About Last Night…

“The Dictator” spilled ashes on Ryan, Angelina showed us ‘alotta leg, Esperanza sang a moving tribute, and Cirque du Soleil did their swinging thing. Yes, this year’s Oscar ceremony, produced by Brian Grazer, seemed quite staged and a little scarce on laughs, but it was often an evening of touching nostalgia for the movies – supported by a traditional hosting job by Billy Crystal, a superbly old-fashioned set, clips of celebrities expressing their mad movie love, and five awards apiece for two films that purely represented that love, The Artist and Hugo.

So yes, Best Picture went predictably to the silent French film, which happened to be the first winner shot entirely in Los Angeles. The Artist, while not likely the best film of the year, was certainly deserving of the award, preserving memory of a great era and the relevance it has to even the current film industry. Meanwhile, Jean Dujardin justly became the first Frenchman to win Best Actor, jumping to stage with glee and announcing “I love your country!” The night was filled with such smile-inducing moments, including Octavia Spencer‘s tearful acceptance of her Best Supporting Actress statuette for the The Help.

Although Viola Davis did not win Best Actress, which would have made the pair the first two African-American women to be awarded in the same year, Meryl Streep did obtain her third Oscar for The Iron Lady, giving a quite elegant speech, beat only by Christopher Plummer in his Supporting Actor win for Beginners. The 82-year-old is now the oldest winner in Oscar history, staring down at his first award exclaiming – “where have you been all my life?” Of course, Artist director Michel Hazanavicius was also victorious, screenplay awards given to Alexander Payne and company for The Descendants, and Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, his most commercially successful film. As in most cases, Woody failed to show, as did Tree of Life auteur Terrence Malick. Cinematography was about all the most enthralling arthouse film of the year had going for it, but of course, it went to the winner of most of the evening’s technical awards, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.

In addition to its superb camerawork, Hugo, the most visually impressive film in quite a while, was also honored in Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects. On that auditory note, Ludovic Bource’s score for The Artist was awarded, Flight of the Conchords’ Brett McKenzie also taking home a statuette for Best Song, ‘Man or Muppet’ from The Muppets. Predictably so, Rango also won Best Animated Feature, and in the Foreign Language category, A Separation, which was considered by many critics to be the best film of the year, taking home an Oscar for its home country of Iran. Undefeated, a moving high school football doc, also took home the award for Documentary Feature, somehow standing out amongst a year of fabulous non-fiction films.

One of the biggest surprises of the night was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning Best Editing, not only because the cutting style of David Fincher’s film was relatively uninteresting and all too reminiscent of The Social Network, but also because it ran against The Artist, whose characteristic silent editing style would seem hard for the Academy to ignore. The film did win Best Costume Design, however, The Iron Lady also being awarded for Best Makeup, due to its quite prolific transformation of Meryl Streep into Margaret Thatcher.

Overall, it was quite an old-fashioned night, something we’re not quite used to seeing when the Academy shoots for younger demographics. There were surprises, gossip, and plenty of predictably historic wins. As always, Billy was enjoyable, and when quite a few happy Frenchman stormed the stage (and one very excited Jack Russell Terrier), I believe many of us were left fairly satisfied. The Oscars only come once a year. But great films constantly surround us, even if they are over 80 years in the making.

Best actor winner Jean Dujardin of France carries Uggie the dog after ''The Artist'' won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, February 26, 2012.  REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Last-Minute Oscar Predictions

The 84th Academy Awards will be held tonight at 7pm!!! Not that I care … ya know, ’cause I’m gonna be cool and hate on the Oscars. Well, not really. We all know the awards have their issues, but along with a vast majority of movie lovers, I have always enjoyed the ceremony, year after year. And with Billy Crystal taking the reigns once again, it should be quite the show.

* I skipped the Best Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and Short categories, considering I haven’t seen a single film in any. Plus, this post is already quite late. You know how it is.

Best Picture

What Will Win – The Artist

  • It’s been over 80 years since the first silent, Best Picture winner – Wings. It is inevitable for everything old to become new again, so expect this fact of life to be exemplified by The Artist, a shoe-in for the film industry’s most coveted statuette, and a loving tribute to the era that started it all.

What Should Win – The Tree of Life

  • Terrence Malick’s crowning achievement is pure experience, an emotional, visually astonishing evocation of humanity, the universe, and cinematic art. So naturally, it doesn’t have a chance.

Best Director

Will – Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist

  • The French director’s crafty replication of an outdated art form provides him a surefire win. Malick won’t show up anyway.

Should – Martin Scorsese, Hugo

  • If it wasn’t for his “honorary” win for The Departed, Scorsese would have a running shot. He should, considering the great American director has iterated his love for film in Hugo like never before.

