Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Oscars Syndrome

I LOVE the Oscars! I love everything about it, the glitz, the glamour, the ceremony, the hosting dramas and the red carpet. Most of all I love the tingling feeling I get every year with the anticipation for my favourite films of the Oscars' year to be called on to the stage to accept the statuette meriting their merits, and I love getting angry and waving my fists at the TV when they don’t, because despite knowing better, every year I am foolishly hopeful that one of the films truly worthy will actually win. There have been years in which I have been pleasantly surprised, which made the Oscars all the more joyous. Other times I was simply happy that some films did not win, more than I cared about who did; like in 2010 when a certain ex wife snatched an Oscar from her former husbands' inferior film. Mostly, like Oscars losers’ cliché: it is an honour just to be nominated, and by that I mean I am always excited if and when the best films, my best films, get nominated.  Sometimes it is better to be nominated then it is to win; Oscars' winners of the past are often insignificant and luckily with time, are forgotten. The Oscars nominees, however, just by being that, get watched more than they probably would otherwise, and so get the attention they deserve, which is what really matters. 

In an attempt to infect others with the Oscars' spirit, and admittedly galvanise my own enthusiasm, which hasn’t reached last year's levels yet, I shall take a look at this year’s Oscars nominees for Best Picture, the ones I have seen that is, and try to understand what is it about this year’s Oscar's that hasn’t quite ignited that fire within me yet.  

The Descendants: While it is not a bad film, and that George Clooney survived a whole film without tilting his head once is definitely a landmark in this perfectly adequate and never exciting acting career, I don't really see The Descendants as worthy of a nomination for an award of merits. The script is ample and the film is decent. I particularly enjoyed the different kind of Hawaii shown in the film. However, it is what I would call a television drama, a good one, but a TV drama none the less.Those can be easily recognised by their actors acting their heart out dramatically in their humane drama about real life dramas, because real life is always so dramatic. Like many great TV dramas, The Descendants has excellent dramatic value, but no real cinematic one. I and everyone else would have enjoyed it just as much, or maybe even more, if we watched it on DVD, I’m not sure I would even bother with Blu-Ray. The problem is that the Academy loves those TV dramas and tends to forget it is an Academy of films not TV. This is why The King Speech won all the awards that Inception and The Social Network should have won last year.   
Vertical head all the way!

No one could be happier than I to see a comedy, especially a Woody Allen one, amongst the nominees for Best Picture. Like I have written in the past, Midnight in Paris was a real joy to watch. True I am biased when it comes to Woody Allen, and tend to love some of his film that no one else does, but I think Midnight in Paris is, rightfully, one of everyone’s favourite Allen film. Though it is not my personal choice for Best Picture, I can't help feel an elated thrill to see my Jewish hero’s name at the Oscars. It's not because of the Jewishness, Hollywood is full of us, it's more because even after all this time and the changes in attitudes it still feels like a little triumph every time this self made and truly independent filmmaker, once shunned by Hollywood and never really belonged to it, being embraced by it. I also love that he almost never come to a ceremony, every respectable glamour industry should have it's trophy wacky "rebellious" son. I wonder if the Academy will ever give him a life time achievement award, that would be interesting. 

My grievance about the lack of comedies nominated in the Best Picture category over the years, or of comedy actors never acknowledged for their comedy merits, will be expanded upon with in my upcoming post about comedy films.   

Tree of Life is the kind of film that can criminally snatch an Oscar from more deserving films, just so the Academy can show the rest of the world they understand quality. Terrence Malick is considered to be the filmmakers’ filmmaker. Worshipped by his colleagues and professionals in the industry, Malick has an added aura of a man who is so invested in his filmmaking it takes him years to make one. His visual sense is without a doubt outstanding, and his films are often stunning to look at, but what can I say, Malick’s films do not rock my boat. His lingering poeticism, over expressive sceneries and incredibly meaningful voice overs exhausts me after about five minutes. Sometimes I wish he would just tell me what it is he wants to say without piling all these excessively decorative metaphors on to his films. When it comes to dramatic visual expression, I prefer the more interesting Ingmar Bergman. I did, however, enjoy the bizarre dinosaur moment in Tree of Life, I think it was my favourite in the film.   

