Whiplash (2014)

January 5, 2015 § Leave a comment

A+

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons face off in 'Whiplash'

Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons face off in ‘Whiplash’

THE REVIEW:

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Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller)  is a first year drumming student at an esteemed music school in New York City, Shaffer Conservatory. It’s consistently ranked the top music conservatory in the United States He’s second chair in a freshman band within the school. It’s a band that plays nicely. The kind of band where if it sounds good enough to the untrained ear of an audience, it is good enough. By most standards everybody in this band is excellent. They’re the kind of young musicians who stood out in their high schools with effortless natural talent and an obvious potential future as session musicians or at least getting girls’ numbers in weekend shows when they aren’t at their real jobs. They aspire to be any chair in large well-regarded orchestras, or to be a dependable background player on a bigger name musician’s studio session record.

Lurking in the shadows, around every corner of this school is Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is immediately recognizable as the archetypal task master seen in so many films before such as, most recently, Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, as well as Louise Fleicher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Louis Gossett Jr. in Officer and a Gentleman, Morpheus in The Matrix, Pei Mei in Kill Bill and so on. They’re there to turn the protagonist into the superhuman hero they’re destined to be, that we paid to see. He complements students, challenges them to do better and then dismisses them as just flippantly all in the space of a single sentence. He’s abusive and manipulative in every way imaginable. It’s not clear if he does it for his own sense of accomplishment, or if he’s doing it out of a love for producing great musicians. Perhaps a bit of both. Andrew understands this immediately and plays Fletcher’s game well. An already highly disciplined drummer, he develops monk-like focus on his music and Fletcher’s expectations for first chair in his competitive band of students.

As the film’s story plays out, Fletcher brings Andrew into his competition band to be second chair on the drums- or first chair- or third chair- whatever the quality of his latest performance merits in any sense of the term quality. The dance writer-director Damien Chazelle choreographs between the two characters is at once exhilarating in ways only the movies can provide and utterly devastating by how believable the tet-a-tete proves to be. Everybody has studied under the tutelage of such rigorous, unrepentantly critical teachers or instructors or professors (or drill sergeants) with horror stories laughed off in adult hood, or frowned upon when their own children first encounter such commandants of the academic world. The student pushes himself to a point of blind fury and the teacher gives a momentary, knowing smile of mission accomplished then it’s back to work; his job is never done and his students will thank him in the end. Or not. Whiplash plays with this dynamic using razor sharp observation, both acquiescing to the audiences’ expectations and just as quickly turning those expectations sideways to produce the kind of high level art I pray Chazelle wasn’t himself mentally abused into being capable of.

I wasn’t sure if I admired Fletcher’s tactics or if I loathed his insensitivity. I wasn’t sure if I was pulling for Andrew to meet Fletcher’s expectations or to justifiably throw in the towel in favor of his own sanity. Chazelle has played us to perfection with this moral gray zone of desire and expectation butting heads between the aspirational and the emotional. J.K. Simmons is no stranger to playing diabolically manipulative educators, having gained Hollywood fame as the perversely congenial and surreptitiously fascist Vern Schillinger on the HBO’s original flagship prison-set series Oz, playing both the main villain of the series and the dutiful teacher to freshman inmate and de-facto lead, Tobias Beecher. He pulls off the same act with a comical tone as J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy of the early 00’s. Simmons is a working actor who’s bald head, hounddog drooping features and gruff demeanor has made him a work-a-holic character actor. He most likely never spends more than a couple of days filming on a television episode or a couple of weeks on a feature film. He’s in for a few seasons, usually to teach the protagonist something or to offer the audience some expository dialogue, then he’s out.

