Friday, July 01, 2016

Happy 100th Birthday Olivia de Havilland!


It's not every day that someone turns 100-years-old, so it's always time to celebrate, but when that someone is a world-class actress and one of the greatest Golden Age movie stars (some might argue the last Golden Age movie star), then it's truly worthy of a celebration.  I didn't quite get time this week to seek out a couple of extra Olivia de Havilland movies, but she's always on our minds over at The Many Rantings of John, and I couldn't let such an occasion pass without acknowledging such a momentous achievement.  Though more famous for her work in Gone with the Wind and her feud with sister Joan Fontaine, de Havilland was a pioneer for the rights of performers (the De Havilland Law barring actors from excessive contracts still stands today) and a trailblazer for the rights of actresses in particular.

So for your work on behalf of performers everywhere, and for giving us Maid Marian, Emmy Brown, Virginia Cunningham, Catherine Sloper, Dowager Empress Maria, and of course Melanie Wilkes, we salute you Olivia de Havilland!  Happy birthday, and here's to 100 more!

Thoughts on She Loves Me Live!

I miss a lot of things from when I lived in New York City.  I miss the food, the people, the neighborhoods.  I miss knowing that I can see any movie that the Academy was going to see if I was willing to take the train far enough, or the thrill of an art museum I've never even heard of popping into my afternoon after a leisurely panini in the park.  But most of all, as a devoted theater fan, I miss Broadway.

Don't get me wrong, I still go to Broadway when I can, but it's not an endeavor that I can afford or that I can venture toward on a regular basis.  After all, finite funds only get you so far in life, and I've been told there are other places I should try visiting other than New York City (I don't necessarily believe such rumors, but they continue to persist).  I do hit my local theaters as often as I can, and I support touring shows whenever they're in town, but there's nothing quite like a live Broadway show to truly spark the imagination and to make, me, well giddier than I normally am under such conditions.

So BroadwayHD's recent decision to air She Loves Me on a live-streaming platform was something that I couldn't really pass up, even I was somewhat skeptical that the thrill of a live show could ever be duplicated.  The idea was that you could watch the show, the actual show that is on Broadway, live.  While Broadway shows have appeared on PBS before, in this case it was months after the fact, and while that's still fun and all, it didn't have quite the same experience as a live program-one where anything could happen, one where you can see the reaction right along with the audience.  I was bound-and-determined to support such a concept and give it a shot, and wanted to make sure it wouldn't be a taped version but instead to watch it alongside the audience, albeit a thousand miles away in my pajamas with a bowl full of popcorn that I wouldn't dream of bringing into an actual theater (I think it's beyond rude to eat snacks in a Broadway house, or even have a drink-that's what intermission or after the show is for).

The program wasn't without its glitches.  There were, especially during the previews but even during the opening number, some technical hitches that people were adamantly pointing out on Twitter.  My computer stopped working, so I had to quickly switch over to my phone (I am literally counting the days until I can get a new computer-46 to go!).  However, after clearly some on-boarding issues (my hunch is BroadwayHD wasn't really prepped for such an interest, but expatriate theater fans clearly wanted this product), the show went off without a hitch and I will just vouch that this was a marvelous experience.  It helps that the show was really wonderful.  Not being familiar with Zachary Levi outside of his work on Chuck, I wasn't sure if he could transfer his charm to the stage, but I was pleasantly surprised to see him transpose to the boards so well.  Gavin Creel and Jane Krakowski both smoldered (seriously-Gavin Creel should keep that mustache as it more than working for him), and Laura Benanti, is well, always perfect but here in particular.  Her "Vanilla Ice Cream" and "Will He Like Me?" were strong enough to make Barbara Cook herself proud, and she nailed the comic timing.  It was a strong choice by the Roundabout and BroadwayHD to go with for the first live-stream-no one could confuse this for the bumpy outings that NBC has made with valuing celebrity over pure Broadway talent for their musicals (admittedly out of a sense of financial obligation), as everyone was on all cylinders here (there was no country star trying to be Julie Andrews), but the story was familiar enough to modern audiences through You've Got Mail to ensure that people who were lay theater fans could enjoy it.

