alright, alright. This is a super strong category.

Sarah: A strong category, but Alan Arkin?

Doug: When I saw Argo, I remember thinking I’d like to see Arkin nominated. But it turned out to be too strong a year, and I don’t think he really deserved it. He got nominated because he’s Alan Arkin, and he got some memorable line readings. But look at the names here. Arkin, De Niro, Hoffman, Jones, Waltz. That is unbelievable.

Sarah: You know it’s strong when you have a year where you’re eliminating Arkin and De Niro right off the bat. It’s tough, De Niro was good, but compared to the others he’s not as strong. There’s always the “we owe you one” angle, but…

Doug: Or maybe this is his last go at an Oscar. The one thing I love about the Supporting Actor category is that whoever wins, it will be for a performance that I liked a lot. I don’t even like Tommy Lee Jones, but the guy was spectacular in Lincoln.

Sarah: He was a big part of what made Lincoln an alive movie. He added a lot of the energy. Otherwise, it could have been a pretty dull movie.

Doug: It could have been dull. But one of the great things Spielberg did with Lincoln, focusing almost exclusively on the politics of it all, was to use the “lively” politics of the day, to use a kind word, to give the story its life and bounce and intrigue. I mean, if anything, Spielberg soft played the nastiness of the politics of the day, playing that nastiness for laughs in some places. But Jones gave the movie a big part of its heart.

Sarah: I liked Tommy Lee Jones in that, but the two best performances in this category of great performances, I think, come down to Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christoph Waltz.

Doug: I’m sure we’ll have more of a picks type conversation before the Oscars, but it has to come down to those two. Man, what about actress? This is one of the wildcard categories.

Sarah: It always is. It may not be as bad this year as it has been in years past, but there are always a couple of nominations in this category for performances in movies that aren’t nominated for much of anything else. A pretty good list of names this year, though. We are thinking it’s going to come down to Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain. Is Chastain going to win?

Doug: I don’t know, they both got Golden Globes in their respective categories. I think there is a lot of Jennifer Lawrence love out there. I wonder when the voting for the Oscars actually takes place. I think Zero Dark Thirty had its little period of controversy and backlash. That could hurt Chastain, and Lawrence could end up with the win. That one’s going to be interesting.

Sarah: Yeah, the “Hollywood Elite” is also the liberal elite, remember. And a lot of them are not too happy about the torture sections. Susan Sarandon just posted a blog on the ACLU website coming out strongly against her interpretation of the film’s suggesting the use of torture led to capturing Bin Laden as a pure fiction.

Doug: Well, I like me some Susan Sarandon, so whatever she says goes in my book.

Sarah: Straight up.

Doug: I think I’d play ping pong in her ping pong club in Brooklyn if she requested me to.

Sarah: Just ping pong, huh?

Doug: My wife has everything taken care of, so ping pong will suffice. Who knows how the Zero Dark backlash might affect the voting on some of these categories. I think Best Actress is going to be close. Best Supporting Actress, also pretty strong this year. Other than maybe Sally Field.

Sarah: We’ve talked a lot about our favorite, how Amy Adams should get it. But there’s a good chance she won’t.

Doug: And you know what, I’m going to pass on this category for now, because I’d like us to have a different conversation about who should versus who will win in some of these categories. So, I’m piping down as we move on to the nominees for Animation. I have not seen a one of these movies yet, so it’s all yours on this one.

Sarah: I know, you haven’t seen one of these. And you’re missing out on a lot of good stuff.

Doug: I am planning on an…

Sarah: Animation domination catchup at some point?

Doug: Yes, yes I am.

Sarah: Having seen the entire list of feature length animated nominees this year, you know it’s a good year when Brave is the weak link, because that one was great. And I doubt Pirates: Band of Misfits has a huge chance. One of the things I loved about all the nominees is how they’re all about outcasts. I know you made fun of me for that, pointing out that…

Doug: About 92.4% of all animated stuff is about outcasts?

Sarah (laughing): Yes. I’m not sure I agree with your exact numbers. But I like that all the ones this year are more about non-conformists. Brave has a great feminist message, Frankenweenie is about a little artistic boy who just wants to do his thing, doesn’t want to play baseball…

Doug: Doesn’t want to play baseball? Gasp. Dadgum it, that’s just un-American.