Best Actor

Will & Should – Jean Dujardin, The Artist

  • Silent acting is a completely different form of performance, and Dujardin, who embodies the style with utter charm and expression, will surely win the Academy’s heart, becoming the first Frenchman to win Best Actor. However, the race is very tight with George Clooney’s flawless, heart-wrenching performance in The Descendants, which I almost want to root for. Who ever thought he would be the underdog.

Best Actress

Will – Viola Davis, The Help

  • After her supporting win for Doubt, Davis has the best shot for her confident, emotional performance in The Help, a tear-jerking film of tolerance and empathy. Streep has a chance, but the Academy may now understand that she doesn’t have to win everything.

Should – Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

  • Mara was the best thing about David Fincher’s atmospheric, surprisingly lifeless adaptation/remake, making a well-known character her own and providing intrigue where the film provided none. Plus, she looks great with nip piercings.

Best Supporting Actor

Will & Should – Christopher Plummer, Beginners

  • Although I have yet to see Beginners, I find the concept of Plummer as a 75-year-old gay man who finally comes out to likely be the performance of his career. The Academy will no doubt agree, granting Plummer his first Oscar in a category that often honors lifetime achievement.

Best Supporting Actress

Will & Should – Octavia Spencer, The Help

  • Spencer’s witty, moving performance nearly stole the film from Davis! The Academy will likely try to make history, awarding two African-American women in the same year.

Best Original Screenplay

Will & Should – Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris

  • Although Woody rarely attends the Oscars, it would be wise of him to show up this time. His witty, romantic, and thought-provoking script turned into one of his greatest and most successful films, and will surely be given its due.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will & Should – Alexander Payne, Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, The Descendants

  • Some hate the narration, or the emotional disconnect that may or may not occur in some scenes, but it all comes to back to a screenplay that is undeniably humane, unique, and beautifully written. Plus, it will make the voters feel better about not giving Clooney the top acting prize.

Editing

Will & Should – The Artist

  • The superimpositions, titlecards, and transitions are straight out of 1927. Perfectly executed nostalgia that won’t go unnoticed.

Cinematography

Will & Should – The Tree of Life

  • Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera takes a God-like presence in a film that portrays both the creation of the universe and a striking memory of family life with equal profundity. Not giving The Tree of Life Best Picture is predictable. Not awarding the most sensational camerawork in years would be a sin.

Costume Design

Will – The Artist

  • Hollywood loves to give itself a pat on the back. Remember when they wore that? Consider your tux golden.

Should – Hugo

  • As creative as clothing can come, Hugo‘s costuming actually makes you think about how the film’s visual components work together, producing visual poetry beyond anything in recent memory.

Art Direction

Will & Should – Hugo

  • The Paris train station is not only a societal microcosm, but along with the film’s other sets, a triumph of production design that may be one of the best in cinematic history.

Makeup

Will – The Iron Lady

  • If Streep doesn’t win Best Actress, the stuff they used to make her look like Margaret Thatcher certainly will.

Should – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

  • Makes them look past puberty! Oh wait…

Original Score

Will & Should – The Artist

  • Ludovic Bource’s score lends emotion-provoking sound to a beautiful silence. Whether the scene requires peppy fun or utter turmoil, the compositions are pitch-perfect.

Original Song

Will & Should – ‘Man or Muppet’ from The Muppets

  • Against a song from an animated bird flick, Flight of Conchords‘ Brett McKenzie should take the cake here, even though there were better songs not even nominated, including others from The Muppets. Now if only they would let the furry critters perform live.

Sound Editing

Will – Hugo

  • Whether above a bustling train station or cast within the enveloping chords of a silent movie theater, Hugo creates an immersive world not only through visual design, but also sounds that makes us look around to see where they come from.

Should – Drive

  • If you bastards are gonna nominate the year’s best action-arthouse film for nothing other than f***ing sound editing, it at least feels good to know you “understand” how incredible the audio actually is.

Sound Mixing

Will & Should – Hugo

  • If my history is correct, no film has won Sound Editing and lost Mixing. Do the voters even know the difference? Insert troll face here.

Visual Effects

Will – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

  • One word – Caesar!

Should – Hugo

  • Scorsese undoubtably proves that once in a blue moon, 3D doesn’t have to suck. But James Cameron already got that credit for Avatar, so I wouldn’t bet on a win here, even though Scorsese arguably uses the effect in an even grander way, enhancing a film about more than … well, 3D.

 

See you on the red carpet!