Whiplash is arguably the closest Simmons has ever come to the lead in a major production. Though Miles Teller, an intriguing up and coming actor being positioned for superstardom, is the undeniable protagonist of the story, the main focus with the most screen time, Simmons is the show stopper of the film. Most actors would have played Fletcher as an unrepentant villain or a wise guardian of youthful naïveté. Simmons imbues the volatile and manipulative instructor (early on in a moment of apparent good will, he asks Andrew for some quick personal history about what his parents did professionally and how his home life is, then constantly uses this information to belittle Andrew) with a consistently poker faced determination to get his desired results from his students, no matter the cost of his own morality or the legal boundaries of the teaching profession in polite society. Although it is likely Simmons will continue with his typical career choices and his paycheck may not get much of a bump, this is an unequivocal career best in terms of notice from critics and awards prognosticators alike. He will win Best Supporting Actor multiple times this coming Awards season and if the Academy does its thing, he will walk away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as well, to cap off the recognition of this brilliantly malevolent turn.

Miles Teller is no slouch, either. He embodies a difficult character to play for such a young actor, requiring him to give believable emotional responses from an adolescent in turmoil between hormonal chaos and the ego of someone who knows, but has never yet proven, their singularity as a talent in the world. He looks like a kid, sprinkled with acne and he looks like a real human being, prominently criss-crossed with what look to be his own real life scars along his neck and cheek. These seem to be typically covered up in his roles. Perhaps displaying himself warts and all added some authenticity to his performance, but I’d feel hard pressed to name another actor in Teller’s age range who could have gone toe to toe with Simmons in such satisfyingly authentic fashion.

One of the best films of the year, Whiplash will leave you on the edge of your seat with your heart pounding until the final note is played. Bravo!

The Interview (2014)

December 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

5 out of 10 or  C/C-

Interview

After all the hype, all the controversy, all the digital terrorism and counter-strikes, The Interview is upon us. After watching it ASAP once it was released on YouTube, I took this away from the film:

As a satire of the media, both in front of the camera and behind it, The Interview is aiming towards the heavens. It wants to be Frost/Nixon and Network meets Pineapple Express. Rogen has a history of imbuing his potty joke filler with outlines of thoughtful socio-political commentary (as evidenced by his impassioned speech on Capitol Hill imploring congress to fund Alzheimer’s research and legalize marijuana). Franco is obviously no stranger to attempting subversive cinema that is risky as entertainment and as art. With the Interview, they’ve attempted to blend all the elements of their comedic personas with their very real, personal convictions as thinking, caring, conscientious human beings. The results are mixed, leaning on the side of a failed attempt, though truly valiant and brave, if not actually heroic.

James Franco’s Dave Skylark, a boisterous talk show host feigning intellectual concern when really aiming for headline grabbing superfluousness is the main character through and through, with Rogen firmly supporting in both capacity and functionality. Skylark is incredibly annoying, spewing out a litany of ADHD-fueled innuendo and instantaneous reactions based on taking information at face value from the kind of people who benefit from stretching the truth to improve their image in one way or another. Rogen is his Executive Producer, watching and guiding him from a control room. Franco is kind of an unrestrained amalgamation of the worst parts of pandering interview talk show hosts with none of the wit or sharpness attributed to, say Bill Maher or Charlie Rose. Rogen’s character wants desperately to change this dynamic, to legitimize the show and take it from pandering fluff to hard hitting stuff.

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As such, the film has this weird combination of serious criticism of the Kim regimes, arrogant media personalities, manipulation of public perception, assassination espionage thrillers while being inundated with fart-joke humor and characters that are blithering and silly. It struggles and failes to strike the right balance of thoughtful seriousness and sharp, witty satire. Rogen plays the straight man. He’s not particularly funny except for a couple of sight gags. In fact this is nearly his most serious role to date, I would argue. The Kim Jong Un actor is…basically what I expected the film to portray. An overly friendly and hospitable playboy who is manipulating the western media for his own powerful gains while being the totalitarian and violent fascist that we believe him to be in real life, in the west.

The espionage material is shockingly dark and depressing, sprinkled with the weirdest assortment of gross out jokes. It’s also critical of United States policy while supporting the basic premise (assassinating pesky Axis of Evil type government leaders) being the solution as well. It also attempts to genuinely pull off a Frost/Nixon thing using an ego-stroking interview with Kim to expose his dark side.  So it’s 1/4 potty humor, 1/4 serious political commentary, 1/4 espionage thriller and 1/4 off the wall non-sequiturs that aren’t entirely comedy or tragedy. Just a mess of a film, but an ambitious swing and a miss.