For us devout fans, it was bliss.  Not a single cell phone went off during the production, and while next time I will find a way to either watch this on my TV or my computer (my brother insists he can figure out a way to get me into the 21st Century and learn how to properly stream things-I remain hopeful but unconvinced), and I was able to literally sing along with Benanti and Creel as my favorite numbers from the show came up.  I don't know why it felt more thrilling to watch it live-perhaps it was the actual moments where I was doing the same thing during intermission I would have done in a show (texting, tweeting, grabbing a cocktail), or that you could see the same things you would in an audience, your eyes shifting focus around the stage and wondering how an actor will react to a flub of the line or a prop gone wild (Laura Benanti got that one when her ice cream fell off of its spoon and she, without missing a beat, grabbed it and ate it off her lap, making it not only seamless but also realistic as we've all been there).  This was a very special night, and an historic one for Broadway.  I did miss getting into my chair and clutching my Playbill, anxiously looking at the next number wondering when one of my favorites was going to pop up, and there's nothing quite like looking up and seeing someone you've admired for years like Benanti or Krakowski live, but for a Broadway fan from Minnesota, this was easily the best $10 I've spent in eons.  I'm hoping this catches on-whenever there's funds for such an adventure I'll be heading to Broadway, but it would be a true joy to have the option to see a show that I can't quite get to streaming into my home.  Make it happen, BroadwayHD!  And if you're in NYC, catch this before it closes on July 10th, as the show is divine.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

My Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday, and like a lot of single people my age, I don't really celebrate it.  I genuinely don't like celebrating it, the reasons for which I've illustrated here.  I occasionally will be a little bit relaxed in my usually very stringent spending budget and probably will have french toast, but by-and-large the only thing that I truly do on my birthday is take the day off from work as that's a truly lovely present (and because I get way too many questions about "why are you not celebrating your birthday?" which makes the day far, far worse and lonely than it needed to be, and if you need to know more about that, I already gave you the link).

Anyway, though, I do want to occasionally make lemonade on my birthday, and so I have made an annual tradition of making a list of wishes I have for the world, particularly the world around me, on my birthday, and hoping that by trying to "Secret" myself into the world I get at least a couple of them to come true this year.  We'll arbitrarily pick 32 things to wish into the universe in 2016 for no particular reason.  Below are my wishes-enjoy!

1. Hillary Clinton is elected the first female president of the United States of America in November, preferably by an enormous landslide to make me feel better about a country that nominated Donald Trump by an uncomfortably large margin.

2. Trump's lack of coattails costs the Republicans the Senate and the House, and Clinton's agenda gets to actually happen before Democrats inevitably forget how to vote in the Midterms.

3. That Chuck Grassley, who should have confirmed Merrick Garland in the first place, is the shock loser of the night in November when Iowa sends him packing for not doing his job.

4. That Chuck Grassley is forced to confirm Merrick Garland during the recess like he should have done in the first place.

5. That the country recognizes that meaningful gun control legislation has nothing to do with stopping you from owning a rifle for hunting or target-practice, but simply means that we want to make sure that background checks are implemented with all gun purchases and that weapons that are clearly meant for killing people and not hunting are made illegal.

6. That we stop having intensely xenophobic conversations about immigration, and instead pass meaningful immigration reform that recognizes the truth that millions of hard-working people have lived in America for years, if not decades, in the shadows out of fear from a system that doesn't advocate for them, despite clearly having been in the United States long enough to call themselves Americans.

7. That we acknowledge that there is a racism in our criminal justice system, and actually introduce meaningful legislation that keeps all people safe and ensures that justice is truly blind.

8. That we pay teachers more, and give them the resources they need (including arming parents with ways to better be advocates for their children and the teachers who spend so much time with them), to ensure that our education system does not stagnate, but instead flourishes for all people, regardless of how much property tax they pay.

9. That we acknowledge that there is still homophobia and transphobia in our society, despite the great progress we have made in recent years to curb these prejudices, and that there is still a long way to go in terms of legislation to address these prejudices, such as passing ENDA through Congress (hopefully with Hillary Clinton's signature...or even more hopefully with Barack Obama's).

10. That Britain finds a way to cope after the Brexit vote, and that other countries don't copy their short-sightedness, but instead see the value of unity.

11. That voters start to value facts more, and that in particular the media actually values facts more, and not just ratings and trying to appear "non-partisan."

12. That China, the EU, the United States, Russia, Brazil, and every country of the world see the enormous affects that pollution and climate change are having on our ravaged planet, and implement sharper, stronger legislation to curb these attacks.

13. That poachers of endangered species around the world either see the error of their ways or are eaten by a tiger.

14. That the Olympics are safe, secure, and show that the world can unite in a truly wonderful fashion each year. That the world realizes we don't need to hand out shiny medals to achieve that kind of unity.

15. That people take science and the space program seriously, and start a new wave of progress, reaching Mars (and beyond) and finding cures (not just treatments, but cures) for diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and diabetes.

16. That peace finds its way to the people of Syria, North Korea, Sudan, and all places ravaged by war, dictators, or terror.

17. That Hollywood stops making sequels to movies that didn't need them, and can get back to creating strong, original content for the Summer blockbuster season as this year was a total disaster in that regard.

