A Review of Frozen

OK, I don’t know what to do anymore. I am apparently out of the cultural loop.

For months, I have heard nothing but praises about Frozen. Everyone told me I needed to see it. I missed because as a general rule, I don’t go to see films with children in the audience unless I am with someone. But others who didn’t have that problem helped this movie gross more than a billion dollars and ensure that the Oscar winning “Let it Go” was playing on the radio somewhere every ten minutes.

And I have no idea why. The movie I saw was not the sort of earth shattering item that deserved this massive following. At best it was an average fantasy that was so in love with itself that it was unwilling to let the audience explore it for themselves. The soundtrack does have one good song (“Let It Go,” because what else would it be?) but the rest of the songs were unmemorable.  And even if the animation is nice (which it is) that’s ultimately meaningless because the film has very few ideas to back up those sequences.

I tried to like it. I went into the moving thinking I would love it. I went in hoping I could finally see what had so captivated the world. Even after watching it, I distrusted my own judgement so much that I went back reading any review I could find to see what I had missed. But I couldn’t shake it: this is the most I’ve been let down by a film in a long time.

Let me start at the beginning.

The story is about two sisters, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Ilsa (Adele Dazeem…darn it, the teleprompter screwed up again). Basically, a long time ago, they used to be friends, but Ilsa hasn’t talked to Anna lately at all. Sorry, Kristen Bell’s presence in the movie brings out the corny jokes in me. In reality, Ilsa accidentally hurts Anna with her unexplained ice powers and so the girl’s parents lock her away from everyone after some talking rocks tell them that Ilsa’s powers are dangerous. Presumably they went on to fill out their “parents of the year” applications afterwards. Anna wants to go back to playing with her sister, but no dice. Anyway, they grow up, parents die, and so Ilsa inherits the kingdom of Arendelle. Did I mention they were princesses? The phrase “Disney movie” should have tipped you off. Anyway, during Ilsa’s coronation, Anna meets a man named Hans, they fall in love and want to get married immediately. So, what comes next could have been resolved if only Vegas style quickie marriages existed. Ilsa refuses to give her blessing and in a rage, unleashes her freezing powers to the horror of the population. She flees but Arendelle is plunged into winter. Anna goes up a mountain to comfort her sister with an ice salesman named Sven, but her childhood experiences with Ilsa’s powers are slowly killing her by “freezing her heart(?!).” Oh, and Ilsa finds time to create a snowman that talks like Elder Cunningham from Book of Mormon and longs to experience summer. He tags along with Sven and Anna. Don’t ask me why. Got all that? I’m not even sure I do.

People have told me that Frozen is so special because it shatters the Disney animated mold. It updates itself for the 21st century with strong female characters and deconstructs the usual Disney cliche of how “true love” will cure all the world’s evil. Also, ladies, you don’t just have to sit and wait for Prince Charming to come whisk you away.

Now, it does to a certain degree and I will give it credit for that. Frozen is more about sisters and that familial bond is what “saves the day” than it is about the princess ignoring her dreams and giving her life to her prince. The main female characters are much stronger in the sense that they are given positions of authority and know how to use that authority. Finally, it’s pointed out how crazy it is to marry someone you have just met. This last part has been part of the Disney staple forever so it’s progress to recognize how weak that is. Oh, also, Prince Charming (Hans) turns out to be a Machiavellian jerk. This last part is historically accurate, so I’m glad Disney wanted to acknowledge it.

But that’s it. The film is so reliant on the rest of Disney’s usual tricks of the trade. Now, other filmmakers do not shy aware from their techniques as much and I understand why. You stick with what works. But Disney’s storytelling methods have a lot of problems. Those changes I described above seems to be Disney recognizing this. Too bad they don’t DO anything about it.

The soundtrack is a great example. None of the songs were particularly memorable and none (except for…well, you get the idea by now) are markedly different from any other Disney song. That’s a problem – if you want to pretend like this is original then certainly thought needs to be put in that area. But they’re the standard “I want” song, in which a character sings about how they wish there life were different, or the “boy meets girl” song, in which a boy meets a girl. Or the comic relief song, in which the comic relief has a witty little number that serves as a break from the “heavy” story. Frozen has all of these songs, which demonstrates how eager it is to follow formula. There isn’t even any sort of commentary on HOW this is similar to what’s happened, which a film that has been described as a deconstruction would supposedly be eager to do. Nope. It’s enough to make me not want to build a snowman.

Yes, that was a lame joke, but that’s more wit than I got watching Frozen. In fact, I didn’t get much because the film didn’t let me. It gave me a nifty little fantasy world and then insist on holding my hand throughout. I don’t know how many times that damned snowman summarized the same plot point for the audience but it could have been turned into a drinking game. And yes, there is a “true love” element that is added, really only for the sake of adding a “true love” element. And a villain (Hans) became a villain with no motivation. And the resolution to the whole “the world is freezing and we’re all going to die” is stopped rather than actually, you know, resolved. Ilsa’s powers are wildly inconsistent anyway. At times she is in control of them, at other times not. At times she is able to build finite non ice things (ice skates, her dress) at other times she can only build gargantuan blizzards with no explanation as to how it works. No one else seems to notice or care that she is able to create life, even if it is in the guise of a clumsy snowman.  Even Josh Gad, which I had heard was the breakaway character, did nothing for me. He was basically recreating his Elder Cunningham role without leaving first gear. I know the man is incredibly funny and that Disney is able to provide big laughs. But nothing connected with me. One of the few amusing parts for me was a “blink and you miss it” tribute to Arrested Development. That’s not a good sign. (For those curious, watch the Duke dancing with Anna in the coronation scene. He unmistakeably performs Lindsay Funke’s chicken dance.)

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I know what you’re thinking: “What about the animation?” What about it? I have no interest in exploring how animation technique has improved to capture water and ice freezing if there is no story to back it up. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of tech demos you can watch that have the same result as Frozen. Having technically advanced animation is step one. You cannot ignore the rest. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, while never acknowledging its huge debt to Jean Cocteau, managed to capture a great story that also boasted some great animation. But I bet no one watching this scene cares about the fact that animation was used to create sweeping crane shots.

No, you care about Belle and the Beast dancing, falling in love with each other. It’s the emotional core that has to be present in any film. “Let it Go” has that moment. In it, Ilsa takes control of her life. That’s the emotional core. And it was supported by the stunning animation of her palace being built. I don’t care about how you were able to animate a tuba players cheeks or a fountain being realistically frozen if there is no emotional investment in the scene.

I know it sounds like I think Frozen is a complete waste. It isn’t. But then your friends and family can probably tell you why it’s good. I cannot. I didn’t find the jokes funny, I didn’t find the characters engaging, I didn’t find the songs that worthwhile (with that one exception…I think I’ve made it clear I’m definitely on that bandwagon) and I found the story dull with too many unexplained elements. I enjoy when a movie surprises me and hate when a movie lets me down. I’m being so harsh because Frozen was squarely in the former category. Disney, if you really want to break out of your mold and get with the times, then go all out. Don’t cross out a few words and insist that you have a new manuscript.

Hate mail to the usual address please.