Tusk (2014), or How Kevin Smith Regained His Creative Soul

December 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

*Preface: I know this is my first post in 11 months. I’ve been working in the physical world and trying to get a footing professionally. I am re-starting this blog because it’s just part of who I am. I review movies. Not for money, or fame, or even an audience (though all of those would be splendid) but because it is a compulsion that I inevitably satisfy time and time again…even if I take a year off here and there. Without further ado, I present my history and critique of Kevin Smith’s “Tusk”:

To begin, I present a history lesson, because I haven’t written about film in forever so I’m allowing myself to sow some existential oats:

Kevin Smith may not be a revolutionary film maker, but he is most certainly an evolutionary one. Starting with 1994’s ultra-low budget self-financed “Clerks.”, a classic example of the can-do spirit and gumption of truly independent film making, Smith exploded onto the Hollywood scene with a movie he made with a few buddies in his home town, at work, because he loved movies. He was an actual clerk at a video store next door to the Quik Stop location eponymous with the film and term “Clerks”. Fast-forward 20 years and Smith is a world famous, wealthy Hollywood film maker who gets to visit the set of the new “Star Wars” trilogy before any normal human, who guest writes major comic book series for Marvel, who sells out venues that often hold major rock concerts, just so people can listen to him pontificate about pop culture. However, I would hesitate to call him venerated or revered, more so simply successful. About a decade ago, Smith grew out of his View Askew-niverse series of movies starring or co-starring a stable of characters first introduced in “Clerks” and his studio backed but still very indie follow-up “Mallrats”(while clerking is and probably always will be a real job, ‘Mallrats’ is most certainly a term whose relevance died during the dot com bubble and the rise of technological innovations in virtual communication and handheld devices with far more computing power than even the geekiest desktop computer spread of 1995) and apart from one last go around with “Clerks 2” in 2006 as a reward to best friend Jason Mewes aka Jay of Jay and Silent Bob, for finally getting clean off heroin, Smith has moved on.

"Zak and Miri Make a Porno"

“Zak and Miri Make a Porno”

First he tried to combine his nineties slacker witticisms with newly minted A-lister Seth Rogen’s lovable Jewish-Canadian Stoner Unlikely Romantic Comedy Lead persona in “Zack and Miri Make A Porno”, which, despite a ton of hype and a reasonably entertaining execution, didn’t exactly turn out to be a classic in either man’s filmographies. Then he moved on to a hackneyed hired gun directorial gig that seemed to crush his spirit with the way too meta buddy cop flick “Cop Out” in 2010, starring his temporary buddy Bruce Willis. While technically the highest grossing film of Smith’s career at $44 million domestic box office, “Cop Out” also withered Smith’s career because the film had zero originality or energy to it and, as Smith has told it during his various town hall pop culture rants as something between a monologist and a stand up comedian, Willis’ star ego and studio system educated sense of professionalism put Smith firmly in his place as a guy who makes Home Made Stoner Movies with his buddies, just on much larger budgets.

"Red State"

“Red State”

This obviously put Smith in some kind of an existential funk, because he tried to come roaring back with a low budget indie called “Red State”, featuring none of his usual players and starring lesser known teen actors who, with the exception of indie darling Michael Anganaro, sadly failed to display the screen presence or potential power of leading actors. I reviewed “Red State” on this very blog, as a matter of fact. Despite appearances from well established actors like John Goodman, Anna Gunn and Michael Parks, It was failed attempt at commentary and, or satire of some kind about various religious zealots and their plans for world domination, from infamous Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians at Waco. The film could also easily have been construed as Smith’s interpretation of his own Rebel vs The System relationship with Hollywood (Hollywood being represented by John Goodman’s ATF character hell bent on finding an excuse to kill the cult members inside the compound in Smith’s movie aka independently minded creativity and expression). Smith vowed to only make movies with the unknown teenage actors (presumably excluding the in demand Anganaro) from then on, prepping a multi-part hockey epic that never came to fruition once the Canadian indie hockey dramedy Goon got released while Smith’s germ of an idea for a hockey movie, “Hit Somebody” lingered in development hell and his announced lead, Seann William Scott, jumped ship to the aforementioned rival production. Smith swore he’d make “Hit Somebody” with one of the unknown kids from “Red State”, but when he couldn’t find backing the project quietly died a merciful death. After taking a year or two off to mess around with his podcasts, Smith quietly wrote a draft of “Clerks 3”. Going back to his roots seemed to reinvigorate the artistic passions that once gave Smith the very Hollywood career he clearly felt had done him dirty for a time. This somehow led Smith to envisioning a new film series unofficially titled “The Great White North Trilogy”, three loosely interconnected films about Canada. The first film, still low budget and very much independently produced, “Tusk” came out earlier this year to a quiet but respectful reception.