18. That broadcast networks can make shows as good as Lost, Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, or 30 Rock again and rely less on the same brands and repetitive plots/casting.

19. In fact, I'll settle for any network making a show as good as Lost again.

20. That we finally get a release date for the third season of The Leftovers and that the series end as brilliantly as it's been the whole time.

21. That Bryan Fuller magically gets $5 million from some benevolent Pushing Daisies fan and we get the proper sendoff that greeted Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls.  Also, that that Gilmore Girls reboot is good.

22. That the Dixie Chicks are so inspired by their recent tour that they decide they simply must make another original album that was as good as the last one.

23. That Jo Rowling's endeavors into expanding the Harry Potter universe through stage and screen are just as magical as her first attempts at this beautiful world.

24. That Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Fassbender, Oscar Isaac, and Charlotte Rampling all continue to get mesmerizing work and feel a sense of appreciation today.  Oh, and an Oscar.  Give them all an Oscar.

25. That #TeamMichael ends up winning on Jane the Virgin.

26. That Melissa McCarthy continue to make exquisitely funny films with Paul Feig.

27. That She Loves Me's live broadcast be everything I'm hoping it will be, and perhaps that streaming of Broadway plays becomes more common toward the end of a run for both the posterity of holding onto the live performance as well as so that those of us who don't live east of the Hudson can enjoy a bit of the magic of Shubert Alley without a plane ticket.

28. That Al Jean and Fox come to their senses and start releasing Simpsons on DVD again in the same casing because my OCD is starting to go into hyper-drive.

29. That AMPAS realize that access to the cinema it rewards is becoming lesser, not greater, in the age of Netflix, and that they push to try and ensure that all of its nominees (and as many films in general) are available to the widest possible audience that wants to access them.

30. That Neil Patrick Harris doesn't ruin the new Lemony Snicket reboot.

31. That Andy Murray could actually win the Australian Open or French Open.  Preferably both.

32. That I would find the strength of mind to stick my diet, finish my novel, blog twice daily, and find a boyfriend, preferably one who is kind, funny, and has the good sense to only ask questions during the commercials of the Oscars and not during speeches.

So if the cosmos or any parties involved could get on any of those, that'd be great.  Happy birthday to me!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

OVP: Editing (2007)

OVP: Best Film Editing (2007)

The Nominees Were...


Christopher Rouse, The Bourne Ultimatum
Juliette Welfling, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Jay Cassidy, Into the Wild
Roderick Jaynes (aka Joel and Ethan Coen), No Country for Old Men
Dylan Tichenor, There Will Be Blood

My Thoughts: Starting back into the 2007 we get into not only the hardest of the six visual tech categories to discuss, but also the one that will introduce us to all of the nominees we'll largely be discussing over the next (in my mind) month or (based on past precedence) eight months.  All five of these films would go on to be nominated in multiple other categories at this year's Oscars, and will be a cornerstone of our conversation, editing being the category that most associate with the Best PIcture nominees (though this year only two could boast that title).  Let's dive in, shall we?

I'm going to start with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly because it's the picture that you're, through process of elimination, probably figuring out is the haunting image of the Virgin Mary up-top.  The film itself, despite being hailed as relatively groundbreaking at the time, is not often discussed anymore, and I kind of think that that's because it's one of those movies that wasn't that good to begin with.  You can see that in the editing, which is tricky and therefore showier than you'd normally catch (how we slowly learn more about Jean-Do's world), but the film is more a mastery of actual camerawork than of being an actual cohesive film, and frequently we feel like we're exploiting Jean-Do's inner world, rather than actually finding something remarkable going on within it.  I feel like the editing leads up to the tragedy of his stroke in a way that feels obvious and doesn't let us spend enough time getting to know the characters around Jean-Do, just his opinions of them.  All-in-all, the film is too stylishly-edited and should have told a more natural story, letting the cinematography take the lead when it comes to vision.

Into the Wild suffers from a similar problem, since anyone who has read this novel knows essentially how it will end, and the film is too reliant on quick cutaways in its editing to tell its story naturally.  What I really liked about this film was the two lead performances, and I actually genuinely enjoyed this movie (mostly because I love adventuring), but from a filmmaking perspective there's a great deal of work to happen here before we can call out the plaudits as appropriate.  There are convenient, obvious cutaways when the film is trying to strike its own beaten path (the ones that cut back to Chris's parents in particular stand out to me as a bit cloying), and I felt like the film slices too much up the performances of say, someone like Vince Vaughan, because that portion of the script is weaker and the editors don't really know how to incorporate it into Penn's vision.