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My Reaction to the How I Met Your Mother Finale

I wasn’t planning writing a blog about the HIMYM finale, but the reaction to it has compelled me to do so.People seem to hate it, as though a bad finale means that they have personally been insulted. I get that reaction. Unlike a film, a TV show traditionally requires years of following to get to the conclusion. And TV shows more than films depend on their mass audience. So when the finale is bad, the fans of that show feel a level of anger that I don’t think is felt anywhere else. Go ask a Seinfeld viewer what he or she thinks about the giant middle finger they received when they tuned in to watch their favorite characters go to jail for being awful people. Or the Sopranos fan, still mad that the show stopped in the middle of a sce.

I’m getting that same feeling from HIMYM fans. But I disagree with it. I really enjoyed the final episode and thought it was the perfect send off the characters. Yes, the episode was flawed. Yes, there were some jarring shifts that could have been solved with another rewrite. But it was an effective episode to showcase why many people loved the show.

WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS follow for those five of you who care but still haven’t seen the episode yet.

All of season nine told the story of the 24 hours before Barney and Robin’s wedding. That plot was resolved in the previous episode. The last episode showed the time leading up to Ted telling the kids his story – all nine years were told in flashback with the kids sitting with incredible patience on the couch. In those years were divorces (Barney and Robbin were split up in twenty minutes or so) marriages (Ted and Tracy, the titular mother) and children being born (Ted’s kids, Marshall and Lily’s third child, and Barney’s illegitimate daughter that made him swear off his womanizing ways).

It is true that all of this felt rushed. We didn’t feel the years needed to pass in order for these characters to grow the way we saw. That is a flaw. What is NOT a flaw is the fact that they changed. And their actions matched their characters. Barney and Robin had both been unstable and quite immature throughout the show. There were several hints that the marriage wouldn’t work, from Robin’s mother to Barney’s elaborate plans that showed he hadn’t changed completely. To see them finally change and move on was necessary, even if that meant getting a divorce. And if it made people uncomfortable and upset, well, so do divorces in real life. That reaction shows that audiences were invested in these characters. Was it odd that something the entire season had been building up to a wedding that was suddenly rendered moot? Yes, but it was not unbelievable and it was an important part of Barney and Robin’s character arcs.

I’ll address the other main point of controversy in a moment, but I want to take some time to reflect on aspects of the episode I felt were very well done. First, Barney’s arc was everything it needed to be. He finally found the “love of his life” in the child he had always sworn he didn’t want. Before that, he was forever stuck as a teenager, a manipulative sex addict who was so charismatic no one noticed his flaws. Even the announcement of Ted and Tracy’s pregnancy still lead to a boob job joke from Barney. But when he held his child, there was the same sense of growth that would happen with any decent human being. Barney even uses the same lines he had previously laughed at with his friends. Barney never really becomes progressive (note the scene where he chastises women he feels are dressed too provocatively) but at least he’s moving on with his life and realizing there’s more than loose sex.

There were fantastic callbacks to previous episodes that make series finales.  (The hanging chad costume was my favorite, especially when Tracy joined Ted with a Gore/Lieberman sweatshirt.) And it still managed to find new challenges for the characters. Yes, Robin broke away from the gang, but her reasoning at least made sense. Sometimes, to paraphrase Robin, people just drift apart. It doesn’t have to be sad. That’s the sort of simple but poignant observation that drew viewers to the show when it premiered.

Even the mother’s death was handled well. When telling that story, there was a sense of loss from Ted as he remembered why he had fallen in love with her. I don’t have the video to his narration but find it and watch it if you get a chance. Some complained that there was no sense of mourning, but from Ted’s timeline, his wife had died six years ago. It’s realistic that he would remember her fondly and be sad, but he shouldn’t be crippled by grief.  And it was a twist that had been hinted at throughout the entire series:

OK, I’ve been avoiding it. It’s time to talk about the scene that riled everyone.



Now, from what I’ve heard, this ending had been filmed back in season 2 so the kids would be the same age no matter how long the show lasted. This approach was simultaneously smart and dumb. It was smart because it allowed for an unusual amount of foreshadowing that kept people paying attention. It was dumb because everyone was trapped into a corner from the beginning. No matter how the characters evolved, they would eventually have to come back to this moment that had been written long before the show ended. It was impossible to predict what sort of evolution and plot would have to be sacrificed or be addressed. To make any ending work, How I Met Your Mother would need to address that. Maybe it could have been better.

But writing is not based on the desires of the masses and the ending we saw is the ending that Carter Bays and Craig Thomas wanted to give us. So the question becomes – does it work? I think so. For one, How I Met Your Mother is a show that is ultimately about personal growth. Ted as a character had often existed outside of his own stories. Things were happening to him. He didn’t make things happen. That’s why it took him so long to meet Tracy – he thought the universe would just hand her to him. It doesn’t work that way and that finale scene shows Ted figuring that out. He needs to be the master of his own destiny. Also, his new relationship with Robin does nothing to diminish the relationship he had with Tracy. Actually, the scene reveals how important the mother was to Ted. She was the one who revealed how he couldn’t just sit by and wait for things to happen. He had to go out and make them happen. Even his kids were a reminder of that; they were the ones pushing him to call Robin. And it concludes the story that began in the pilot, in which Robin was the object of Ted’s desire. In the end, Ted got the girl in more ways than one.

Any fictional work has to show development in its characters. Ted, in those final moments, matured more than anyone else on the show. Maybe Robin and his relationship won’t last. Maybe it’s a mistake. That’s not important. What is important is that Ted finally took control of his life.

How I Met Your Mother was a rarity for this age. It was a traditional sitcom that ignored many new techniques. It kept the laugh track, it was four cameras, and the characters could have been placed in any number of ’90s sitcoms with no revisions. But it was too charming to be ignored and too poignant to be considered dumb. It’s fair to criticize the ending to any show. But, in the grand scheme, that’s just an hour out of a multi-year run. Even if you hated the ending, think of all the fun times you had on the ride and how it feels that the ride is over.

I, for one, will miss it.

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Noah and its Critics

This is not a review of Noah. As of this writing, I have not seen it. It could be the greatest film of all time; it could be the worst. When I get the chance to see it, I will review it.

Instead, I’d like to focus on some of the wrong writing ups I’ve seen about the film. There are a lot of people who seem personally offended that the movie exists. To them, it is a vicious insult that shows how America is eroding away from the Christian nation it never was. Most of the criticisms appear in one easy to find place – this article from TIME magazine.

That was written by Ken Ham, who you may remember for making a fool of himself in front of Bill Nye by claiming the universe was only a few thousand years old and pulling scientific concepts out of that magical place where the sun doesn’t shine. He seems greatly offended by the fact that the film does not follow the biblical story of Noah literally. According to Ham, Noah adds some environmental themes that were not originally in the story and adds some pagan elements that of course are not compatible with Christianity. He finds it “anti-biblical” because it does not tell the “true” story of Noah.

There are several things wrong with this approach. First, it assumes that filmmakers are required to create direct translations of the source material they are adapting. Anything else is (forgive the pun) sacrilege. This is wrong – by watching a film, you are watching the filmmaker’s interpretation of the events. Noah is no more “correct” than any of Cecil B DeMille’s epics. Second, Ken’s article assumes that any interpretation of the Bible that differs from ones own somehow destroys the original Bible. This is also wrong. Ignoring whether or not the Noah story is literally true, films are not about facts. They are about emotions and thoughts. Your interpretation of The Bible is not destroyed because someone else disagrees. It remains on your shelf to be read and reread at your leisure. Finally, Ken’s belief also assumes there is only one interpretation of the Bible. Philosophers have been wrestling with what it says for centuries and people far smarter than I am have arrived at many different conclusions. To say that this film does not match biblical truth is to assume that you KNOW what that truth is. That’s quite egotistical.  How can you claim to tell people the truth when there is no recognized truth?