Sarah: It’s funny you say that, because there’s a great character, a teacher from a sort of unidentified Eastern European background, making fun of Americans’ not valuing science in a lot of ways. It’s pretty funny. Frankenweenie would be a worthy winner of this category. And we’ve already talked about how Paranorman is one of my favorite movies of the year in any category. Another great message movie, all about a different kind of kid who gets bullied and how terrible bullying is. Kind of a great message to get across in today’s environment. And even Pirates: Band of Misfits

Doug: Which is apparently literally about outcasts, or at least misfits.

Sarah: Yes. And it’s all about family, another message we can all get behind. Things go badly when family doesn’t look out for each other in Pirates. And Wreck It Ralph lets you know that everybody has a role to play that is important, and that’s OK.

Doug: And it apparently has an awesome array of cameos from various classic video game characters from over the years?

Sarah: It’s true, and I love the support group for the “bad guy” video game characters. It’s all really very fun.

Doug: Since we’re on the Animated category, I’m going to take the opportunity to throw my little suggestion of the year in for the Academy. The fact that they have a separate category for Animated films goes way back. And it’s really cool that they do it. If they really wanted to open things up, like they’re trying to do with the increased nominations for Best Picture, why don’t they really go for it? Make it like the Grammys. The Grammys has a Best Song category. But they also have separate Country, and R&B, and Rock, and Alternative, etc categories. In addition to Best Animated at the Oscars, why can’t we also have Action, and Comedy, and Horror, etc, categories. One of the main points of even having the Oscars is to get us movie fans talking. That would really expand the conversation and excitement.

Sarah: And the Golden Globes already kind of do that with the separate categories for Drama and Comedy/Musical. I like the idea of an Action category.

Doug: And, honestly, if they did this they could probably go back to only five for Best Picture. And the Best Picture category would actually seem even more exclusive than it does now and maybe than it ever felt. You’d be sort of filtering the best of the best movies out of these other categories into the larger Best Picture nominations. Anyway, that’s my idea.

Sarah: And you’d get more recognition for a lot of the movies that end up having more staying power in the long run, or at least the ones you end up watching multiple times as the years go by. And those are often the comedies and action movies, which don’t always get recognized at awards time. I own Biutiful  and So, I Married An Axe Murderer. Guess which one I’ve watched more? And I’m not sure that by opening up Best Picture to as many as 10 nominees that they’re really done what they said they were trying to do, which is open it up to more types of movies.

Doug: Yeah, with some exceptions, it’s mainly the same old types of movies, just often more mediocre ones getting nominated. How much more interesting would Best Picture be if you had, let’s take your favorite from the Animation category, Paranorman, on the list. Throw in Dark Knight Rises, or maybe Skyfall. A movie like Looper. Not just the same old stuff. It would be so much more interesting.

 

Movies 2012- The Conversation Pt 3

With Oscar nominations on the horizon to discuss, we round out a somewhat random discussion of the year in movies 2012. Doug holds court on Django Unchained, Sarah welcomes Doug into the Joseph Gordon-Levitt fan club, and we both agree on what Alan Arkin might tell the Academy if he is snubbed on a best supporting actor nomination.

Doug: We’ve got to talk about Django Unchained if we’re discussing the best movies of the year. And beyond that, who would have thought that Quentin Tarantino, of all people, would make the movie that inspired the most sort of self-reflection for us as a society. I mean, Spielberg makes Lincoln, but it’s Tarantino that hits the hot buttons on race and slavery. I got into it all a bit in my review of the movie. But you’re going to have moments of uncomfortableness about what you’re liking and not liking about this movie. And what other people are laughing at, maybe a little too heartily. For me, Tarantino strikes the right balance, though, and he is really masterful in Django at steering the audience in the direction he wants them to be steered. He’s a master at that in general, but he really does it here.

Sarah: That’s true, he is a master at that. He’s obviously a master at staging violence for effect. And he’s also the best at rethinking how you present stories. In lots of different ways over the years. I haven’t seen Django yet. I was with my family over the holidays and when we were discussing which movies we should see when we were together, I flat out said I’m not going with my parents to see Django. Just not happening. But, yeah, Tarantino’s movies are always conceptual, and they always have a fresh take on how you tell the story.