The same cannot be said for the sturdy work of No Country for Old Men, though in this case they have the advantage of being the directors (anyone else desperate to see what the Coen Brothers do if Roderick Jaynes ever wins that Oscar?).  The story of No Country for Old Men is immaculate, and that's in large part due to judicious editing.  The fact that so few of the main characters share a scene in the film, and the one character that ties them all together isn't the character that you suspect-that's a triumph, and it's tricky because you feel like the characters have, in fact, met.  There's also the great way that we see, say, Woody Harrelson's expository dialogue feel natural to explaining Anton Chigurh and I loved how the establishing shots felt less like "look how pretty" and more like "this is the end of the world."  The editing here is sleek, trim, and almost all necessary-there are no open questions or extra scenes hanging around dragging No Country for Old Men down.

I did not feel the same way about The Bourne Ultimatum, which I just didn't get the appeal of in the way other critics did.  I didn't felt like the editing was slicing toward a common purpose, and the action scenes, while impressive, didn't jive with the rest of the movie.  The problem is more upon the screenplay, admittedly, but we see the same scenes over and over again with little interruption in how the characters are handling what is going on on screen and there's very little enigma about what comes next.  The editors also are in part in charge of the story, and the fact that they are constantly spending more time on the rat-a-tat of dialogue explaining backstory rather than allowing the film to exist on its own shows that the movie perhaps needed to figure out a better way to handle its expository work since this is a sequel and that's necessary but almost always clunky.

The final nomination is There Will Be Blood, a conundrum for an editing award as Paul Thomas Anderson's films never feel all that edited-I mean, they're so long one wonders what exactly was cut out.  Still, There Will Be Blood is a monument of filmmaking, and part of that is dependent on the judicious pace of the film established by Tichenor.  He manages to keep, say, the Eli/Paul question open for most of the film, to the point where you genuinely aren't sure if he will return to that story or not (or even if it's something we imagined), and is so deliberate in the way that we approach Daniel Plainview, where he's both clearly open about most of his intentions toward humanity and yet he is able to shock us, that it cannot be said the film doesn't clearly have a smart man in the cutting room.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Eddie Awards have nominees for both Drama and Comedy/Musical, so nearly all of the Oscar nominees managed to land here.  The one exception would be, in Drama, where The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (a foreign language film, not a favorite of the American Cinema Editors group) was ousted in favor of Best Picture nominee Michael Clayton (The Bourne Ultimatum won the trophy).  Sweeney Todd emerged the favorite over in Best Comedy/Musical, a rare case where the musical portion of that title came into focus, besting Hairspray, Juno, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and Ratatouille.  The BAFTA Awards went largely in a different direction (though they too gave the trophy to Bourne), picking only Matt Damon's picture and No Country for Old Men in their lineup, giving more love to Michael Clayton, Atonement, and American Gangster.  It seems relatively obvious that Michael Clayton was the sixth place, and I'm kind of flummoxed how the movie couldn't land with Oscar considering it's a pretty showy-looking Best Picture nominee.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Now is where I show a few of my cards in how I'll be treating the 2007 lineup, isn't it?  I am a sucker for tracking shot, and Atonement's has a doozy of one, and I loved some of the ways they handled full-on close-ups, so I would have included that in the list, as well as the masterful work done in David Fincher's forgotten masterpiece Zodiac, where again we see the story of multiple different men (similar to No Country for Old Men) and we watch as one-by-one they falter to the same doomed passion.  Finally, I think it's a miracle when a film like Away from Her can find such a beautiful balance between relatable and yet not too sappy, which is kind of what the film does, and all as we slowly watch Julie Christie's character spiral into dementia.  It's not the kind of movie that typically grabs an editing nomination, but it probably should be.
Oscar's Choice: Oscar, like BAFTA and ACE before it, couldn't get enough of what was (supposed to be) the swan song for the Bourne franchise, picking it over the Best Picture contenders.
My Choice: No Country for Old Men is an easy choice, as it's near perfect and that's in large part due to the editing.  I'd follow that with Blood, Wild, Bourne, and Diving Bell.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Do you feel like I was wrong in discounting Bourne or are you siding with me for the imaginary Roderick Jaynes?  Why do you think Michael Clayton was skipped in this lineup even though he clearly had momentum?  And is there ever going to be a year where this category leans toward films that star women?  Share your thoughts below!

Past Best Film Editing Contests: 2008, 2009, 2010201120122013, 2014

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why I Hate This Election

I love politics.  Love.  It's one of my greatest passions in life, and I particularly love the thrill of watching an election unfold.  Studying polls, staying up late on election night, reading and projecting and trying to find the tea leaves to figure out if my candidate will ultimately win.  There's no greater joy for me than on election night, after a tight campaign, seeing that check name next to my candidate, or the anguish of knowing that it's gone next to their opponent.  I've watched every election night since I was eight, writing down results as they tracked in, and it's a hobby I will probably have until the day I die.