An Introduction to Werner Herzog

Conquistadors & Bad Lieutenants: A Fool’s Search for El Dorado

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Francois Truffaut, one of the main proponents of the French New Wave, once described New German director Werner Herzog as “the most important film director alive.” Herzog certainly has quite the repertoire, ranging from such influential films as Fitzcarraldo and his 1979 Nosferatu remake, to such recent, critically acclaimed documentaries as Grizzly Man, Encounters at the End of the World, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

I have not seen any of the above mentioned films, but as evident to any viewer who has seen Herzog narration parodied in YouTube videos (check out his hilarious “commentary” on Where’s Waldo?, for instance), Herzog has a perspective of humanity that may be the most genuine to have ever been translated onto film. His characters struggle with both God and themselves, their dreams and their visions, and most of the time, simply can’t sort their lives out. But in the process, they do discover something, and in most cases, it is often up to the audience to interpret what that something truly is. And for viewers open to the experience, it is often nothing less than divine.

The two works I will discuss in this piece are Herzog’s fourth and seventeenth fictional films, book-ending a long career of movies that I hope are as rich, stimulating, and reflective as those I have studied. Aguirre, the Wrath of God, made by Herzog in 1972, is a visual envelopment of madness, illusion, power, theology, and nature. 2009’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, meanwhile, focuses on the tangible deceptions that remove us from purpose, loyalty, and happiness, yet finds hope in the dreams that may or may not lead us back.

 

Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972)

Aguirre marks the beginning of Herzog’s collaboration with actor Klaus Kinski, a powerful, money-hungry performer who Herzog never quite got along with, but always felt was a key element of his films. The two argued quite a bit about how Kinski’s role should be performed in Aguirre, but whatever did occur onset (including supposed tantrums and the occasional murder/suicide threat), Kinski clearly ended up dominating the screen.

He plays the blonde-haired, menacing-looking, Spanish soldier that the title refers to, and throughout the film, claims to exert “the wrath of God” that nature, in fact, is inflicting on him. Aguirre has been sent by conquistador Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles), along with two commanding officers and a group of several, on a mission through the dangerous, Amazonian jungle below the Andes mountains, one that the group hopes will ultimately result in gold, or more specifically, the treasures of El Dorado.

The film’s opening shot, which displays the explorers’ mountainous decent from the widest possible angle, already establishes the picture’s forthcoming,  illusory elements, a hazy fog enveloping before the lens. Aguirre never loses its stylistic imagery, impossibly beautiful, on-location shots displaying some sort of subtle evil, emphasized by the haunting, musical score by German rock band, Popul Vuh. The film is narrated from the journals Brother Gaspar de Carvajal, played by Del Negro. He serves as the film’s guiding reminder of religion, a source of order that becomes obscured as Aguirre mutinies against those in charge of the expedition, granting himself unlimited authority, which in an uncivilized land, appears to give him the powers of God.

Aguirre’s daughter, played by Cecilia Rivera, is a source of purity in all this madness, and it is only upon her death when it is fully realized that the humans have lost; the wrath of Aguirre has destroyed them, as will any sense of authority in a world where we are bound by our surroundings, in addition to powers that do not transcend earthly ability.

Aguirre‘s striking, hallucinatory imagery takes a powerful role when the men literally begin to see reality melt before their eyes, starvation leading them to question everything they see. Aguirre, the only survivor, is therefore left with nothing and everything. He has the whole world before him, but no one left to dominate, not even his own daughter. He is in complete control of his own destiny, yet trapped by the horrid depravities of the jungle. He is lost, and the search for myth has made him not only inseparable from greed, but from the physical location in which avarice has taken his soul. The dream has become a nightmarish reality, yet the illusion remains that his conquest has been victorious.

The cinematography by Thomas Mauch is one of the best examples of a story driven by visual ingenuity, not relying on dialogue to advance the relatively simple plot, but instead, a surreal, deeply layered reality that can only be visualized in cinema. This would no doubt inspire Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, as well as Terrence Malick’s The New World several decades later. Even today, Aguirre, the Wrath of God descends into the “heart of darkness” like few films would even dare to attempt.

 

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Decades later,  in Bad Lieutenant (a film that has virtually nothing to do with the 1992 movie of the same title), Herzog also directs a fantastic performance, one that ranks among the best of Nicholas Cage’s career. Cage plays a pain-ridden cop with both a drug problem and a conscience, a dangerous combination when attempting to solve a homicide case in New Orleans, post-Katrina.

Meanwhile, Eva Mendes plays the prostitute he loves, reprising the performers’ romance from 2007’s Ghost Rider, a superhero flick that provided zaniness and poor writing in equal dosage, making it in my opinion, quite more fun than it had any right to be. Cage carried that movie, and in Bad Lieutenant, it is fair to say that his performance is not only flawless, but also one of the most overlooked in many, many years.