I’m going to take each of these in order. The first part is the easiest, because I have dealt with it so many times before. People operate under the mistaken belief that films are photocopies of stories. Whatever was in the book/play/short story/painting/weird dream you had must be present in the film. Otherwise, the film is automatically bad. This is not true – in fact, the opposite is true. I’ll once again use the Harry Potter as an example because everyone seems to. The first two films in that franchise were terrible. They were not willing to explore the world of the books but instead stuck closely to them. As a result, they were pointless.

Obviously, the Bible is far more important than Harry Potter. But the point still stands. Aronofsky has never said that his film was meant to be a literal interpretation of the Biblical story. He took away something different from it than you did. That is his job as a filmmaker. He is showing his point of view regarding the story. And, honestly, he’s been more forward about it than many other filmmakers when they adapt things for the screen.

The second point relates to the first. Just because Aronofsky’s view disagrees with your own does not mean he must be silenced or that he is attacking you. Do you still hold onto your own view? Ken Ham does – he wrote an entirely article about it in a widely popular magazine. So what exactly did Aronofsky do to Ham to cause this reaction?
From what I’m seeing, absolutely nothing. Ham is free to hold onto his ideas and beliefs as long as he wishes. If he’s worried that a film is going to change them, all that means is that those ideas are not as deeply held in his psyche as he would like to believe. It has nothing to do with the film itself.

The third point is the most difficult and the most controversial. I do not claim to be a theologian so I cannot hope to discuss everything about the Bible. But I do know that there have been many interpretations of it and that no one can agree on what happened. That’s why there are so many denominations in the world today. And this is not even discussing how the Bible has changed over the course of the millennia it has existed. It has gone through translations, mistranslations, additions, and subtractions.  So, when he talks about biblical truth, I don’t really know what that is. Is the truth the books t hat was only deemed worthy of inclusion by the Council of Nicea? Is it the text that is only included in the King James Version? Do we have to go back and read it in the original Hebrew? Ken doesn’t say, but I think those are questions that cannot be ignored. Again, Aronofsky added things to what is traditionally thought to be in the biblical story. So what? He has surrendered himself and acknowledged that fact countless times. Ham has not, but if he wants to lecture us on the Bible, he needs to be prepared to face that truth.

I don’t know what Aronofsky’s film does and whether it is successful. But I think that those who go in expecting it to be an exact representation of how you view the biblical story are wrong. Like any other thing, The Bible is open to interpretation. Aronofsky has done that with Noah.  That interpretation is what all religion is based on. Those who say that, “your view is not the same as mine, therefore you must be condemned” have committed a far greater sin than Aronofsky.

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A Review of Muppets Most Wanted

As I explained in my review of the rebooted Muppets movie, my personal connection to the characters trumps my ability to analyze them properly. The Muppets Christmas Carol is one of the first films I can recall watching in theaters and I watched all of the Muppets films from the nineties with my Aunt. Those were special times for me and there is no way for me to not like seeing them again in any format.

So, after the successful first film of the new franchise (called just The Muppets), we now have Muppets Most Wanted.  Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as good as the first go around. Strangely, the film attempts to shield itself from criticism by flat out stating in their opening number that “sequels aren’t as good.” The Muppets have always used that sort of lampshading to escape criticism and it shows a level of sophistication that other shows with children in the audience don’t have.

But it’s not a get out of jail free card, so I’ll go ahead and say it – the plot is confused and completely falls apart by the third act. The songs are largely unnecessary. The film is too long and Celine Dion is one of the celebrity cameos. The Muppets are better than this and have proven that many times.

It starts out with some very good ideas. The Muppets end their first film with the idea to bring their show on the road. Each is far too excited about their telethon and think that all of their ideas will work. This is encouraged by their new manager, Dominique Badguy (Ricky Gervais) who is on the payroll of international jewel thief and Kermit the Frog lookalike Constantine. Kermit tries to keep the show from falling apart, but after he’s kidnapped, shipped to a Russian gulag, and replaced by Constantine, everything turns into a disaster. The Muppets, caught by their own hubris, never realize that Kermit has been replaced by a terrible imposter or that their show has become terrible.

Not only does this plot address the fickleness of showbiz (which was what The Muppet Show was about) but also the changes that people have had to accept since Jim Henson’s death. It may have happened 24 years ago, but people still complain that Kermit’s voice doesn’t sound as it should. The scenes with Constantine watching old Muppet Show tapes and trying to imitate what he hears is a clever nod to that. Finally, the chaotic Muppet show that they perform gets progressively worse, but the Muppets are so high on success they don’t notice. The diminishing returns nearly killed them before. There was a time, after they were still successful despite Henson’s death, that the men behind the Muppets thought they could do anything. and by the end of the film, Muppets Most Wanted is focused more on the caper. This approach leads to many plot holes (how exactly does a 400 year old piece of jewelry disable a modern, computerized security system?) and repetition. The third act has Constantine (still impersonating Kermit) asking Miss Piggy to marry him. Piggy is obsessed with the idea of marrying Kermit – except that already happened in Muppets Take Manhattan is not referred to at all in this film.

This isn’t even getting into the songs, which are mostly weak (save the opening number and the interrogation song). I still listen to “Life’s a Happy Song” and it never fails to cheer me up. I can’t even remember any of the names of the songs from Most Wanted.

Together, these problems lead to the same sort of weaknesses that nearly killed the franchise in 1999. It’s all just so madcap and random without building to a proper climax. The film is weighed down by too many characters. Eighties Robot (a one joke character from the last film) shows up in the background but has no lines. Rizzo the Rat complains about how classic Muppets have been shafted by the new films. (That last line lead to applause in the audience.)  So the filmmakers know where they need to improve – but they do nothing to improve. That’s laziness and no matter how much I love your characters, I am not going to forgive it.

There are some great laughs in the film. Seeing the Swedish Chef re-enact The Seventh Seal is nearly worth the price of the ticket. Sam the Eagle and Ty Burrell are funny together as law enforcement officers from different sides of the pond, as are the Broadway singing gulag prisoners (lead by Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords and Ray Liotta) that Kermit attempts to train for a talent show. In fact, had they just stayed with the road show idea and the gang trying to figure out what they have to entertain people after Kermit disappears, it would have been a much better movie. Who needs the loathsome Constantine anyway to carry a movie when you have Kermit the Frog?

I don’t regret seeing Muppets Most Wanted.  I think it’s just impossible for me to hate The Muppets. But it feels like the franchise falling into the same traps that nearly killed almost all interest in the characters for more than a decade. I was expecting more and I didn’t get it. What the Muppets need to do is step back and remember why people have been watching them for generations. It’s because their simplistic form of entertainment can be quite inspired and smart. Despite a great beginning and some fun ideas, Muppets Most Wanted is rarely as smart as its predecessor.