Justin Long and Michael Parks in Kevin Smith's "Tusk"

Justin Long and Michael Parks in Kevin Smith’s “Tusk”

( 8 out of 10 or A- ) “Tusk”, the first entry into Smith’s “Great White North” trilogy, of which the second entry “Yoga Hosiers” is currently filming, is by far Smith’s most polished, focused and dare I say original film. Based on one of his podcast episodes in which Smith found a tongue in cheek listing on a Canadian website that acts as the kind of events bulletin one sees in coffee shops and bars, “Tusk” is the story of a wildly successful podcaster Wallace (Justin Long) who seeks out original or off-beat personalities to interview and stories to enumerate. While up in Canada to interview the “Kill Bill Kid”, a teenager who loses a limb while recording himself slicing through the air not-so-gracefully with a very real samurai sword (based on early YouTube sensation “Star Wars Kid” linked here: http://bit.ly/1aD0Nj2 ) Wallace innocently discovers a cork board posting between beers at a local tavern, from a man boasting about a life of adventure on the high seas and the desire to share his stories with anybody who might need lodging. Wallace quickly finds his way to the man’s estate, deep in the wilderness and is promptly held against his will for his captor’s (Michael Parks) sinisterly specific idea for the ideal companion. The rest of the film is reminiscent of Dutch cult horror favorite “The Human Centipede: First Sequence” mixed in with Smith’s own signature verbose style of characters monologuing and wittily insulting one another. The movie features clever supporting turns by a now firmly grown up Haley Joel Osment of “The Sixth Sense” fame as Wallace’s podcast co-host, an impressively emotional turn by dependable eye candy Genesis Rodriguez as Wallace’s loyal but put upon longtime girlfriend and a cameo appearance I won’t give away as the goofy but ultimately quite professional detective Guy Lapointe (credited as Guy Lapointe in the credits, so if you don’t figure it out yourself you won’t be in on the joke) “Tusk” is a wonderful confluence of everything that gave Smith his career and nothing that stuck it in its various ruts. “Red State” was firmly described by Smith as horror, though it wound up being more of a heavy handed religious-political thriller. In the case of “Tusk”, Smith has achieved his apparent desire to give us his unique vision of a proper horror film.

While the film has characters that are indeed funny, it is in no way a comedy and takes itself seriously as horror while maintaining a healthy self-awareness that was sorely lacking in “Red State”. The cinematography, often cited as one of Smith’s greatest weaknesses, is quite beautiful and effective. The pacing and character arcs are firmly realized, with a chilling and tragic conclusion that stays true to being a committed tale of horror while maintaining a twinkle of comic irreverence that confirms it is very much a Kevin Smith creation.

Video On Demand Review: The Butler

January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

the-butler-1(6/10) The Butler: Lets talk about the elephant in the room: Minority status. Not just race, but minority status. Lee Daniels is a gay, black director. He is the epitome of ‘minority’, the epitome of someone who’s very nature is catnip for progressive politics and the examination of our county’s blemished history when it comes to civil rights for all people. He’s not at a level of vitriol that Spike Lee goes to, like when he made a big hullabaloo about Norman Jewison directing the Malcolm X film a quarter century ago, leading to the studio replacing Jewison with Spike Lee. I therefore found it ironic that Lee Daniels filled his cast with black actors who had achieved the highest levels of success, portraying people who were witnesses to history but not part of it. Forrest Whittaker does an alright job as the even-tempered Cecil Gaines, the real life professional servant who found himself offered a job in the white house due to his excellently a-political banter with various Washington D.C. elites at a private club in the area, to go along with a samurai-like ability to disappear into the wall paper while waiting to serve again.