War Horse: Like with Woody Allen, but for complete opposite reasons and with an enhanced Jewish camaraderie, I am usually happy when a Spielberg film is nominated for an Oscar. However, like with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, this year the wrong Spielberg film was noted. Unlike in the case of those films, this year there was a choice between two Spielberg films and the wrong one was elected. 

Despite ideological conflict I have about War Horse, I did enjoyed it and it contains many a Spielberg characteristics which I just cannot resist. Nevertheless, that The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn won’t be even nominated in the Animation category, never mind Best Picture, is the kind of scandal that makes me wave my hands more vigorously than usual at the Academy even before any award was presented. 

War Horse is an easy to dismiss kind of film. If you are not a hardcore Spielberg fan there is probably far too much over the top kitsch and saccharin in it for a normal person to sustain. The Adventure of Tintin on the other hand, is a all-encompassing roller coaster so rich and exciting it makes the heart jovial. Moreover, much like my favourite to win this year, The Adventure of Tintin is groundbreaking, significantly influential and definitely has much more important place in film history than War Horse, or achievement in music. Like E.T., which at least was nominated, Tintin is the kind of Spielberg the Academy choose, sinfully, to ignore.

The Artist is one of the only two films nominated this year that gets my juices of exhilaration flowing. Like Midnight in Paris it is not my choice for Best Picture, but its place  in this category is more justifiable than most, and I will accept its Oscar win more graciously than I would any of the other nominees that are not Hugo. Not only is The Artist a stupendous film full of love for the art and the medium, it embraces its viewers, lures and flatters them and like the box office, critical acclaim and awards won and nominations show, it wins their hearts. If a film that rejoices in cinema and reclaim its audience in the simple beautiful way The Artist does, wins an Oscar, it will restore my hope for cinemas, their audiences and the Academy.

In a category titled Best Picture rather than best film or best movie, no film falls under this definition so wholly like my personal winner of this Oscar's year Hugo, and just like Inception the year before, I fear it will join the long list of Oscars’ outrageous blunders. I have elaborated in the past on the glorious revelation of Hugo. I would only add that it doesn't only celebrate cinema, understands and explores it like The Artist, Hugo does it most cinematically of all.

Looking at last year’s nominations, even though they didn’t win, The Social Network, Inception and True Grit all almost equally created the aforementioned tingling feeling, I am only getting from Hugo this year. Last year I passionately and naively wished for either of those films' victory, in spite of knowing that none of them will. I was emotionally invested enough to be disappointed with the choice of Toy Story 3 as a Best Picture nominee when it wasn’t even the best animation of that year. This Oscars’ year Hugo, closely followed by The Artist make all other films in this category and therefore the competition itself redundant. While I would add Tintin and The Muppets to the Best Picture category, there haven't been many films this Oscars' year that would make this competition more challenging and bring that tingling feeling back. If Hugo was nominated with Inception, The Social Network and
Tintin, well… Then I think the tingling wouldn't know where to go.

I am still going to watch the ceremony live and I know I will get emotional as I did with the BAFTA not too long ago, but if any of the big winners are not one of the only two truly worthy, furniture will be thrown out of the window, faith in humanity would be lost and I shall turn my back on the Oscars… Until next year that is. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Muppets

It's not often that I get to watch and write about a film before it comes out.  I was lucky enough to have been invited to the special preview screening of The Muppets at the opening night of the LoCo first London Comedy Film Festival at the BFI, of which importance I can’t stress enough and I will do so vigorously in one of my upcoming articles, and so I proudly present my first real time film review (real time for UK, The Muppets has been released everywhere else last year). This review contains some spoilers, but there will be a warning before they come. 