But this year is different.  I don't say these words lightly, and will admit wholeheartedly that I've never said them before-I hate this election.  I hate every aspect of it, and I want it to be over.  I didn't like the primaries, at all.  I thought the Democratic Primary showed a nastiness that even the worst days of the Obama/Clinton race in 2008 couldn't have come close to approaching, particularly in the way the Sanders camp disregarded facts and the way Debbie Wasserman Schultz kept giving the Sanders camp ammo with her ridiculous debate schedule.  I truly despised the ugliness of the GOP Primary, particularly watching as a bunch of the most accomplished men in the party clung to conventional wisdom when clearly polls were showing them what was coming.  I hate the start of this general election, the way that the media has decided that they have to have a horse race and so constantly trumpet about these being the "most unpopular candidates EVER" even though the most popular candidate ever at this time of the election, or at least the one who had the best positive/negative ratio was Michael Dukakis, who went on to be routed in the general so popularity is worth squat in June.

But most of all I hate what Donald Trump has done to this most hallowed of American traditions.  I am genuinely, truly terrified of Donald Trump winning.  I can comfort myself with knowing that the polls show him completely down, by numbers that Mitt Romney didn't even suffer in 2012 at this time, but I know that that can change in an instant, and polls have been wrong.  Just look at Brexit this past week, where essentially the UK was so desperate for a change in its government that it was willing to throw away its entire future in hopes of finding some sort of change in the world.

I didn't feel this way about Mitt Romney, John McCain, George W. Bush, or Bob Dole.  Not once.  Don't get me wrong, I despised most of these men, particularly Bush and Romney, and thought they would be terrible for the country.  They stood for beliefs I couldn't have even imagined aligning myself with, and I felt that they also relied on some of the same belief systems that Donald Trump has tapped into, even if they did it without his bombast or rhetroic.  But I never doubted that they were ready for the presidency.  Whether through their decades of experience or with surrounding themselves with a strong team or their strong grasp on the issues of the day, I knew that they respected America's role in the world, that they knew what being president meant to our citizenry and though they would go about it in different ways, they would not put the country in such danger where you worried about the safety of every citizen.

I can't say that with Donald Trump.  I am truly terrified of what he will do with a literal army to back him and access to the nuclear codes.  This is a man who has shown no restraint or ability to grasp complicated situations even when he's clearly trying.  His speeches on foreign policy are a joke, tantamount to him reading off of notecards-he clearly doesn't know what he's talking about, but thinks that he does.  He has no foreign policy experience, and is quite frankly not smart enough to be president.  We've had men who weren't as intelligent as, say, Bill Clinton sit in the White House but they showed a capacity to learn and to grow, which Trump seems incapable of doing, and surely won't be willing to do when he is the "most powerful man on earth."  He is a dangerous, thin-skinned narcissist, someone that openly trades in bigotry, sexism, and lies to try to win people to his side.  And as was witnessed in Brexit, telling people what they want to hear, even when it's clearly not going to happen, still can win you the election.

I worry that I'll never be able to look people I know in the eye in the same way after this election, quite frankly.  I have never voted Republican in my life, but I can respect people who do.  I can respect people who are pro-life, who want a more limited government, who want to rely on a more robust national defense, and who want to embolden the private sector in hopes of creating a more sustainable economy.  But I can't respect someone who voted for Trump, knowing how dangerous he is and the views he espouses.  I finally realized someone who is, in fact, a Trump supporter that I have known in my life and I realized all respect I had for them is lost, probably forever.  I keep thinking about people in my life that are "undecided" or say "they're both the same" and I can feel my opinion of them falling to the point that it won't get back to a place I'll ever really be able to take them seriously.  I imagine that it'll be impossible to forgive them if Trump wins and they decided they couldn't bring themselves to vote for either he or Hillary Clinton.  The election is shaping my opinion of other people in a way I never really thought it would in the past as I prided myself on not being one of "those political junkies," which feels like one of those nasty side effects of partisanship that I felt I was immune to in past elections.

I have said this many times before, but if Kanye West was running against Jeb Bush, I'd vote for Jeb Bush.  I would cry about it, I would hem and haw and pray for a third party candidate, and I would openly weep for the candidates that are placed before me and would count the days until I could stop his reelection, but I'd vote for Jeb Bush because voting for a narcissist who has no grasp on his role in the world is unthinkable to me, and I could not put other people in danger just because I don't personally like a candidate.  I am hopeful that that's still the case for undecideds in this race.  I hope that as the months wear on, and names like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson become more historical footnotes and not real options that people will find their way to casting a valid, valuable vote and not a protest one (because, again, we saw how that turned out in the UK).  I hope that I will eventually rest easy enough in polls that Hillary Clinton is going to win that I will pay attention to down-ballot races and not break out into a nervous panic every time someone brings up the election.