We follow Cecil Gaines’ life from the cotton fields of the south, when it was still like virtual slavery where the white bosses could do anything they pleased and be immune to prosecution. Through sheer luck, Gaines is taught the white way of life and given access to the white life by way of becoming a “house nigger” as opposed to the “field nigger” his parents were. Every single role is played by a recognizable or name-brand actor, however large or small. Blink and you’ll miss them cameos from Mariah Carrey as Cecil’s light skinned mother to Robin Williams as President Dwight D. Eisenhower populate the epic production, though none of the roles feel complete.

The story is told in vignettes book-ended by various presidents’ tenures under Gaines’ not-so-watchful eye and Gaines’ own real-life son (played by popular British character actor David Oyelowo) is plugged into the story purely as a plot device to explore the history of the counter culture movements in America that conflicted with Cecil’s conservative presidents. It also heavily implies that one-minute one-off conversations Cecil has with various country leaders directly leads to them having changes of heart that greatly affect foreign and domestic policies.

Oprah Winfrey lightly chews scenery as Gaines’ long-time wife. The role feels like it was re-written just for Oprah and that Oprah took the part in an effort to secure membership in the rarefied EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) family of award-winning entertainers. Everybody else feels, too, as if they’re gunning for gold statues come the end of the year.

Because the film feels so awards-bait-y, it relies upon histrionics in awkwardly condensed scenes attempting to convey issues and time periods that truthfully each deserve their own ten-part miniseries or at least their own three hour film.

 

Because of this desperate attempt to throw in everything plus the kitchen sink, The Butler always feels like the also-ran it was destined to be, come awards-season, where it’s gotten no actual awards and very few of the nominations it so clearly desired. Still, if it weren’t for the self-conscious recognition baiting, the movie is still entertaining on its own merits as a piece of pop culture fluff.

Video On Demand Review: Some Girl(s)

January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Some-Girls-Adam-Brody(6/10) Some Girl(s): Neil LaBute is one prolific writer-director. He does stage plays, he does movies, he does stuff about the African-American experience in America, he does stuff that would go in a First-World-Problems sub genre, he does thrillers, he does comedies- but mostly his work explores the in’s and out’s of relationships. He likes to dig into the nitty gritty of what brings people together or pushes them apart.

Some Girl(s) is a play LaBute wrote and then adapted for this film. The film version stars Adam Brody, in the nameless role (he’s listed in the credits as ‘Man’) of a successful writer on the verge of marriage, who is criss-crossing the country, booking himself for one night into shockingly fancy hotel rooms to mine the depths of former lovers. The list he’s made was whittled down to four or five primary experiences, though it’s implied that he could have easily looked up twice as many former flames. The women are of varying ages with varying natures of relations with Brody aka Man. Brody proves himself a tricky dick by coming off as syrupy-sweet sincere and pleasant, though the various women’s’ reactions to his presence and words imply that he’s a very changed man from whenever it was they knew him, be it high school, college or sometime in his twenties. Like Brody, the man is now about thirty-two and ready to settle down, close the book on his old life as an apparently shameless Lothario.

The conceit the film works with is that Man/Brody breaks up with these women or disappears on them, make them feel slighted, abandoned or used, which compels them to not merely dismiss this fanciful indulgence of self-reflection by way of traveloguing, but to fire back with their own questions, revelations, demands and conflicting desires. The play translated to film still sounds like a play. There’s an energy to play written words that feels over-sold on the big screen and it’s no different with Some Girl(s). This is most definitely stage direction on celluloid, which makes the film surprisingly energetic despite the confined locales and dialogue-heavy scenes, but also is a bit much to take at times, in terms of questioning whether the plot really deserves to be explored.

