Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar post show thoughts

I don't mean to boast or brag, but when I was in middle school, one of the things people would always love to do was to come up and ask me a year between 1929 and that current year. When asked, I'd tell them who won Best Picture, Actor, Actress & Director. It's something that I once was proud of but when asked now is almost a burden.

There was a time when I was absolutely obssessed with the history of the Oscars. Who won. Who presented. Right up to the point where I'd try to track down every Best Picture and watch it. This obsession went so far that whenever I'd see an actor's name in the TV guide who was nominated, I'd underline his or her name. I'd even do this in the World Almanacs I would get annually for Christmas. There was something special about seeing a TV program that honored the one thing you were in love with- movies. The Super Bowl just wasn't my thing.

Then in 1999, the Oscars were hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. Her jokes fell flat of course. But it was a montage presented at the beginning of the show that completely drew my attention. Edited by Chuck Workman, it spliced together films in such a fluid way. Using the music of Hans Zimmer (Thin Red Line) and John Williams (Saving Private Ryan), the montage demonstrated how one can re-cycle pieces of art and make them into a cohesive whole that works.

While the wonder of that montage played in my mind throughout the ceremony, things came to a screeching halt when the winner of Best Picture was announced. My fingers were crossed for Saving Private Ryan. A film called Shakespeare In Love won. As I got older, I found out why it won: lots and lots campaigning from two suits named Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The last two years of the Academy Awards have told me one thing, I kind of already knew but with each successive ceremony becomes more pronounced, these award shows are shit. I'm not dogging The Artist. I actually enjoyed it. What I don't enjoy is seeing films like Drive almost completely shafted. The last time the Oscars had any balls was when they gave No Country For Old Men Best Picture. Now it seems, more than ever, like they castrated themselves.

Past examples:

Terms of Endearment over The Right Stuff
Driving Miss Daisy over Do the Right Thing
Dances With Woles over GoodFellas
Gladiator over Traffic
Crash over...fuck, Crash over anything.
Tom Hooper beating out David Fincher for best director

Then there's the films that weren't even nominated for Best Picture: A History of Violence, Heat, Night of the Hunter, etc. It comes down to this, when the 60 year old voter is looking at King's Speech and Social Network or Driving Miss Daisy and Born On the Fourth of July, it's likely they'll tick the box of both of the former films. Know your voting audience.

Looking back at the list of Best Picture nominees, are people really going to give a fuck about The Best Years of Our Lives? Or are they going to watch It's A Wonderful Life instead? Do people remember The Greatest Show On Earth or do they remember High Noon?

If you are a true fan of the art, I'm preaching to the choir when I say these awards have no meaning whatsoever. You can't objectively say Crash was the Best Picture of 2005 with a straight face.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Top 100 Albums #58: Black Sabbath- Master of Reality

The first six Sabbath albums are known as cornerstones of the heavy metal genre. Key to a nutritional metal diet. Contrary to popular belief, Ozzy should not be known as 'the godfather of metal'. When I think of Sabbath it's not Ozzy's vocals that immediately come to mind. I think of Bill Ward & Geezer Butler's menacing rhythm section. But probably more than anything it is the sinister guitar of Tony Iommi that pops into my head the most. I'm not discrediting Ozzy as a frontman. His vocals are another component to the sound. However, without the three instrumentalists backing him, it's kind of hard to take it on its own. A fact proven by his first two solo efforts with the immensely talented Randy Rhodes.

The first album can be considered the 'one that started the metal ball rollin''. The second being the one most embraced by popular culture with its signature tunes Iron Man & Paranoid. The third took elements from both albums and went even further. This one is more doom-y than any other Sabbath record during this line up. Even after this, they still had enough juice left in them to produce three more great albums.

Also, any notion that Sabbath are actually evil will be diminished when actually listening to the lyrics on this record. The sounds emitting from the record sure sound evil though.

#90: Terminator 2: Judgment Day

One of the reasons why I love teaser trailers so much is they do just that- tease. Giving the audience just enough info. While a good trailer can sell a movie to the unknowing audience member, a bad trailer can ruin expectations and even worse, spoil a crucial surprise the director has in store. The marketing for Terminator 2 is an example of just how effective the former can be and just how bad the latter can be.

That card up Cameron's sleeve is a scene in which John Connor is being tracked by the T-1000. Ole Arnie walks around the corner, whipping out a shotgun and stepping on roses. Up until that point we only know him as a man who scuffed up a group of bikers in a bar. It's a trick that relies on us as observers of a deadly game of cat and mouse. Relying on our knowledge of the first film in which Arnold was a baddie. Without any knowledge whatsoever of Arnold actually being the good guy. As a kid I thought "It's over. John Connor is finished" Only to have the rug pulled out from under me. It makes that scene and everything that comes after worth it.

As for the actual villain of the film, the T-1000 presents itself as the one fully realized computer CGI character (with the exceptions of the Dinos in Jurassic Park) that has ever demanded my full attention. The ability of villains to appear in undefinable forms is something that, while old as a concept, is made new with a fresh coat of special effects wax. The model for the villain here is a police officer. Yet what striked me as a kid watching this movie was it's ability to morph into so many other sharp objects whilst maintaining a distinguishable (and at many moments, chameleon- like) identity.