But I'm confident that even if she wins, I'll still have a tinge of "I can't believe you would take that risk" with people who skipped voting, as if that ever sent a message to anybody.  And I know that I will not cry out in celebration when Hillary Clinton is projected the winner, but instead say a silent thankful prayer to God that we averted castrophe.  Donald Trump is a dangerous, dangerous moment in an election that, truly, is the most important of our lifetimes.  This will be an election your grandchildren will ask you how you stood.  You can hate what he's done to our election this year just like myself.  But don't let hatred blind you to your civic duty to vote such an odious man as far away from the Oval Office as possible.  Whatever dislikes you may have for Hillary Clinton, the alternative is far, far, far worse.  

Ranting On...Game of Thrones and Veep

(SPOILERS AHEAD FOR LAST NIGHT'S GAME OF THRONES AND VEEP)

For years now, my favorite night of the week has been Sunday nights in terms of television.  That has meant different things at different times (Murder, She Wrote, Desperate Housewives, The Simpsons), but it has meant for the past few years HBO original programming for at least a good chunk of the calendar.  Perhaps no part of the year has meant that more than when I got the double-feature of Game of Thrones and Veep.  Sometimes I'd watch both live (Game of Thrones really has to be seen live), but the finales I always stay up late and watch in real-time, just so that what the entire season was building toward I can actually take it in and process.  And usually that's a reward worth watching.  Whether it's Selina Meyer getting her opportunity to become president on the same night that Arya sets sail to the West, or the dramatic twin cliffhangers of a stabbed Jon Snow and a presidential tie, these shows know more than any the way to my heart and have always ended their seasons on enormous high notes.  Until last night.  I have many thoughts about last night, but the reaction is tinged with a little bit of "ehh" and also a lot of "I don't think so" in the case of one of the finales, and so I'm going to get that out into the universe as we begin our Monday morning.

Game of Thrones-I think the thing that really stuck out to me about Game of Thrones was the first thirty minutes were SO much better than the rest of the episode, it was kind of ridiculous.  That rocking cello music meant we knew something extraordinary was going to happen, and I loved the way that they played with us a bit, having the Mountain show up at Tommen's door (you knew the second Tommen betrayed his mother he was going to end up dying one way or the other), making us think that Cersei had her own son killed to save her neck only to realize once again she was saving his life, or the look on Margery's face when she realized that she had been vindicated, all of the high nobles and religious fanatics of King's Landing being destroyed in a sea of wildfire, but she had to die to get there.

And yet, those moments, as brutal as they were (Margery's death easily being the most shocking since Robb Stark's three seasons ago, and one few if any people actually predicted), they felt a little bit tagged on with the rest of the series.  It's hard for me to say this about a show that has largely been able to discard the obvious in season-after-season (so many unexpected deaths), but that's not really true, is it?  Since the Red Wedding we haven't really experienced a particularly shocking death on the show until last night.  Tyrion killing his father makes sense, as does Jon Snow dying and coming back to life (everyone predicted it), and in general nothing particularly galling has happened in the past few seasons save for Ramsey, and that story-line needed some work.  Don't get me wrong-some of the past few seasons have been my favorite bits of television for those years.  After all, the acting on the show has gotten tremendously good, with the series accidentally stumbling across two very great child actors (Williams and Turner), a thespian of enormous skill (Headey), and potentially a new matinee idol (Harington).  But the question here is what happens next.

The rest of the episode, after all, went exactly as planned.  We knew Lady Olenna would join with Dorn, we knew that Jon would be proclaimed King of the North, we knew Baelish would confess that he wants Sansa as his wife, we knew Arya would come to the Riverlands and kill Walder Frey, and we knew the true parentage of Jon Snow.  All-in-all, everything else that happened was in a dramatic fashion, and occasionally beautifully-acted (Headey ascending the Iron Throne being a particular highlight), but the course before us is relatively simple, and don't say on Game of Thrones that nobody is safe, because there aren't really a lot of options here.  It's either Dany, Jon, or Dany/Jon.  HBO is too big of a television network to watch Westeros fall complete prey to the White Walkers, and they have made Cersei too great of a villain to not eventually offer her to the sword of her brother or Arya Stark.  Yes, we'll likely see some major characters in the next two seasons falter (Cersei, Jamie, Baelish, Brienne, and even Tyrion come to mind), but it will almost surely end with Dany and Jon sitting on the Iron Throne, or its proxy.  Keeping someone like Margery Tyrell, who never really got to fulfill her promise as a character, around was a gambit and a wild card.  This season was all about killing off every beloved side character that the show could think of, but it would have been more interesting if they'd kept at least one character around such as Margery (perhaps pregnant with Tommen's baby) to keep us guessing as to the ultimate ending.