The female characters all come off as gorgeous women who feign self-confidence but all ultimately crumble, begging for Brody’s proverbial or literal cock. Brody’s performance is certainly valiant in its energy and commitment, but he feels ever-so-slightly miscast with his boyish looks, slight frame and lithe voice. He never comes across as a sexual or sensual dynamo who managed to make all these women fall in love with his very essence, however fleeting each romance was.

It feels like a jilted man’s fantasy of revenge against all his ex or would-be lovers. Not the worst stage-to-screen one-location adaptation, but not the best either, Some Girl(s) will engage you while you watch it and leave your thoughts in the time it takes to exit the cineplex.

VIDEO-ON-DEMAND Short Term 12

January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Short Term 12 Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield (6/10) Short Term 12: Actors often talk about doing paycheck roles in order to afford passion roles. Short Term 12 is the kind of film that is for passion, not a paycheck. The title refers to the building the characters of the film work in, at a facility for teenagers in the foster system who are not able to be housed, temporarily, for one reason or another.

Before watching the film, I did some research on the foster care system so I would know one or two basic facts going into the movie. So coming out of this fictionalized version of a very real universe, I feel compelled to say that actors love to act ‘real’ in ways that are completely manufactured. Brie Larson, darling cutie of many young adult movies lately, stars as Grace, an aptly named young adult working at the aforementioned facility, where she seems to be the equivalent of that grizzled sergeant who has seen everything and has every kind of war wound but sticks with the grunts in the shit because that’s what real soldiers do. She is advocate and understander for every type of kid the film shows us. Whatever that particular child went through; so did she. I will grant that someone working in the foster care system for a few years has probably been exposed to every type of trauma, neglect, abuse and dysfunction a person could possibly suffer from who would wind up in the foster system. However, it’s a rather large contrivance that she is the wise sage for all the very different abuses and disorders these kids go through. The film also conveniently skips drug addiction as a problem for either the kids or their unfit parents. Namely methamphetamine, which is in reality one of the primary reasons kids end up in the foster system.

Not once does her character admit that she does not know what it’s like to be a particular kid in a particularly tough spot. It felt like the indie-drama version of a Steven Segal or Chuck Norris movie where they can slow-mo round-house kick their way to victory no matter how big, fast, or accurate their foe and their firearms are. The film also followed a very rote indie story structure of people living on the financial fringe, including the part where Larson’s Grace is in a relationship with Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) that kinda works but kinda doesn’t which leaves the female lead feeling emotionally torn over choices that happy couples share with joy rather than conflicted emotions. Mason’s post-modern drug-free hippie character rings slightly truer, as a endlessly hopefully, upbeat, positive, scraggily bearded co-worker who loves to hear the black kids’ raps while over-zealously bopping to the beat. Guys like him exist, which is kind of creepy but also probably a good thing in the end. I digress:

I saw shades of “The Good Girl” (the Jennifer Aniston indie where a twenty-something woman in disappointing life cycle at a low-paying profession connects with a young co-worker), shades of “Half-Nelson” (the Ryan Gosling indie where a twenty-something man in a disappointing life-cylce at a frustrating profession connects with a young student) and so on. Just as big-budget hollywood computer effects extravaganzas and television procedurals and virtually any romantic comedy from any media outlet have tropes and structures that are rigidly adhered to, so do indie dramas that function as the Hollywood equivalent of a human-interest piece in a largely fluff publication. I just don’t buy it, no matter how ‘real’ the acting is, or how dressed down the stars are.

OP-ED: About the Academy Nominations…

January 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

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Look, we all understand that awards and nominations are not about true deservedness, but about who has the right hype at the right moment in the year, who’s film got released at the right time, who’s “due” by the industry for all their years of yeomen high-paid labor on the silver screen and which films or performances will be the least controversial or the most controversial depending on the needs and wants of the Academy in a particular season.