Oh, and next time guys? More Rizzo and Pepe. Less Celine Dion. In fact, let’s not speak of Celine Dion ever again.

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A Review of the Grand Budapest Hotel

With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has finally made his style seem completely natural. He also seems to be eager to mock himself and his own films. Every shot of Hotel is filled with information and subtle jokes. Still others contain pieces that do not become relevant until the last ten minutes. But it all means something.

Hotel is also the purest fantasy Anderson has created. The plot essentially combines a murder mystery and an art heist involving a dead duchess and a painting titled “Boy With Apple.” It also involves a hotel that has fallen into disrepair and is not much longer for this world – but back in the good old days, it was the place for upper class guests. Yet there are extra levels to this simple setting. The framing device is that the film is based on the writings of the fictional Republic of Zubrowska’s favorite author, and the hotel one of the crowning jewels of the nation before the “war.” Every character discusses the film in terms of this setting, including discussing fictional currency and talking about the famous families of the nation. It works better than any other Anderson film because his characters had to pretend that they were grounded in our reality. I don’t need to describe the performances here (they’re the same as any other performance) but they worked more because the actors were completely free from any constraint.

I’m not sure if this is my favorite Wes Anderson film, but it is absolutely his best.

One of the best things about this film is the fact that people will need to see it at least twice if they hope to understand all the jokes. One thing I noticed was that the symbol for the Crossed Keys – a secret society made up of the best concierges in the world – is introduced long before it has any meaning. Zero (the lobby boy) has a mustache that is only later revealed to be penciled on – one that he does not wear when he ages into F. Murray Abraham. And attempt to fake maturity, maybe? The film never says.

The point is that nothing is advertised as a joke. It depends on people paying attention.

But those punchlines are trivial except to the most devout audience. The Grand Budapest Hotel works because of its characters and their love of each other. Most people have already focused on Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) as the breakout character. And he undoubtedly is because he is so mysterious while being so extroverted. Yes, there are scenes of him seducing older women and he has an obsession with wearing perfume. But we never find out why. So what? He lives his life exactly as he wants to and his background is not the point.

What is the point is how he treats his trusted Lobby Boy and his love Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Now, Moonrise Kingdom was a better examination of prepubescent love. But Hotel is a greater exploration of how those relationships affect us for the rest of our lives. In fact, Hotel could be a man’s fantasy of the life he wished he lived as a young boy – full of adventure, villains, and the father that had been taken from him. Anderson’s films are all about the strange ways that people deal with their most basic emotions. 

It’s hard for me to review films like this because people can guess what they will be like. And they would be right. Of course, when a director’s films can be described with only his name, then he has accomplished something. I sometimes get disappointed that Anderson does not try to challenge himself. But why should he when his style fits the subject matter? His characters need to be absurd to deal with the weird situations. But the weirder they are, the more familiar they are.

Anderson has always had fans, but many people felt his movies were too weird to ever achieve mainstream success. But now an Anderson film has become something to celebrate amongst audiences everywhere. But Anderson has not really changed. We have caught up with him. How does something like that happen? Hotel helps answer that question. His characters are separate from our world. But the stranger they are, the more familiar they become. Hotel’s themes of love, aging, and longing for the good old days are something that many, many films have examined. But Anderson seems to be the only person to make them appear fresh and exciting – and hilarious.

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2014 Oscar Reaction

OK, I’ve had a few hours to think about the Oscar results. The only thing particularly bad was the result for Best Picture.

12 Years a Slave was not the Best Picture of the year. It was not among the ten best pictures of last year. It has several very deep flaws that prevent it from being great. I went over them in my review. The third act was a mess, the conclusion was farfetched, and it had nothing original or insightful to say.

But it pretends like it does.

This blog is not the place to discuss slavery or civil rights. That is far too important a task for someone like me. However, I can discuss the artistic value of a film. And I want to remind everyone – just because a film talks about something important does not meant it is automatically good.

Let’s take a look at what 12 Years a Slave had to say. Essentially, the main message of 12 Years a Slave was “This sure is horrible.” I knew that going in. Every human being with any decency does. Slavery has been explored in countless films (Amistad, Roots, Mandingo, even Django Unchained and Gone With the Wind to an extent). And that is not getting into the list of films that explore post American Civil War race relations. Sidney Poitier presented an award last night. That was the face of a man who shattered barriers at a time when it was almost dangerous to do so.  The release of 12 Years a Slave was not particularly dangerous or even that revolutionary.

It needed something else. Here’s an idea – the people who kidnapped Solomon Northrup were prosecuted, right? And he became a huge part of the emancipation movement. Why not show that? Why not show the trial and show how the two people who robbed a man of his life were not punished for their hateful crimes? Show his slavery and then the trial.  Then, ask whether or not there have been other Solomon Northrups in the past five years. I guarantee you that would stir debate. I guarantee you that would have been different and shocking.

So why wasn’t that done? I don’t know. Maybe the filmmakers felt that emotional appeal would get everyone in the door. And it is a very emotional film. So what? It needs something more.

I also don’t know why the film won Best Picture. Maybe it was an apology for all of those times when the Academy ignored like minded films. The Color Purple still holds the record for most nominations without a win. Do The Right Thing was not nominated and criminally beat by Driving Miss Daisy. AMPAS did a similar thing when the gave the top prize to Crash in 2005. It was a way for Hollywood to seem progressive and smart, even though the fact that we still get Adam Sandler movies greenlit.

The blow of 12 Years’ win was greatly softened when Alfonso Cuaron took home the Best Director award. He deserved it far more than Steve McQueen. And there were no real surprises until the big awards. I am sadly not familiar with the performances that took home Best Actor and Actress. I do want to see those now. And I did not see the winning documentary, but it’s hard to imagine how a film about a singing group is more important than the expose of the military industrial complex.

So, besides my ranting above, were there any other disappointments? Yes – Ellen DeGeneres. She is a smart, funny woman who just seems to love life. But as a host last night, she was awkward and her bits dragged out far too long. Yes, ordering pizza for everyone and having it delivered live is a great idea. But then having plates passed out and watching everyone eat it was just too much. Same with the selfie – that could have been a fun backstage moment. But to drag it out in front of millions of viewers just didn’t work. It was the action of someone hosting a slumber party, not a major awards show.

I know that many people considered Seth MacFarlane to be controversial. I am far from a McFarlane fan, but I thought he was a much more effective host. He was able to simultaneously celebrate Hollywood and mock it for it’s frequent attempts to appeal to the lowest common denominator. And he was equally good at mocking himself. The infamous “We Saw Your Boobs” song was not about nudity but about MacFarlane and how he frequently goes for that sort of laugh.

DeGeneres was just not formal enough. It works well for her talk show but it didn’t click last night. The least she could have done was bought me a piece of pizza too.

Oh well. At the end of the day I guess there are more important things for all of us to worry about. It’s all just a movie, and if someone found value in any of the nominees – well, that experience cannot be taken away from you. And that’s the best thing about the medium.

Well, onto 2014, where I’ll be sure to do this again and complain about H Jon Benjamin’s hosting duties and about the fact Gone Girl didn’t win.

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2014 Live Oscar Recap

Once again, it is time for Hollywood to congratulate on a job well done. It is time for most moviegoers to complain that there’s not enough Oscars given to Marvel blockbusters and it’s time for me to complain about the fact that AMPAS rewarded the wrong film.