In terms of being a sequel, it gives us everything we want and more. In fact I'll go on the record as saying, it's the last time an action movie truly brought the goods in all departments. We didn't really need to see the most complex screenplay written within an action film. It's the execution of taking a script penned by Cameron and William Wisher and wincing every nook and cranny of it. Judgment Day is the type of action film that steam rolls across the bones of other so called "sci-fi action films".

Sunday, February 12, 2012


To quietly take a page out of It'll Be Dark Soon, I decided to create an obssession journal of sorts.

With the exception of the films Haywire & The Artist and a couple of others, January and February have been devoted to nothing but documentaries. In addition to this, true crime books have been an obssession. Serial killers being the big fascination.

Serial killers have always fascinated me. But one in particular has captured my attention more than any other- Jeffrey Dahmer. His story stands as a prime example of a soul that was truly lost in the world. With no one willing to guide him. This makes reading about his childhood and adolescence all the more haunting.

I write this having just finished reading My Friend Dahmer. A graphic novel authored by one of Dahmer's high school friends, Derf Backderf.

What immediately strikes me about this book is its intimate depiction of an adolescent's descent. Countless kids have had rough childhoods. Many don't grow up to be a serial killer. In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, his adolescent years were increasingly draped in isolation. His ability to harbor secrets are a constant theme throughout Derf's novel. These secrets and fantasies would only materialize into his love of skinning animals. A hobby he would take further as time went on. Another thing he was known to do was having fake epileptic fits. Something he pulled quite often in school. This would garner him attention. The heartbreaking part of Derf's account of his friend is how this attention would slip. Tracking the changes all the way up until that fateful day post-graduation. When Jeffrey Dahmer would pick up Steve Hicks, a hitch-hiker.

Derf's book shows the 70's as an institutionalization of weirdness. How certain events cause further isolation from his friends. These events triggered by him being neglected by his constantly arguing parents. The boy who skinned animals and smacked trees with bats wasn't getting any help from anyone at the high school either. More than anything I've read on Dahmer, this firsthand account paints him as a tragic figure.

In October 1977, Dahmer would pull a prank in the yearbook. His friends were on the yearbook staff and one of the running gags was to slip Dahmer in to one of the photos. Once the editor got ahold of the picture and discovered Dahmer was in it, the editor blacked out his face with a marker. As Derf Backderf put it "This photo was a symbol of Dahmer's wasted youth."

So does this graphic novel answer the question: Why did Jeffrey Dahmer turn out the way he did? Well, to pin it down to one thing would be misguiding and incorrect.

One of the biggest misconceptions of serial killers is that they were all sexually abused as children. The truth is that an abusive childhood is only one factor that comes into play. This abuse not being solely sexual. Sometimes it stems from psychological abuse. Pete Vronsky's book Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters dwells on this topic. When asked, only 53% of the serial killers felt themselves to have been treated unfairly as children. So to pinpoint the root of all evil on sexual abuse is wrong.

In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, family instability can be seen as a major contributing factor to his personality. Vronsky's book tells of an FBI study in which 72% of convicted serial killers have had parents with negative relationships toward each other. Dahmer's adolescent years are a key example of this. Couple this with his intermingled fantasies of violence and sex and you have a deadly mix.

If anything, My Friend Dahmer does what Unbreakable does to fictional characters. It acts as a mere prologue. While so many books and films are obssessive on the crimes committed during the reign of a serial killer, this one sits back and observes 4 years into the evolution of one.

Required viewing for more info:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

#52: Philadelphia

It's not like the issue of homosexuality hadn't been touched upon before. It stretches back as far as the 1920's. Given the context the time and the introduction of the AIDs epidemic, this film allowed those simmering themes come to the fore. But there hasn't really been a film that tackles AIDs with such a succinct mood. Ron Nyswaner's script sinks its claws into that very problem. Jonathan Demme's direction turns those words into shards that penetrate through the thickest heart. It accomplished this at just the right time. Creating a piece that is distinctly 90's in its execution and mood (look no further than the Springsteen backed opening montage), yet feels contemporary in its overarching themes. A big part of this being contributed to Demme having faith in the ability of two actors. One who is coming off the DePalma flop Bonfire of the Vanities, the other a former Oscar winner for Glory.

The Tom Hanks persona is one of affection and admiration. A modern day Jimmy Stewart with whom you would give a big ole hug to as opposed to shrinking back in fear. Plug that persona into a character with AIDs and you have a homosexual character audiences can empathize with.

The character of Andrew Beckett is one who basks in life. The calm breeze that leads up to a billowing emanation of snow on a once quiet, deserted street. Andrew Beckett's openness and sheer love of life are so fully realized by Hanks that to think of another actor portraying him would be next to impossible. To see him ping pong off of Denzel in the courtroom scenes is one thing. To see Denzel's humanization of Beckett through listening to an opera achieves grand resonance. The realization of Beckett as not some 'tutti frutti' as an ignorant bartender would call it, but a real human being.

All of this- the courtoom scenes, the performances, come to a screeching halt. Two words . Words that cut deep with pain. "I'm ready" a bed ridden Beckett tells his lover. Jonathan, Tom, Denzel, Ron & Neil should all be commended in carrying the film from the battered courtroom steps to a loving rememberance of those stricken with AIDs. In its final moments, Philadelphia gives us that intangible feeling of humbleness and humility that these are people who should be as deserving of our respect as anyone else.

It really is quite a thrill when this happens.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012