It’s for that reason that awards are ultimately bullshit, kind of like college degrees. However, we still hold the Oscars on a pedestal of gravitas, histrionics and the cement foundation upon which a Hollywood player’s house of power shall be built. The Academy Awards MATTER despite being last in line for the awards season, despite having somewhat archaic rules and regulations, along with plenty of archaic, out of touch voters determining those super secure Lloyd’s of London protected final tallies.

I love Meryl Streep. I thought she could have won for “The Devil Wears Prada” and it would have been justifiable. I thought she was brilliant in “The Deer Hunter”, “Sophie’s Choice” and many others. But lately her performances have bordered on midnight cult movie kitsch. I was shocked by her win for “The Iron Lady”.

Made up to look like a convincing drag queen’s interpretation of Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, Meryl Streep engulfs the scenery in the awards-bait film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ comparatively subtle stage play “August: Osage County”. I never reviewed the film formally, but I did see it and it reeked of people jockeying for gold statues and pretending they were surprised by their nominations. Julia Roberts is a little more justifiable, but on a curve.

For confirmation of the legitimacy of my denigrating, look no further than RottenTomatoes.com’s review aggregating giving “August” a tepid, if not pretty crappy 65% fresh rating, with most critics sounding like they want to give Streep and her co-stars an outright negative judgement. The overview quote for RottenTomatoes: The sheer amount of acting going on in August: Osage County threatens to overwhelm, but when the actors involved are as talented as Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, it’s difficult to complain. It seems fear of ever admitting that Streep has managed to give a bad performance has lead to this nomination.

Hear me now: Meryl Streep gave a bad performance. She is undeserving this year.

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I’m disappointed by the lack of cojones the Academy displayed by ignoring James Franco’s gonzo “ALien” role as a Riff Raff-looking small time gangster with his ingenue-thugs in training. That’s a legendary performance that was probably too goofy to be considered high brow enough to bestow statues upon, though the Los Angeles film critics association acknowledged him by splitting its Best Supporting Actor notice between Franco and everybody new favorite AIDS-riddled drag queen Jared Leto. No disrespect to Leto’s wonderful performance, but I don’t see how being stricken with a deadly disease is any more honorable a disposition for a character than wanna-be gangster/local rapper wagger.

FRUITVALE STATION

Then there’s a movie like “Fruitvale Station”, which, admittedly is near and dear to my heart as I am an Oakland resident, as well as a cliched white guy who LOVES “The Wire” and thus Michael B. Jordan (WHERE THE FUCK IS WALLACE? WHERE’S WALLACE STRINGER?”) and was absolutely floored by Jordan’s turn as doomed youth Oscar Grant, who perished by an overzealous cop’s hand on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station, a station I’ve passed by and whose platform I’ve stood on innumerable times. I bawled like I was at a funeral when I saw him shot in the film. Octavia Spencer also deserved more recognition for her down to earth powerhouse performance as Oscar’s pragmatic mother. I got chills procuring the above production still from Google image search. So while I am undoubtedly a little bias, I still feel that the film’s early-in-the-year release doomed it, despite a healthy $16 Million+ box office tally. By comparison, awards-favorite Dallas Buyers Club has stalled at a nearly identical box office take and Nebraska, owner of six Oscar nominations, has only half that tally at $8 million after months of release and gradually dwindling returns. Not that box office is a factor in awards; it generally isn’t, thankfully.

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Finally, it is my humble opinion that Adele Exarchopoulos, star of Blue is the Warmest Colour, was robbed due to the film’s controversial subject matter. Her performance as an adolescent moving into her mid-20’s was inspiring in its ability to capture youthful naiveté turning into young adult over confidence and then settling into the late 20’s milieu of living your life for professional survival rather than exploration of the unknown. It was heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. A true powerhouse if there ever was one. It’s the token nomination of a person like Streep for a lesser performance just because of who Streep is, that spurred me to write this article.

Whereas the omissions of Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer could be justified by the limited number of nominee spots, ignoring a smaller performance (when box office doesn’t seem to factor in too heavily) for the empty lauding of a Hollywood elite like Streep is almost unforgivable in my book, if not for the fact that Oscars seem to be less meaningful each successive year, given the glut of awards and given the general knowledge that awards are more political than true yardsticks of The Best.

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