Usually I’m joking about that fact. But this year I’m seeing nothing but hype for 12 Years a Slave winning Best Picture. Guess what? It doesn’t deserve to. I’m hoping for Gravity or American Hustle. But honestly, I’ve been having trouble figuring out what will win. The best films this year were also quite unusual to AMPAS voters. Gravity was my pick for the best film of the year, but reads as a science fiction thriller rather than a traditional activist drama. Her had the best screenplay of the year, but is also highly unusual to the average movie goer. I can’t think of Nebraska without smiling, but the theater I saw it in was mostly filled with older movie goers and its humor is not something that translates well to everyone.

I’ve seen stories that AMPAS no longer reflects what the public wants. They’ve been saying that since Wings won the first Best Picture statuette. Quality is not based on the box office returns of a picture, but there is a cause for concern with this trend. Why is it that the public does not wish to seek out these films for themselves. Why is it that these films are no longer cultural touch stones, as they would have been in the past? Is it because Hollywood tends to reward the same types of films repeatedly with little regard for what they’re actually trying to accomplish or without examining whether or not those things have already been done before? I don’t know and I doubt I’m going to get answers to those questions tonight.

But hopefully I will get a good show and see people who actually deserve to be rewarded for their remarkable achievements.

As usual, I will be updating this space throughout the night as winners are announced. I will also be adding relevant media. Keep watching this space starting at 8:30 ET.

OK, here we go. Last year was Seth MacFarlane singing about female nudity and hoping he would be considered a good host when all was said and done. This year we get Ellen DeGeneres dressed as though she’s auditioning to be the 13th Doctor. Or Elton John’s backup singer.

And the first joke she makes is about the rain in LA. I live in Atlanta, so jokes about the weather seem dull compared to the snowpocalypse. Sill, it is rather funny. She points out how the same people that were nominated the last time she hosted are nominated again. And then makes a June Squib joke. I think June had the final word in the film when she lifted her skirt at a gravestone telling the dead guy he never had her. Also, pretty sure Lupita was Mexican…IMDB agrees with me.

And Amy Adams didn’t go to college? I never knew that. DeGeneres seems to be moving away from the pageantry of the past. There’s not even any music. But there are plenty of Jennifer Lawrence falling jokes. And jokes about Jared Leto being the prettiest woman there.

And DeGeneres makes a joke about those who hated 12 Years a Slave are racist. Right…it’s going to be one of those evenings.
OK, Anne Hathaway is first. So Supporting Actor is first? Weird they’d start that way. My ballot is Jonah Hill but I wouldn’t mind the guy from Captain Phillips winning either. I can’t spell his name. Shame on me.

And the winner is Jared Leto. I didn’t see Dallas Buyer’s Club. All I know is my ballot is already screwed. This is going to be an interesting night.

Anyone else still think of this guy as Jordan Catalano? Just me? OK then.

OK, Degeneres is making a Twitter joke. So 2010, Ellen. And a hashtag joke? And don’t speak blasphemy of Kane. Carrey’s presenting, no doubt to complain about the fact he wasn’t nominated in the late 90s and to complain about the fact some movies have guns in them.

Carrey is here to make Bruce Dern jokes and showcase animated films of the past.

Nothing from outside America, of course. and mostly stuff from the past fifteen years. Also Roger Rabbit. I do like Roger Rabbit. But what was the point of that? Come on, if you want to pay tribute to a medium, go all out!

Kerri Washington is presenting. And, hey, they’re performing the nominated songs! Pharrell Williams is performing “Happy” from Despicable Me. I hate when people wear jeans at the Oscars. Come on…how did you even get in? And that hat is not doing you any favors.  Nice enough performance though, especially when he dances with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep.

OK. First commercial. I’ll be back in a few.

OK, Samuel L Jackson and Naomi Watts are our next presenters. Was Watts ever nominated for an Oscar? I can’t remember. We’re up to technical awards now. First is Costume Design. And the winner is Catherine Martin for The Great Gatsby. I’m still kind of mad that wasn’t nominated for Best Original Song. As far as I’m concerned, that DID have the best original song in Florence + The Machine. But what do I know?

Next is Makeup. I just heard the word “Jackass” during an Oscar telecast. My life is complete. The winner is Dallas Buyer’s Club. I guess I was stupid for missing that movie. Let me know when it’s coming to Blu Ray.

OK, I hear the Indiana Jones theme. Harrison Ford steps out to thunderous applause. And I feel excited. Is he wearing an earring? Anyway, he’s here to present the first three nominees for Best Picture – American Hustle, Dallas Buyer’s Club, and Wolf of Wall Street. I did see two of those and they were great. This really is a challenging year to predict and seeing these clips reminds me of that. I want to see Wolf of Wall Street again.

Channing Tatum is up to present the winners of college short films challenge. Best of luck to them in their future careers.

Ellen DeGeneres hates standing on the stage. She’s back in the audience talking about bringing conciliation prizes – lottery tickets for Bradley Cooper. He declines to scratch them. Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey are presenting the award for Best Animated Short film. Wow…Kim Novak. And the winner is Mr. Hublot. The title sounded very similar to M Hulot. I figured it would win.

Now the Animated Feature award. And the winner is Frozen. I just won $20 from someone, I think.

Ellen is back on stage, far off camera. She talks about the importance of hitting your marks. Hehehe…anyway, Sally Field is presenting next. I love Sally Field even if I don’t like Forrest Gump. She’s talking about biopics, essentially. I hope they show Last Emperor clips. But there are a lot of good movies shown. Milk, Lincoln, Captain Phillips, Schindler’s List, All the President’s Men, Untouchables, Argo, Norma Rae, To Kill a Mockingbird, Born on the 4th of July, In the Heat of the Night, Apollo 13, Braveheart, The King’s Speech, Lawrence of Arabia…wow.

Now Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon Levitt. They are here for the Visual Effects award. And the winner is Gravity. Who else? I do think it’s quite bad that so many of what we saw was green screen work. I miss actual physical effects. Gravity was well deserved. Just incredible effects.

DeGeneres is in Zach Efron’s seat, because Efron is the next presenter. Why exactly? I mean, what has he done? Well he’s here to introduce “The Moon Song” from Her. Karen O gets up there and performs the usual acoustic ballad that gets nominated. When I think of Karen O I think of her performing “The Immigrant Song” with Trent Reznor. Just saying. Her song is quite appropriate for Her but why is it that those songs ALWAYS get nominated?

Now Ellen has the guitar and introduces Kate Hudson and Jason Sudekis. They’re hear for the short film categories. First up live action short film. And the winner is Helium. You know, in the past, these would be shown in theaters before the feature. Now we have obnoxious ads with camels telling us to turn off our phones. What happened? I haven’t seen Helium, but I want more exposure for these.

Now it’s the documentary. Why was Ellen holding that guitar? They could make a documentary on that. And the winner is The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life.

Ellen is back in the audience. Martin Scorsese has an iPad. People are applauding over Ellen’s offer to order pizza. Hey, I’ll take pizza. Bradley Cooper is the next presenter. You know, something about this seems so unrehearsed. What’s going on? Everyone is tripping over everyone’s names.