Doug: Yeah, and I think Tarantino has earned his spot as the best writer, particularly of dialogue, of the great directors.

Sarah: I might disagree with you on Tarantino as the best writer of dialogue. I think I’d have to throw Kevin Smith in there. That’s all he’s really writing is dialogue. Might put him up as the best.

Doug: I always try to defer to you with respect for you Kevin Smith love, but…

Sarah: OK, I won’t try to say he’s better than Tarantino at dialogue. I just wanted to say he’s up there. For writing dialogue, Kevin Smith is up there. But they’re two completely different types of film makers, so it probably isn’t right to really compare them.

Doug: I’m not sure why this struck me so much in Django, but one of the reasons I say Tarantino is the best writer is because he so clearly loves his characters so much. For a guy who is killing so many of them off, he puts so much into them. He’s so all about the characters. Really, when you think of Tarantino’s movies, the characters are what you think about above all.

Sarah: And when you see them on screen, you completely understand them. Even the smaller characters. Obviously, John Travolta in Pulp Fiction isn’t a small role…

Doug: Well, Vincent Vega is a pretty big role.

Sarah: OK, yeah. But there were so many characters in that one that are memorable. And with Travolta, he’s so memorable that you almost forget he dies halfway through the movie, but Tarantino does the great stuff with the story where Travolta “comes back” into it. And it’s the characters that you remember from Pulp Fiction, as much as anything. John Travolta, Uma Thurman…

Doug : Samuel Jackson.

Sarah: Bruce Willis.

Doug: Don’t leave out The Gimp.

Sarah: So many more, too. And they’re all great, interesting characters.

Doug: Well, speaking of great characters, there are plenty in Django. Not the least of which is Dr. King Schultz. Man, the best supporting actor field is loaded this year, but I’d love to see Christoph Walz win again in another Tarantino movie after winning the Oscar for Inglourious Basterds. I’ve been enjoying doing my Dr. King Schultz impression around the house. So well written, especially the particularness and preciseness of the words he uses.

Sarah: I look forward to seeing it, because I have heard he is great.

Doug: In the first third to half of the movie, it’s sort of Dr. King Schultz’s show. But as the film moves along, Django and Jamie Foxx really takes over. Jamie Foxx builds to be one of the baddest asses you’ll ever see in a movie. And I don’t want to overlook the slow burn of his performance, which is key to the movie working. But, again, I give Tarantino full credit for manipulating the audience for the big payoff. Even with the violence. Almost all of the bad guy on good guy (usually white on black) violence is played very, very realistically. It’s visceral and super uncomfortable. But most of the good guy on bad guy (usually black on white) is cartoonish and over the top. You’re really cringing at the violence against the slaves. It walks right up to the line, and gets pretty edgy. Even Tarantino has said he had to pull some of it back, because it…

Sarah: Makes the audience too uncomfortable?

Doug: Yes. He talks about almost losing the audience. And not being able to get them back. In the end, this is a movie with a message, absolutely. But ultimately it’s a spaghetti western, a save the girl movie, a classic revenge film. Tarantino wants to pull the rubber band back as far as he can, so when it snaps back and you get the payoff the audience is primed to see it, and they want to see it, they want to cheer it. But you don’t want to pull the rubber band back so far that it snaps and you lose everything. I can’t speak for everybody, because I can completely understand a person who says Tarantino took things too far. But for me, he got it just right. I’d go so far as to say this is probably my second favorite Tarantino movie.

Sarah: Behind Pulp Fiction, of course.

Doug: Of course.

Sarah: Unless Tarantino puts John Travolta in another movie, and makes it like Django, you’re not going to back off that one.

Doug: You have to like that Tarantino is self-aware enough, too, to kind of no what he does well and stick to it.

Sarah: He could probably do a lot of other types of things, and do them competently, probably even very well. But he does what he does so well, it’s great that he has stayed focused.

Doug: Yeah, Django is on my top tier of movies for 2012, along with Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, and probably Dark Knight Rises and even Looper. There are a lot of other good movies from this year, but those 5 stick out in my mind the most.