I was over the moon and way over excited when I saw the first trailer for the The Muppets. On top of my never dying love for everything Jim Henson and his company have done Muppets and then some, there were the gorgeous Amy Adams and adorable Jason Segel to make my happiness know no limits.

My joy of the upcoming The Muppet was somewhat soured when I discovered more than one of my friends who dismissed the Muppets as something of the past. “They were funny when I was a kid, now they don’t do it for me” was one crushing comment, and not loving the Muppets enough to watch a whole film with them was another point of view which devastated me. I can’t tell what made me sadder; to find out how easy it has became to give up going to the cinema; particularly painful notion when I think that there is nothing quite like sharing the elation and excitement that The Muppets creates, with fellow films and Muppets lovers. Or the realisation that I have friends who think they are too old for the Muppets; something I hope I will never feel.      

Those who know and appreciate the wonderfulness that is Flight of the Conchords and the magic of Brett McKenzie will probably agree that the combination of McKenzie, director James Bobin and the Muppets is a match made in heaven. Bobin, who co created Flight of the Conchord with Brett McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, knew exactly what he was doing when he brought McKenzie to be the music supervisor of The Muppets; the songs are Muppetliciously delightful.  

Still, The Muppets is not a film only for people in the know. I don’t share the feeling of some that The Muppets would be enjoyed mainly by diehard Muppets fans, and that today's youth would not get it. True, Jason Segel, who is also one of the scriptwriters, is indeed a huge Muppets fan and it definitely comes across in the film, but James Bobin, like he said in the Q&A after the film, wanted to share the Muppets love with people, like his own daughter, who never heard of the Muppets. I think the result was the right kind of mixture between nostalgic fandom and the third greatest gift the Muppets can offer to anyone, fan or not; laughter. “Genuine old-timey laughs and puns, and it’s never at anyone’s expense.” Like Segel said in an interview. As someone who is mostly bitterly cynical at best, I cherish true joy, the kind that allows me, even if just for a moment, to laugh because the funny makes me happy, not because it’s sad or tries to outsmart me, and to me the Muppets would always be connected with that. 

The Muppets Show was quite unlike anything on television at the time. It was full of crazy ideas and was generally bonkers. That was part of what made the generation who grew up with it fall in love with it. The spirit of madness and chaos of the original show, as well as its good hearted fun, are as present and strong in the film as they were in the show. Those who will fall in love with the film, whether they have known the Muppets all their lives or not, will love it for the same reasons we loved the show the first time we’ve seen it, and those who won't would have not like the show anyway.  

It is a shame that Frank Oz, the second, and… well… after Henson’s untimely death the only most important name attached to the Muppets, has decided not to take part in the film due to his disapproval of the script. I respect his decision, though I can’t say I understand it. It won’t be difficult for aficionados to notice the changes to the voices, mainly those of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, but Kermit as well. I daresay most fans won’t like it. I think, however, this condemnation is unjust and comes out of over protectiveness and preciousness for the original cast and voices more than anything, and the Muppeteers have done a remarkable job with the voices; trying to stay true to the characters and fit the overall ageing mood and sense of nostalgia of the film.
Spoiler fest starts here. Enter at your own peril! 

I read that there was suppose to be another ending to The Muppets in here. I agree that the ending described, which apparently was filmed, would have been better than the one in the finished film. I also think that the ending as it was, with the Muppets starting over, with the love of the fans and without the addition of the newspaper headlines about Tex Richman changing his mind, would have made for a good ending, but perhaps more complicated to explain to kids. Nevertheless, the ending became less important at the overall of this really lovely film.
True to their nature, The Muppets is of course quite post modern and Meta. Within so much Meta films and television around, The Muppets remains funny and clever. There are plenty of nods and tributes to Jim Henson, from small little statues of him, to referring to the first Muppet film. The film makers and characters are very loyal and loving of their roots. 