Cooper is up there for Best Documentary. Dirty Wars deserves to win. It’s on Netflix. Go watch it. And the winner is 20 Feet From Stardom. I saw Sting in the clip….that’s something I guess.

Look, Dirty Wars exposed a lot of important information about some of the unethical, clandestine military operations and coverups that the U.S. is performing in the Middle East. It is important. This film is not. I don’t care if one of the winners is singing about God or whatever.

Kevin Spacey is up there and he speaks in the Frank Underwood voice. Evening over. Go Frank. He talks about the Governor’s awards – Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, and Piero Tosi. Angelina Jolie won the humanitarian award. Why are they not giving speeches? I miss those. I don’t want the clips of the ceremonies. Some of my favorite Oscar moments have been the honorary speeches. Like this one:

These clips are just not the same.

One more honorary speech during the break. Seriously – I could do this all night. This one is probably the greatest Oscar moment ever:

Next up is Ewan McGregor and Viola Davis. They’re up for Best Foreign Film. The fact Blue is the Warmest Color was not nominated is a tragedy. I’ve heard it was for technical reasons but…that was one of the greatest love stories ever filmed. Anyway, the winner is The Great Beauty. It’s getting a Criterion release soon. I’ll have to check it out.

Now it’s Tyler Perry, here to hopefully apologize. No, he’s here to talk about Nebraska. What Tyler Perry would understand about quality comedy, I haven’t the foggiest. He’s also talking about Her. What Tyler Perry would know about a quality script, I haven’t the foggiest. Next is Gravity.

Just get off the stage, Tyler Perry.

OK, Ellen changed backstage. We don’t know why. She introduces Brad Pitt. He’s cut his hair since World War Z. He introduces U2 to perform their song from Mandela.

This is probably the best performance of the night. There’s energy and life to the song. Its’ great.

OK, now that it’s a commercial, I want to say how disappointed I’ve been in Ellen DeGeneres as a host. She’s not funny, she’s not engaging, she acts rather awkward. I sort of appreciate her going down into the audience, but that’s not enough. I was surprised by Seth MacFarlane last year. He actually served well as an MC. One thing he did Ellen has not? Given bumpers before the commercial break. That seems so simple but it’s being ignored this year. What’s going on? I know Ellen can be charming and funny and smart. What’s happening here?

We’re back. Ellen is back in the audience. She’s talking to Lucille 2 and they’re taking a selfie. And then Meryl Streep – so they can break a record for most retweets of a photo. Umm…ok. Bradley Cooper offers to take it…and then everyone joins on. Jennifer Lawrence is sitting on Meryl Streep’s lap. OK then…that was rather awkward. Someone let me know if they break the record.

Now Michael B Jordan and Kristen Bell are up to present. Hi Miss Bell. Now are the highlights of the Science and Technical awards. It’s actually quite interesting stuff. But why aren’t these people receiving awards at the ceremony?

Now Ellen, and if she breaks out the phone again, I’m smashing my TV. Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron are out. Hi Miss Theron. Whatcha doing later. They’re here for the sound awards – specifically, Sound Mixing. That is, after Theron’s gaffe. Seriously, was this rehearsed? And the winner is Gravity.

Gravity is sweeping the technical awards, as I expected it to do. Hopefully it wins Best Picture in a few hours.

Now Sound Editing. And the winner is Gravity.

Ellen is back with a scarf. Christoph Waltz is here for Best Supporting Actress. This is going to be interesting. I know everyone wants Jennifer Lawrence to win, but Lupita N’yongo deserves it more. Hey, camera cut out there. And the winner is Lupita N’yongo. Called it.

This is the one award 12 Years a Slave deserved to win. So I’m glad it did. But we shall see how the rest of the night goes. It looks like we’re about halfway through the night and so far I’ve not encountered any controversial choices or huge upsets. But then the big awards haven’t been given. Really, I’m just disappointed in Ellen’s hosting duties.  Actually, don’t bother to tell me if those pictures are being retweeted.

We’re back and the pizza Ellen ordered finally arrived. This is why this is wrong. It’s a funny idea but goes on way too long to be effective. It is amusing seeing Brad Pitt handing out plates.

Cheryl Boone-Issacs, the president of AMPAS, takes the stage. She’s talking about film culture throughout the world. Is she getting pizza? She also wants to talk about the museum that’s supposed to open in the future – 2017. Eh…remind me again in 2016.

Amy Adams and Bill Murray are up next. Bill Murray is openly flirting with Amy Adams – who can blame him? They’re up to present Cinematography – or as Murray calls it, “best shooter.” And the winner is Gravity. Murray, of course, toasts his old friend Harold Ramis before announcing the winner.

Man, the in memorium this year is going to be sad.

We actually only have ten winners left to announce. Editing and Production Design will be next, then songs, then the big awards.

Now it’s Anna Kendrick and whoever played Precious. Editing is next. Although we should just keep Anna Kendrick up there talking. Pretty please?

Anyway, the Oscar for Best Editing goes to Gravity. Which also means Alfonso Cuaron has an Oscar from tonight. But of course he was cut off.

Whoopi Goldberg is up. Yes, she’s still around. And she’s talking about the Wizard of Oz – and she’s wearing the ruby slippers. Because of the 75th anniversary. Then she introduces Lucille 2, who I am incapable of calling anything but Lucille 2. Also, Judy Garland had other kids. I didn’t know that. And then Pink comes up to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Hey, remember that whole “Pink Floyd syncs to Wizard of Oz” thing? Is that why they got Pink up there? It’s a rather tenuous connection but that’s about all I can think of to explain why they selected her.

Great version of the song though. Really great. Not as good as the original, but then, what is?

OK, now it’s Ellen DeGeneres as the the Good Witch. Seriously, in full costume. She’s slightly growing on me. Anyway, Jennifer Garner and Benedict Cumberbatch are up. For Production Design. After this it’s all the big ones – songs, actors, scripts, everything.

Anyway, the winner is The Great Gatsby. That was a fabulous looking film, even if it didn’t understand why the novel matters. Oh well.

Now it’s Chris Evans (Captain America) to talk…about the most popular heroes. Sure, why not? That’s just large enough to justify showing clips from The Karate Kid and Independence Day. Also Star Wars.

That Pepsi commercial pissed me off. “Say hello to my little can?” May you be caught in a burning vault.

We’re back with Glenn Close.  She’s here to do the in memorium. This is going to hurt…I’ll be back in a few minutes.

They included Ebert…

I’m not even gonna criticize the choice of Bette Midler to send them off. We lost a lot of talent last year and we’re still feeling the loss.

Ellen talks about how she crashed Twitter. And then Goldie Hawn comes up. It’s going to be the songs very soon. Well, Score and Original Songs. First Hawn introduces Philomena, Captain Phillips, and 12 Years a Slave.

John Travolta is next, coming out to the Pulp Fiction. Right, final nominated song,
“Let it Go.”

It will win. Great, lively performance of what was actually a pretty complex song.

Now Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel for Best Original Score. What is that on Foxx’s mouth? That makeup? He starts singing the Chariots of Fire theme. The winner is Gravity.

Now for Best Original Song. And the winner is “Let it Go” from Frozen.

Now we’re on the big six. Congratulations to all the winners so far tonight. However, this Oscar night has the potential to go very wrong depending on how this goes. We shall see in a few moments.