Sarah: I saw that you liked Looper. It’s nice to see you finally get on the Joseph Gordon-Levitt bandwagon.

Doug: I’m all about some JGL now. JGL is my guy.

Sarah: Oh, and you’ve even adopted the acronym. Even better. You’ve finally come around, even though I’ve been on JGL for a while now. It all started with Inception. I’ve told you about this and you did put me in my place about it, that JGL didn’t actually conceive of this scene, he just played it. But such a great scene. The scene where they’re in the second level of the dream…

Doug: Oh, yeah, Inception. I loved it, even if I still don’t understand much of it.

Sarah: JGL has to figure out how to pull them from the second level to the third level. But on the first level, they’re literally dropping from bridges. There’s no gravity. So, JGL has to figure out what to do. He’s turning the room, he’s on the ceiling, fighting. Then he figures out how to tie his compatriots up, put them in an elevator, then blow everything up so the elevator plummets and they can get to the next level. JGL nailed that entire sequence. He just jumped to a whole new category for me in that movie, and that scene in particular. I knew from there that this guy could do some really awesome stuff. And that’s where I started my “They should put Joseph Gordon-Levitt in every movie” stance.

Doug: Maybe the reason I didn’t latch onto JGL then is because I didn’t understand it then, and I still don’t understand it even after you just explained it to me. Inception was much more about a concept and style, I thought, than so much the acting. Even in Looper, the concepts are big.

Sarah: Well, we talked earlier about actors that are good at picking cool films and attaching themselves to good quality. He’s picking cool films and he’s getting the opportunities to be in them. Even in Dark Knight, he has some moments but he’s not incredibly strong in it.

Doug: Yup, I thought he was sort of just there in Dark Knight.

Sarah: Gary Oldman in that movie, as always, did more with less than just about anybody. But JGL has his moments. Particularly when he’s telling Batman without telling him that he knows who he is, or near the end when he’s helping take down the bad guys.

Doug: He has his moments. Although I have to say I’m not sure as Dark Knight Rises ended I was thinking, “I can’t wait to see a ‘Robin’ series with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Robin.” You just don’t. As opposed to Christian Bale, who was a brilliant Batman. I still wasn’t a JGL convert at that point. Even in Looper, I’m not going to say…

Sarah (laughing): That he should be in every movie? He’s already in a lot, with lots of different types of roles. Lincoln, Looper, 50/50, Batman, several others. He’s able to play lots of different roles.

Doug: I’ll say this, I used to think JGL and Shia Labeouf were pretty much the same guy. But definitely not now. I’m not sure I think Labeouf should be in anything. But I’m happy to see more JGL.

Sarah: And can I say that a lot of my JGL love has to do with his involvement in several small films and projects supporting civil liberties. So, just a few extra points for his cred. He did one where he was pointing out that you have rights to take photos and video of the police at things like protests at the political conventions. They aren’t allowed to take your camera as long as you’re not interfering with them.

Doug: And I would imagine if you’re a Hollywood hotshot walking up to them with your camera, that would be less of a problem than if you’re just some ham and egger from Haw River, NC doing it.

Sarah (laughing): Yes, and Gordon-Levitt was trying to let people know that they have rights. So, bonus points to him for apparently being a cool guy on top of his acting ability.

Doug: Points to him for that, for sure. So, maybe we’ll both do specific year end rankings elsewhere, but for me my top tier of movies would probably be some combination of Django, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty and Dark Knight Rises. Haven’t seen Amour yet, which is promising.

Sarah: And for me, it would be something like Skyfall, Paranorman and even The Hobbit.

Doug: I’ll say this, too. To pick a random movie, I liked Argo quite a lot, but I doubt it would make my top 10, or maybe even top 15, of the year. That’s how strong a year it was this year. And take Argo and throw it into last year’s movie crop, and it might be top 3 or 4.

Sarah: Well, I liked Argo probably more than you did. So, I definitely agree that it would have been one of the movies of the year last year. But I thought Affleck did a great job with Argo, especially with the suspense of the finish of it all. Argo is no Tinker, Tailor, as a comparison, but I’d put it right there on my second tier for this year.