I absolutely adored the idea of Kermit living a Sunset Boulevard-esque life and his first song brought me to tears. I loved Fozzie as the only original in a Muppet’s tribute band the Moopets, Gonzo as a plumbing phenomena, and the 80s robot. Those little things as well as the great ones like the magnificent rehearsal and eventually the performance of the opening song, are what made The Muppets such a great fun to watch. 

End of Spoiler fest! 

I was overjoyed to find out at the Q&A with Bobin that one of the scenes he shot and didn’t make it to the film, but will probably be reach the DVD/BluRay extras, was a scene showing the Muppets going down the stairs after the show’s opening song. Making this film has given Bobin the opportunity to explore those little silly fandom things and I love it because as much as it is a Muppet film, The Muppets is a film about true fandom; it takes pride at being a fan and pleasure at being a grown up Muppets fan. It conquers the heart and wins at joy. 


 I totally abandoned everything I was doing to watch this in full. 
Be warned there is a bit of a spoiler on that second part.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Women in Da House

This article is about House and contains a huge amount of spoilers from ALL seasons up until the current one. If you haven't watched the show, why not read this, which discusses the show without spoilers, then go watch it, and come back and read this article. 

A discussion has recently risen among fellow fans and I, regarding the women of House. No doubt a result of the much loved Lisa Cuddy's (Lisa Edelstein) dramatic departure at the end of season seven. House continues to its eighth season and Lisa’s absence is still arresting, like a hole in the heart.

One of House’s strengths as well as its weaknesses, lies in the title character. Both Doctor Gregory House and Hugh Laurie, who plays him, have the kind of charisma and talent that are very hard to match, and everyone around him are reacting rather than acting, as a fellow fan once pointed out. This becomes particularly problematic when it comes to the women of the show. 

Since House is only gay for Wilson, the other male doctors' interaction with House is quite simple; until series eight they were all his employees, and while their characters did develop somewhat more independently, their main role is to provide a comic or other kind of relief from the intensive House, and they do that well enough. The female roles in House are always more charged, and therefore require better character development and better actresses to play them. 

As for Wilson, played by Robert Sean Leonard, well, he is the enabler best friend; a character which allows House to do as he please and Leonard to cheerfully leave the award winning performance to Laurie, as he admits so himself. It is harder to make the same excuses for either the female characters, who are suppose to be successful doctors, or for the choices of mediocre actresses who play them.  

Apart from Cuddy, who was on the show from the start, and of whose glory I wrote about here, most of the House women have let me, and if you ask me themselves, down. I say most, because in season seven with the wonderful Martha M. Masters, things changed for the better.

Despite being in House, and the actress credited right after Hugh Laurie and before Leonard, Cuddy wasn’t the main focus of the first three seasons. Unfortunately, the series’ powers that be, chose the unbearable Doctor Alison Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) as the main feminine focus. Cameron was in love with House, which would have been fine if she had any kind of personality beyond that. Her background story, marrying a dying man and spending the year long marriage taking care of him, only reinforced the feeling that Cameron’s whole personality depends on the men in her life, not just House.

This foundation for her character is negative to begin with as I see it. From this moment on everything Cameron says and does was House bound and I am sorry to say that was how she stayed till she finally did us all a favour and left. Her so called principals were easy to dismiss, ignore and mock like House occasionally did. She became a preachy, righteous woman, who I couldn’t care less about, and probably like the actress who played her, got where she did because of her looks and constant helpless expression, men love so much, rather than any kind of talent. Can you tell I am not a fan? 

"Look at me! My hands are on my hands on my waists, means I must be serious!"

At the end of season one Stacy, House’s legendary ex, played by Sela Ward, showed up and for a brief moment there was hope that someone would pull focus off Cameron and bring some much needed improvement to the House ladies. As the woman who House was still carrying a torch for, I expected her to be quite impressive. Alas, Stacy turned out to be placid, and didn’t really have enough substance or qualities, for me to believe that she was the woman who broke his heart. In comparison; that Cuddy would break House’s heart, though her actual relationship with him was a lot shorter, both character development and the wonderful Edelstein, made me believe without question.