Alright, here we go. Ellen is back collecting money for the pizza from Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey. Lupita donates her lip balm.

Robert DeNiro and Penelope Cruz take the stage for the writing awards. First is Adapted Screenplay. DeNiro’s speech is great. And true. And the winner is 12 Years a Slave.

Well…no. You wrote a bad script with poor characterization and a very poor third act.

See what I mean when I said this has the potential to go very wrong? Let’s see if Spike Jonze wins.

And the winner for Original Screenplay is Spike Jonze. Awesome, awesome, awesome. His screenplay transcended what is possible for a screenplay. Congratulations good sir.

OK, the actors are next. Bruce Dern needs to win for actor. Actresses is a toss up for me – I could go with either Sandra Bullock or Amy Adams. And director needs to be Alfonso Cuaron.

Angelina Jolie comes out with Sidney Poitier to present the award for best director. It is also a tribute to Poitier. Hey, 12 Years – that’s the face of a man who shattered racial barriers in Hollywood. And the winner is Alfonso Cuaron. Amen.

Acting awards are next. Stayed tuned. I’m still celebrating Cuaron’s win. Also, yes, I am aware there is supposed to be an accent over the “o” in his name. I’m doing this on the fly – my keyboard is not kind to accent marks.

Now, Ellen asks Matthew how he lost his weight. Daniel Day Lewis is up to present the award for best actress. He wastes no time reading the nominees. And the winner is Cate Blanchett. I haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, so I present this information without comment.

Now, the presentation of Bruce Dern’s award. At least, it had better be. Anyway. Jennifer Lawrence comes out to present the award for Best Actor. Who is she talking to offstage, exactly? Someone I guess was laughing at her. She didn’t fall down this time.
And the winner is Matthew McConaughey. Again, didn’t see Dallas Buyers Club. But Bruce Dern gave an incredible performance of a lifetime in Nebraska. It’s hard for me to imagine how McConaughey topped Dern. It’s funny to listen to McConaughey channel Wooderson in his speech. He even says “just keep living.”

Now, onto Best Picture. I will write a full post show blog tomorrow. I may have a lot to celebrate or I may have a lot to criticize. Despite what people think, I always hope it’s the former.

Will Smith comes out to present Best Picture. This after he won a Razzie yesterday. At least Michelle Obama isn’t crashing the show again.

And the 2013 Best Picture is 12 Years a Slave. No.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

After its almost total shut out tonight I thought we were beyond this. But oh well. I guess I’m going to have to do a lot of criticizing tomorrow. I mean, why? Ladies and gentlemen, 12 Years a Slave was a very flawed film that offered no new insight onto the institution of slavery in America. That is a very important subject that needs to be constantly re-examined. I wholeheartedly endorse that and think that such a large national shame should never, ever be forgotten. But 12 Years did not offer anything original or fresh. It had no new ideas and no new things to say. Had it been released in 1965, it would have been one of the most legendary films of all time. But time and technique has marched on. You cannot expect those same things to work for us now.

I’m going to sign off before I have an aneurysm. Good night and thanks for reading.

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Iron Sky and So Bad It’s Good

The Oscars are less than a week away and I wanted to see something as high concept and ridiculous as possible to celebrate. It’s a strange reaction, I will admit, but can you blame me? It’s nice to take a break before delving into the great Hollywood self congratulations ritual.

So I found Iron Sky on Netflix. I had heard of the concept before, but little else. Then I found out that it was apparently financed based on its premise. I do like this trend – it feels purer than having Jerry Bruckheimer sign off on something guaranteed to make money. I can’t blame him -his stripper expenses alone probably cost the GDP of Burkina Faso.

But it also raises something interesting – can cult classics and movies famous for being “so bad they’re good” be manufactured? That almost seems to be the norm these days. People recruit the internet to turn their slightly outlandish project into a cult item without going through the proper channels. It also gives them an excuse not to try in some aspects. Plan Nine From Outer Space was the best film someone like Ed Wood could make. The Room was the best Tommy Wisseau could do based on his passions and feelings. Iron Sky could have a bizarre plot but still be a well executed adventure film. Or, it could be an ineptly made film that is never boring for a second. But simply saying “space Nazis” is not the end of the matter. It’s the beginning.

Well, the filmmakers chose to make the best Nazis on the moon movie they possibly could. It’s a comedy, yes, but the reviews I saw on Rotten Tomatoes attacked because it never descended into outright camp. There is a Fred Williamson character (who is turned into a white man), but he’s not treated as a punchline. The casting of Udo Kier (because this movie had to have Udo Kier) works because Kier believes in what he is doing. Even the special effects, though completely unbelievable, are not chessy. They would have passed muster in an episode of Battlestar Galactica. It almost makes me wonder why President had to be a stand in for Sarah Palin. That’s probably what throws people off – surely that had to be a joke. But it never goes anywhere and really is just a distraction from the swashes and buckles. The use of The Great Dictator is far funnier – the Nazis have created a ten minute version which they claim shows how Chaplin loved Hitler. OK, so that’s a touch too obvious but it’s a reference that actually shows some thought was put into the script. So, Iron Sky is far better than you would believe. Oh sure, it’s still completely ridiculous and rather inept in its storytelling. But it does us the courtesy of at least believing that moon Nazis could exist.

That’s probably all I need to say about the film, but I think that it ties into the larger discussion well. More specifically, I think that the last sentence of the preceding paragraph is all that needs to be explained about how “so bad it’s good” can work.

The film has to believe in its own premise and not have the expectation of comedy. Tommy Wiseau believed that The Room would be a serious Tennessee Williams-esque drama. Y.K. Kim expected Miami Connection to be a huge blockbuster and a classic kung fu film. Timo Vuorensola wanted to make a great adventure film that paid tribute to the Z-grade Roger Corman films of the past.

But everyone treated Sharknado as a joke that could never be good. Even the tagline of “enough said” demonstrated that they felt snark was the height of wit. There was no need to try to make it good. People would be drawn in by the ridiculous premise. And you know what? Their film was not enjoyable on any level.

I hear there is a sequel to Iron Sky in development. I’ll watch it, if it’s as good and fun as this one. And I view that as a challenge to every filmmaker. No matter how ridiculous your premise, you can still make a good movie if you care. Irony and snark are not the same as quality. It’s really that sort of defeatist attitude that kills a project – someone who draws badly cannot turn around and say that he meant to draw a bad picture.

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A Review of Robocop

Jose Padiha’s remake of Robocop reminds me a lot of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead. On it’s own, it’s not bad at all. It’s flawed, but it has a lot of good ideas and better than average execution. Still, the original explores each of the themes in a much better way.

The original Robocop remains one of my all time favorite films. Yes, really. Don’t give me that look – it was a very smart science fiction film wrapped in the cloak of an incredible action film. It managed to combine religious allegory with an examination on how consumerism destroys our humanity. It also looks at whether a man can ever be treated as a product and shows a way that could happen. And, as icing on the cake, it was a wonderful media satire that frequently interrupted the action with inane commercials that were quite horrifying once examined properly.