Doug: Well, yeah, Argo is no Tinker, Tailor. Argo is quite a bit more fluffy than Tinker, Tailor. But going back one last time to the strength in the supporting actor category, Alan Arkin could win for one or two line readings in Argo. One of them was one word—“Taco”. The other was the always to be remembered…

Sarah: Argo f**k yourself?

Doug: Argo f**k yourself. If Arkin doesn’t win an Oscar, that’s what he should tell the Academy.

Sarah: You’re right, though, Argo would be ranked much higher in past years than it would be this year. I mean, I don’t know if I’d rank it higher than that black and white movie from last year, I can’t remember the name of it.

Doug: If you can’t remember the name of it, Argo is probably better than it. I think you’re thinking of The Artist?

Sarah (laughing): Yeah, if I can’t remember it, maybe it wasn’t that great, although I’m not sure I’ll remember Argo a year from now, either. For straight entertainment value, though, you can’t argue too much with Argo. Say what you will about it, Argo is well paced, it moves.

Doug: Yes, it does move. And you throw out there sheer entertainment value. I love Life of Pi. It’s really entertaining in its own right. But part of what I love about it is what it represents and the fact that a movie with a nice, simple message like that can still win us over.

Sarah: Yeah.

Doug: And Life of Pi is right up there. But for sheer entertainment, getting the juices flowing, and watching a movie for the love of movies, I might have to go Django as my favorite. If you think Django crosses too many lines, or you think using slavery is too sacrosanct of subject matter to use as the center piece of a cartoonish, spaghetti western revenge flick, I can respect that. But I am with it. And say what you will about it all. If you’re going to do revenge movies, can you think of two groups of people that you’d love to see get their comeuppance more than Nazis and slave owners. You’ve got to give Tarantino that. He does know how to pick his bad guys. Oh, and by the way, my name is Doug. The “O” is silent.

Sarah: And I’m Sarah. The “H” is silent.

 
 

Movies 2012- The Conversation Part 2

Here’s part 2 of our generally pretty random conversation about movies in 2012, where we get into Zero Dark Thirty, the Bond franchise, and even touch a bit on what a good year it was for stop motion films.

Sarah: What do we do with all the good movies of 2012? Are we going to be able to rank them in some sort of order?

Doug: I don’t know if I can do a real order this year. There is probably a good top 20-25, but can I put them in a real order? It’s tough. Like, I just saw Zero Dark Thirty, probably the best reviewed movie of the year. And, for me, well first of all are you going to go see that? I know you’ve said you have mixed feelings about seeing it.

Sarah: I don’t know, there’s two things working against me seeing it, at least until it’s nominated for an Oscar. First, the concept of it all is not necessarily something I’d want to see. And, second, the previews for it don’t make it look all that great. Remember Crazy Heart? That had the opposite problem. Great previews, not so good movie. I think you said Crazy Heart would get an Oscar for previews. But, it sort of stunk. Zero Dark Thirty, the previews are making it look kind of bad.

Doug: For me, having seen it, I may have been too swayed by the overwhelmingly fawning reviews. This is a really, really good movie. But with all the gushing, it’s easy to get caught up in the whole “it’s not as good as everyone says it is” trap. Because it’s a great movie. But I know you’ve said you weren’t sure about how you’d feel about watching it considering the subject matter. Having seen it, your concerns are spot on. There have been a lot of movies made over the years based on real events that tweaked the truth a bit for dramatic affect. But for most Americans, there is probably no story more important or emotional over the last few decades than 9/11. And even though this is just about the hunt for Bin Laden aspect of 9/11 and not so much 9/11 itself, it still colors the way you watch Zero Dark Thirty. I mean, this movie is nothing if not riveting. If it weren’t a true story, you’d be sucked in totally. But you do find yourself wondering, “I wonder if this really happened this way?” and…

Sarah: And how would they know? Most of this stuff still has to be classified. How much of it could they really know they have right?

Doug: Yeah, and unfortunately before seeing it, I read enough conflicting information even about the Jessica Chastain lead character, she being the CIA officer that doggedly chases Bin Laden for years. Some things indicate areas where the film makers didn’t portray her correctly, and some reports even suggest that she isn’t even a she in real life. So, all of this does sort of cloud how you watch the film unfold.