Also, watching Finn Jones get carved to pieces by religious fanatics, followed by being blown apart was a bit jarring in a way I hadn't anticipated (I had, after all, predicted Loras would fall this season) considering how hatred toward gay people in recent days has been all around us.  Renly, Oberyn, and now Loras have all died horrific deaths.  Here's to hoping that Yara Greyjoy can at least carry on as the only living LGBT character on the show, but it's disappointing they couldn't let at least one male character make it through without intolerance or lack of intelligence taking him down.

Veep-I can chalk up in some ways my general malaise about the Game of Thrones finale to perhaps a bit of anguish over its imminent demise.  The final few seasons of any show exhibit a decline in quality (for my opinion, most long-running television series have their best season in season 4, as the first couple of years are growing pains and the last few are tying up loose ends, but season 4 is almost always the best of the bunch), but Game of Thrones has by-and-large been my favorite show on TV since its start six years ago, and that didn't change last night or this season-it's still appointment viewing and one of my favorite things to watch each week.

Veep, on the other hand, had me deeply conflicted last night.  Veep has long been a show that I have run hot-and-cold with, and it's perhaps because it is too close to something else I love.  I adore politics and film (TV I only love if it's a select show, not a blanket love like the cinema), so whenever the two combine I am either going to be enthralled (The West Wing) or completely loathe (House of Cards).  Veep, so funny and brilliantly-acted and generally well-written, has mostly been love but occasionally they make me so frustrated I feel like I can't actually keep watching.  The end of last season I remember vowing to myself if they made Selina Meyer lose the election I would give myself permission to quit watching, and then they gave us the tie and I was forced into/blessed into another season, one that gave us some really great patter (Dan/Amy, Jonah for Congress, Sue running the world).  The end of this season, though, when not only Selina but also Tom James are out-maneuvered, is ridiculously over-the-top and badly misjudged the audience's want for Selina Meyer to get her comeuppance.

I watched last week impressed, but knowing that the likely answer for the next season was going to be Selina Meyer becoming the VP again, perhaps for a few episodes, and then Tom James dying or being forced to resign so she once again accidentally becomes president.  This week Tom James was out-maneuvered by Vice President Doyle, who breaks a shock tie in the Senate and actually casts a vote for the opposite party.

I'm sorry, but that doesn't happen, period.  The reality is that there would be huge public media whips of the members of the Senate over this vote and enormous pressure from the media to forecast what would happen on the Senate floor.  It wouldn't be a surprise, end of story.  All Democrats from Meyer states (come on-it's obvious she's supposed to be a Democrat even if they never say the party label) and all Republicans from O'Brien states would be forced to support their nominees or risk being castrated their next primary.  The swing votes would be Democrats from O'Brien/Republicans from Meyer, but those would be relatively few in a true political system, and would have been heavily targeted by James and the press, and quite frankly they probably would have supported their state's nominee in almost all cases because that's what would have happened.  The fact that they could be surprised, again, is ridiculous after last week's House vote.  And if there's one thing I hate on a television show is when they have to suspend the show's reality in order to give us a twist in the plot-it's lazy writing, and extraordinarily disappointing without having some other invisible shoe drop.  Say what you will about Game of Thrones, but at least everything last night on that program made sense.

The other part is: we didn't want Selina Meyer to lose.  The show's producers are saying they will now explore the life of an unpopular former president, but we already know how that works because we saw it in the show's first three seasons, which were never as good as the ones where Selina Meyer, fully unprepared for the job but clearly in command, was the president.  We saw that she had little respect, was overshadowed by another person, and that's a tune every one of us has heard over-and-over again. A series of book tours, unimpressed secret service agents, publicly being derided by former members of her administration, and things like that I don't know if I can watch it.  In many ways it mirrors the disappointing Seinfeld finale where they misread how much the audience had come to love essentially terrible people (and it's not a coincidence, in my opinion, that there are multiple members of the Seinfeld team involved here).  Perhaps it's because I've never felt more petrified to lose an election in my life this November (I'd gladly take President Romney over even having to think about what might happen this fall), but watching my candidate lose in such a way, where someone tricks their way to the White House on a technicality is the stuff of nightmares.  And even if the finale gave us some brilliant work from Julia Louis-Dreyfus (crying on that bleacher, listening to what should have been her parade), it also gave me a moment with a woman who never got her chance to be the first woman elected president, and instead saw that moment stolen, and that's WAY too close to home for me right now.  Couple that with the prospect of just having to watch Selina Meyer be degraded for another season, and I have trouble seeing how I can look forward to Season 6.