The new Robocop should be praised for trying to update its themes for our age. In a time when the U.S. is increasingly reliant on drone warfare and local police departments are gaining access to military equipment without anyone batting an eye, the themes of Robocop are more relevant than ever. But the remake never quite goes for the jugular in the way the original did. Despite its good ideas, it remains stuck in first gear as though it is afraid of holding the mirror too closely to the audience. It almost tricks us – the pre-credits sequence is so great that my doubts about this film were almost erased.

Yet those ten minutes shows what is right and what is wrong with the film as a whole. The only media segments present in the film (replacing the local news reports from the original) are clips from “The Novak Report,” a Fox News-esque show hosted by Pat Novak (Samuel L Jackson) who advises that those who think drones violate our civil liberties to “quit whining.” He then shows scenes from Tehran (which the U.S. has invaded in this future) of the robots who are scanning the local populace. They are scared, but Pat is insistent that everything is A-OK. That is, A-OK until suicide bombers attack the ED-209s from the original film and they kill a kid. After that, Pat is forced to cut to footage due to a request from the Pentagon.

It shows our current world and how complicit the media is to horrific violence and immoral actions taken in the name of security. And all of this happens before Robocop shows up. “Wow,” I thought. “I wonder what will happen when they finally reveal their take on the iconic character.”

But it’s after that happens when the movie stumbles and never recovers.

I’m going to spend the rest of the review talking about the characterization of Alex Murphy/Robocop (Joel Kinnaman).  It illustrates everything about the film – some good ideas are on display but they aren’t as good as what was present in the original.

Unlike the original, Murphy retains his identity and memories. He is referred to as Alex and remains with his wife and son. I thought this would destroy the film completely, but it doesn’t. There’s actually a great scene that owes a debt to Dalton Trumbo and David Cronenberg where Alex begs to die after learning what has happened to him. It was a scene that was impossible in the original film. It’s a great scene, but the film quickly forgets it.

Here’s the problem – why exactly would Alex agree to become a monster and then train to be a fighting machine? The film doesn’t say. Would YOU want to become some sort of robot warrior after a near death experience? Also, I know one of the themes is about how a man’s mind will defeat programming, but Murphy over comes his brainwashing (where he acts like you would expect Robocop to act) with absolute ease. Even the references to the previous film are rushed through. Yes, he does avenge his own death, but it happens in fifteen minutes and we are off to the next plot point. Never mind that that was the entire arc of the first film and an important aspect of Alex regaining his humanity. I also liked Sellars, the CEO of OMNICORP (as opposed to Omni Consumer Products from the original). As played by Michael Keaton, he’s the sort of Steve Jobs figure that makes more sense in today’s climate than the Old Man would. But he changes on a dime and alternatively becomes hero and villain. I know Robocop is supposed to show the unfeeling corporate entity, but it’s  not handled well at all in the remake. As the film goes on, it becomes more unfocused. I wanted more scenes like the one with Alex begging to be killed. But by the end, such moments seemed to be forgotten for quick action scenes and the usual good versus evil idea.

There have been far worse remakes than Robocop. Padiha was brave, taking such a classic film and making it his own. But he didn’t tackle the material with the same excitement that Paul Verhoeven had when he made the original. Padiha is equally capable of making that sort of action satire and I hope he gets his chance. His current film doesn’t hit all the targets that it needs to to be a classic. By no means is it bad, but it had big shoes to fill and doesn’t come close. Still, I can think of worse ways to spend your time. I guess that’s a recommendation.

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The Best Superbowl Commercials of 2014.

Stanley Kubrick used to watch commercials. He was obsessed with the way they could tell a story in less than a minute. Today, he’d probably be even more shocked that we are unwilling to sit around for even that long. Commercials have gotten shorter and there are endless ways to skip them altogether.

Still, the Superbowl brings us all back in time to a point where commercials could not be overlooked. Of course, with that number of eyes on the screen, companies go out of their way to make sure that their commercials are the most memorable things imaginable. Indeed, the Superbowl has become the de facto largest film festival in America, where audiences are taking bite sized pieces of cinema. Besides, does anyone actually care which team wins? I’ve already forgotten who’s playing.

Since everyone else watched and is currently fighting off indigestion and hangovers, I might as well join in and pick the commercials I feel work the best. I won’t buy the products, but I can identify which micro film accomplished their goal.

Additionally, this is a nice exercise to distract myself from the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was probably the most consistently great actor working these days, and for him to be gone is a loss for everyone. I will be doing some tribute in the next few days.

So, counting down from the game, here are my picks of the best from this mad short film festival.

Doritos Time Machine

The commercial is really a rather simple joke, but it’s also quite funny. And it was one of the few that even attempted to tell any sort of coherent story. That’s the ultimate goal of these commercials. Well, that and to sell beer. Still, quite honestly, this is one of the few I’ll still think about so I had to include it in amongst the best.

TurboTax Superbowl Prom

Frankly this is how I feel at every Superbowl. And it reflects that commercials have become more sophisticated. There have always been commercials with commentary on football, but Turbo Tax embraced that fact. And it managed to be almost poignant – why DO so many people watch it when most of the time it turns out to be such a boring event?

Radioshack 80s Commercial

This was one of the more talked about commercials from last night. Again, there was a level of sophistication that I wouldn’t expect from such large brands. It takes a level of courage to admit that your store is an old hat. I think Dave Barry had it right – if a product is willing to use advertising space to make fun of itself, that must mean they are confident in their product. Maybe I should shop at Radioshack.

John Turturro GoDaddy Commercial

GoDaddy’s usual method of salesmanship was female anatomy. This time they went with The Jesus. And they managed to convey a story about why their product is important and what it can give us. It gave this woman a chance to follow her dream. They still had to pay millions for people to see it, but frankly, I prefer approaches like this to, say, Bob Dylan trying to sell me a car. Who would be stupid enough to try that?

T-Mobile Tim Tebow

I don’t really follow football, so I don’t know enough about Tim Tebow and his lack of a contract. Still, whatever the controversy behind it, that came across very well. Maybe that’s why I liked the commercial so much. It could have become a terrible in joke but it wasn’t. I also didn’t expect Tebow to be such a comedian.

M & Ms With Boris the Blade

Yea, that’s Boris the Blade (Rade Serbedzija) threatening to eat an M&M. What I like about this one is the fact that it is so stylish. It could pass as an outtake from Eastern Promises. This is the sort of over-indulgence I expect from the Superbowl, like the famous 1984 commercial. That seems to be rare, and when companies try it, it doesn’t work. That Audi commercial with Lawrence Fishburne is a great example. Here, it was successful.

Axe Peace Make Love Not War

This was a rather surprising commercial. I could not guess their end game. Still, it was probably the best message of the commercials. I think we all sometimes forget that everyone is only human, and Axe accepted our flaws and demonstrated the best things about us. Not bad for a product that exists to make people smell better.

Budweiser Best Buds

If you don’t like this, you have no soul. You might want to check on that.

Finally, everyone seems to be talking about the Coke commercial with “America the Beautiful” being sung in different languages. I thought it was effective, but the ad itself didn’t stand out for me. Still, I am surprised at the response it received. I thought the message was a positive one, that demonstrated how an American company has become the most recognizable global brand in history. Ultimately, it’s stuff like drinking Coke that brings the world together. Simple, yet effective. So why did people get angry? I simply don’t understand it at all, and I don’t feel like trying. Life is too short to let those who are offended by a Coke commercial to bring us down.

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