Sarah: It’s got to be a fictionalized thing. And it’s interesting, in a way, to be able to do it in an effective way. Sort of cobble together true information and maybe some things you’ve got to fictionalize. But I do wonder how much I want to buy it or watch as a “true” version of events.

Doug: It’s a great movie to watch purely as a procedural. And even kind of as a pure workplace story, where Jessica Chastain’s character almost starts to be regarded as out there and delusional in her hunt for this one guy. In a lot of ways, the country itself had move on from Bin Laden. The movie portrays the CIA as not devoting as many resources to Bin Laden.

Sarah: He’s barely even relevant at a certain point. Some nice themes you’re talking about here. In some ways, kind of similar to Skyfall, the Bond movie.

Doug: We have to talk about that. With Zero Dark Thirty, as great as it is, I wonder if anything could be as edge of your seat, literally actually, as the famous photo of President Obama and Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton and others sitting there watching the actual raid. No fictionalized account can really make you grasp the seriousness of all of it as that one photo.

Sarah: Yes, just the looks on their faces is something I think you can’t help but be grabbed by. And for a movie to try to match that, it’s tough. And top of trying to do it at all, to try to do it so close on the heels of it actually happening makes it even tougher. How much of the information on what really happen is even non-classified right now. Think about how long it took for the information that Argo was based on to declassify.

Doug: Good point. It’s interesting, because I think part of this movie being made so close in time after the actual events says a lot about how quickly we are moving now as a society, how quickly we’re ready for a movie version of this.

Sarah: Well, and one big reason why I’m a little bit reluctant about seeing Zero Dark Thirty is that I’m not convinced I am ready to watch it. Maybe the rest of the country is, but I’m not sure I am. If I can convince myself purely that this is a fictionalized version of these events, then maybe it would be more acceptable to me to just say, “OK, I’m watching a movie here”, and that’s how I’d view it.

Doug: The problem is, intellectually you can tell yourself that, but you can’t always keep the thoughts about what is real and what isn’t from creeping in.

Sarah: Yeah. The whole time you’d be naturally questioning “is that how that happened?” or “was that person really like that?”. And what are they leaving out, and what are they embellishing?

Doug: It’s ultimately a 2 hour movie, so Kathryn Bigelow had to make choices. You’d likely be more interested in reading an exhaustive 500 page book about it all.

Sarah (laughing): You’d be more interested in reading a 500 page book about it.

Doug: Let’s talk about some more stuff. I know you really liked Skyfall. I did, too, so let’s discuss the return of Bond.

Sarah: I did like Skyfall. Probably in my top 5 for the year. One of the ways I judge how much I like a movie is to ask myself if I’d buy it on DVD when it comes out. And I would buy Skyfall. And let me just say I’ve already purchased Paranorman. That one is already in my house.

Doug: Is Paranorman your movie of the year?

Sarah: It might be close. But let’s go back to Skyfall.

Doug: Can I just say that another guy I really want to see with a nomination this year is Javier Bardem for Skyfall?

Sarah (laughing): His role is so bizarre in that movie. It seems like one of the themes we’ve developed is things are coming in twos. And there are two things about Bardem in Skyfall. The first is that he’s so not the typical Bond villain, at least I didn’t think so. The second thing is, he wasn’t even necessarily the major conflict in the film, which might be part of why I don’t think of him as a typical Bond villain.

Doug: That’s an interesting take, because one of the things I really liked about him is that I thought he actually was a bit of a throwback to some of the older Bond villain types.

Sarah: Well, I think you’re thinking he might be more like a SPECTRE type villain, the guy with the cat, Bardem had a little of that going on.

Doug: Bardem himself said he put a little of the guy who played Jaws in Moonraker, Richard Kiel I think was the guy’s name. The guy with the big grill of teeth. Which was great. And of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, this one was the most throwback-y, with a little tiny bit of cartoonish-ness here and there, even.