It was only in season four that I finally came across a House woman other than Cuddy, who intrigued me. Two new women have joined the show, actually there were more, but two who would become the important. The first, and the better of the two, was Cut Throat Bitch; Doctor Amber Volakis (Anna Dubek). The creators rightly fell in love with her and kept bringing her back even after she died in the show. The other major feminine addition to the show, who eventually became a regular, was Doctor Remy Hadley, aka Thirteen (Olivia Wilde).

Amber was indeed, like her nickname suggested, a Cut Throat Bitch to begin with. She wanted to work for House and was willing to stop at nothing to get what she wanted, but unlike any other female character up until then, she wasn’t in love with him. Finally a woman whose motivation, whether noble or not, comes from her ambitions just like that of doctors Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Forman (Omar Epp). The problem with Amber, and the reason why she didn’t eventually get the job, despite House liking her, was that she is like her nickname, and in a team of opportunistic and selfish men, there needs to be someone with a conscious. Why that someone always has to be a woman, and why women with similar motives as the men they work with are usually heartless bitches, is a subject for another article, and a sin of which House is not the sole blame for, or the only show that commits it. 

Thirteen’s character had good and politically correct values. Her background story, a winning combination of bi sexuality and terminal illness, was exotic and most importantly House’s spell seems to roll of her like water of a duck. Potentially, Thirteen was to become the second best female character of the show. Unfortunately Olivia Wilde, while pretty, doesn’t even come close to the talent and magnetism of Hugh Laurie or Lisa Edelstein, and so the interesting Thirteen on paper, became colourless and weak on screen. Instead of having a real impact on the show she seems to have passed by it without really having any influence.

Not long after becoming a House regular, Wilde’s cinematic career started picking up, and so whatever hold she did have on the show started to dissolve until eventually she left without it making any difference. Thirteen's first hiatus from the show came at a good point, and allowed space for the brilliant and emotional development of House and Cuddy’s relationship. Her return at the aftermath of Huddy, made for a beautiful episode in which, for the first time since she joined the show, a most interesting relationship was formed between her and House. Interesting because it wasn’t romantic, and Thirteen’s immunity to House was finally used as development device worthy of note. Since Wilde left the show, The Dig (season seven) remains a one off good Thirteen centric episode instead of a beginning of what could have been the only father daughter like relationship of House.  

And so we reach my second favourite lady of the House; Martha M Masters (you got to love this name. It’s like she’s from a Stan Lee comic book), played by the lovely Amber Tamblyn. What a wonderful insight it was to team House, who argues that “Everybody lies” with someone who can’t. Martha is not a love struck fragile doctor whose views can be easily dismissed, like Cameron, or someone who goes both way (hehehe) like Thirteen; Martha is a genus, like House, she speaks his language and understands it better than anyone, but she chose a different way.
Martha is young and sweet, constantly awkward and occasionally neurotic, but at the same time she is passionate and assertive when it comes to things that matters. When Martha stands up to House, unlike anyone else who does, not even Cuddy, she comes from an equal intellectual position and so challenges House in a way no other character, male or female, can. The credibility of her character, which is among other things a result of her being a temporary replacement to Thirteen, demanded that she won't last, but I really wish she did. 

Season eight without Cuddy and the final departure of Thirteen has cleared the stage for the new girls. The first, Doctor Jessica Adams (Odette Annable) is the obligatory pretty face, who so far has not contributed much, but also hasn’t done much damage. I can take or leave her. The second, Doctor Chi Park (Charlyne Yi) is the brains, but she also has attitude and she is quite funny. I like her very much and she fits the slightly more cheerful breeze season eight has adapted after the emotional roller coaster of the previous series. 

It seems that this is going to be the last season of House, which I think is the right thing to do. Therefore, there probably won’t be too much of a character development to the two new women in da House. All one can do is hope; hope that Parks'  potential would be maximized, hope that Adams will surprise and secretly nurture a wish for a certain one of a kind lady to return.