Those are my thoughts on last night's finales-how about yours?  Are you already counting the days (I am for GoT, Veep I'm going to need some time), or are you thinking that this is time to call it in?  Share your thoughts below!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Burlesque (2010)

Film: Burlesque (2010)
Stars: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Stanley Tucci, Cam Gigandet, Kristen Bell, Eric Dane
Director: Steven Antin
Oscar History: I know you're laughing at the thought, but the film actually won the Best Original Song Golden Globe and may well have gotten Diane Warren her first Oscar had it made it through, but it sadly was skipped over for "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me"
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

It's Pride this weekend, and also we all need at least something to stop the madness in our lives right now (really-I cannot remember a year this volatile, and it's not even half over yet), so I am going to do a film review of a movie that I suspect no one out there can look at the photo of without both A) smiling and B) thinking "that's pretty gay," and that would be Burlesque, which I caught for the first time this week.  Sadly excused from our OVP for 2010 (more on that in a second), the film didn't do as badly as one would have expected (it bombed domestically but did well enough overseas to more than recoup its surprisingly large budget), and it's a lot more fun than you'd expect even if the broad brushstrokes of the picture are all laughably cliched.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film follows Ali (Aguilera), a waitress with big city dreams who wants to go to LA to make it big, who stumbles across a burlesque show in Los Angeles that is down on its feet despite the denials of owner Tess (Cher).  There she meets a ridiculously hot (though conveniently straight) bartender name Jack (Gigandet-remember back when he was a thing post-Twilight...come to think of it remember when all of those actors on Twilight save the two stars & Kendrick were a thing...when is their Oprah: Where Are They Now coming up?), and eventually becomes his roommate despite him having a fiance.  After begging to be in the show, Tess eventually relents when one of the girls gets pregnant, and during a sabotage from her arch-rival Nikki (Bell), Ali gets a chance to sing and as she's Christina Aguilera she doesn't skip out on the "on-pitch foghorn" thing she's so famous for (I mean that as a compliment), and suddenly the entire film transforms as she deals with being a star and what comes from such a situation.

The film, as you may imagine, is filled with cliche.  Every single scene you can see coming a mile away-there is no surprise here, except that Cher and Christina never actually do a duet on-stage, which felt like a missed opportunity.  Ali's journey to being a headliner at Tess' club is obvious from the beginning of the movie (and not just because we know Christina can sing), but it's a film that does most of these scenes with relative charm.  It helps that you cast Cher and Stanley Tucci, both very game and fun performers (every scene between the two of them is a blast) and then don't ask some of the rest of the cast to do much.  Aguilera is actually better than you'd expect (this is no Crossroads situation), though she's not about to outdo, say, what Anna Kendrick would have done in this role-she has timing, and though she's occasionally over-eager in her delivery, it's a pity this film wasn't better-received by critics as she actually has some presence onscreen (Cam Gigandet doesn't, but his role here is really just to be obnoxiously good-looking, and in that he's successful).  No one would ever confuse this with being a "good" movie, but it's also certainly not a bad one, and it's pretty fun, quite frankly.  It goes to show that the Golden Raspberry Awards are intensely sexist and (in particular) decidedly homophobic that they thought it would be funny for Cher to be nominated for Worst Supporting Actress here, since she's way too good onscreen in this picture to ever be considered a "worst supporting actress."

The film should have been Oscar-nominated in Best Original Song, however, and that's a fact.  We discussed this race over here (please click if you're newer to the blog and aren't familiar with our now hundreds of Oscar Viewing Project write-ups), but this would have been the perfect time to give Diane Warren an Oscar.  "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" is genuinely a good song, and comes in a critical moment in the film (unlike some nominees in this category in the past), and plus it's way better than anything the Academy came up with, which is admittedly not often the case for Diane Warren.  Honestly-it would have been the perfect time to honor a longtime celebrated songwriter without having to sacrifice the category, and she'd just won the Globe (and there weren't even five nominees in 2010-you wouldn't have had to bump anyone, and it's not like Randy Newman needed a second makeup Oscar).  All-in-all, one of the bigger blunders Oscar has made in recent years.

Those are my thoughts on Burlesque, a cheeky, occasionally ridiculous, but very watchable camp film. What are your thoughts?  Do you think Christina Aguilera will ever make another picture, or do you think her actress-appeal might be too limited?  How about getting Cher back in front of the camera?  And who else thinks this was Diane Warren's Oscar and AMPAS screwed it up?  Share your thoughts below!