Sarah: Well, what they seemed to be trying to do when they rebooted Bond back around Casino Royale the Bourne movies were big, so there was a bit of a shadow there. And you had the Batman movies out there, too. And they were going for a grittier feel with Bond, with all those types of movies. But I don’t think they banked on how much people just kind of wanted their old, standby kind of Bond. Where maybe they were doing too much copying when Bond doesn’t need to copy.

Doug: And you’re taking a pretty big risk if you try to kind of copy, or at least take too much from, other movie franchises. Because you’re probably not going to be able to exactly duplicate what makes that other stuff good.

Sarah: Right, and now you’re getting grief for two things. One, you’re not a real Bond movie. And, you’re not as good as this other stuff you’re kind of trying to be like. I didn’t really think it was a smart move. It might be just one perspective, but I missed the old Bond style. But I’m someone who is willing to defend the Brosnan years.

Doug: Sure. I think Pierce Brosnan was a great Bond.

Sarah: He was a great Bond. Even if some of the Brosnan Bond movies were crap, he was still a great Bond.

Doug: Yes. I think Daniel Craig is a great Bond.

Sarah: I think he is now. But, honestly, after his first two efforts I was not convinced.

Doug: Really? That’s interesting.

Sarah: In fairness to Daniel Craig, I’m not sure it wasn’t that he was bad in Casino Royale, it was more that he was given a role that wasn’t actually Bond. He was given a role that was more like Bourne. You could say the same thing, in a way, about the latest Bourne, The Bourne Legacy. I like my Jeremy Renner, and there was some pretty good stuff there, but it’s not a Bourne movie. And they were trying to make Daniel Craig be like Bourne. But he’s supposed to be Bond. He needs his one liners, he needs his Bond girls. This isn’t supposed to be as deep of a character as they were making Daniel Craig play him. Where was the wit.

Doug: The scene in Skyfall that was classic for that, I thought, was when Bardem has Bond tied up and is getting, shall we say, a little frisky with him. And Daniel Craig plays it completely cool, with a little glimmer in his eye and says, “How do you this…”

Sarah: “Isn’t my first time?” That’s what I’m talking about. A great Bond line.

Doug: And can I say that the costume designer for Skyfall deserves to win an Academy Award purely on the basis of the orthopedic Velcro shoes the designer gives Bardem to sport.

Sarah (laughing): The Double Velcro orthopedic shoes! They were double Velcro. With what appeared to be some sort of janitorial suit on, as well.

Doug (laughing): Oh, my God. It’s gold.

Sarah: And combine it with the weird yellow hair that was just horrible. I don’t even…

Doug: All I know is I wanted more Bardem. That’s all I can tell you about Skyfall.

Sarah: But it’s Bardem with Bond that works.

Doug: You’re right.

Sarah: You can’t have it all work without Bond on the screen with Bardem.

Doug: For sure. But, of course, Bond is on the screen the entire time.

Sarah: Much of the time with no shirt on.

Doug: We can’t overlook that.

Sarah: Just have to lay that out there for the ladies.

Doug: Or the gentlemen, as the case may be.

Sarah: The Javier Bardem-esque gentlemen, apparently. They finally got it right for Daniel Craig with this Bond movie. I was totally all about when “Q” came on the scene. I was all about it. The perfect way to recharge Bond. Have the geek-y computer nerd sitting next to the old school Bond in his suit. That scene summed up for me the point of where they’re going with Bond now. There’s the old and the new and how Bond is going to make it all work. I loved it.

Doug: Paranorman, you loved it.

Sarah: Loved it. The stop motion, I’ll just do a list because it was a good year for stop motion. You had Paranorman, Frankenweenie, and even one I never reviewed but should have, Pirates: Band of Misfits.

Doug: We didn’t see Wreck It Ralph.

Sarah: No, we didn’t. I did see Brave, the Disney offering of the year. A lot of good stuff there. Some good archery in that one, another theme of the year with Hunger Games and its archery.

Doug: Are you a fan of archers?

Sarah: No, I’m not. But my nephew did get a bow and arrow for Christmas, and I was down in the basement trying to teach him how to use it.

Doug: Remind me to wear my protective gear when I’m around your nephew. Wait a minute, YOU were teaching your nephew how to arch? Maybe I need to wear protective gear around you.

Sarah: You might want to consider it.

 
 
 
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