Cage embraces each role he’s given with complete focus and charisma, even if it’s a completely ridiculous, typecast bit that he has accepted simply because he needs to give the IRS some sort of compensation. There is some slice of autobiography in his role as Lieutenant Terrence McDonagh, playing a conflicted man whose debt digs him into quite a deep hole, but provides some way for the better part of himself to suppress his inner demons. Herzog allows Cage to play the character with completely realistic insanity, Cage simply filling the role with his entire being.

Terrence has a limp, and damned if in every shot, we don’t see the actor dazed with the satisfaction that the coke and painkillers are keeping him from wincing. It’s like a twisted version of Laura’s handicap in The Glass Menagerie. Meanwhile, when he overdoses, we know. As he begins to get high, the gradual transformation is evident. McDonagh is simply one of the most realistically portrayed drug addicts I have ever seen, Cage conveying the mental and physical torture with both humor and vigorous humanity.

There are obviously anti-Bush undercurrents in Bad Lieutenant, but the film is most successful in conveying Katrina as a metaphor for Terrence’s suffering. Water has flooded the already crime-filled streets of  New Orleans, and as a good deed leads to a crippling accident for Terrence, the ensuing drugs that make the “bad cop” numb are symbolized by the suffocation of those waters. Like we cannot prevent the fury of nature, we can also not stop the inevitable pain that unfairly enters our lives, even if we attempt to do the right thing. Terrence fulfills his duties by trying to solve his current case, but that does not mean he doesn’t try to score drugs at every opportunity.

When he gets high, he often sees reptiles, an element associated with both Katrina and his current state of drowning. For all you Harry Potter fans out there, they’re basically his anti-Patronus, a sign of weakness rather than protection. In one scene, where Terrence begins to develop the hallucination of iguanas on a coffee table, or another, when he may literally see a dead alligator on the road, Herzog provides us with POV shots from the reptiles’ perspective, almost as if Terrence is having an out-of-body experience. More specifically, Herzog wants us to recognize that the troubled man is currently living within his demons, and it will take quite a unique narrative for him to escape.

That opportunity comes in the crime lord, Big Fate (Xzibit), who is responsible for the crimes Terrence is investigating. This portion of the film leads us to heavily question Terrence’s character, whether he will work with Big Fate to score drugs and resolve his debts, or fulfill his responsibilities as an enforcer of the law. The solution to this drug-induced haziness is foreshadowed in several ways, including the moment when after Terrence is removed from duty, he utters the line – “a man without a gun, that’s not a man.” Being a cop is the only source of order Terrence has in his life, and if he wishes for any hope of clarity, his duties must be fulfilled.

But Terrence also has a greater dream, and that is to love and be loved without the sorrow that surrounds us in other areas of life; to aspire to something greater than a little fish in the great ocean of human imperfection. It may be an impossible goal, but with the laws that his career places so prominently within his life, the “bad” lieutenant at least has a chance to try. Try he does, and when the pieces do fall together in his favor, whether through coincidence, karma, a genuine stroke of conscious, or through a parody of the “American happy ending,” the crime is indeed, solved. But part of that “crime” remains within Terrence, and as the credits roll, it becomes clear that even though that darkness may remain forever within his soul, fish do indeed have dreams. And maybe one day, they will escape the flood.

The most touching moment in the film occurs when Terrence describes a story to his beloved, about how he once placed a silver spoon in his childhood hiding place and was never able to find it again. When Terrence uncovers the goodness within his troubled soul, he obtains the spoon once again, and gives it to the woman he plans to be with forever. It has become rusty, but at least it’s there; at least there is some proof of life before this devastating present.

As the film ends, we know our protagonist isn’t quite clean, but we are not yet impatient with his incurable addiction. Instead, we sympathize, and hope for his dreams to become a reality. His nightmares, like Aguirre’s, certainly have. Cage may play a seemingly “crazy” character, similar to many of his others. But with Herzog’s direction comes the diary of a man who is deeply human and relatable, and who over the course of the film, becomes someone we actually care for. These two artists take us to Hell and back, making it rain in a way that is hard to ignore. Weeks later, Terrence’s soul will still dance within your mind.

 

The Fool

Upon viewing these films, I reflect upon a chapter of Roger Ebert’s latest memoir, Life Itself, as the critic contemplates the ways in which Herzog has affected his life and career. I enjoy this passage in particular –

I felt a connection with Herzog’s work that went beyond critic and film. We shared an obsession. He engaged with the infuriating relationship between the human will and the intractable universe. Each film, in a new way, dealt with the fundamental dilemma of consciousness: We know we are here, we know what we see, we learn what we can, we try to do more than is possible, we fail, but we have glimpsed a vision of the infinite. That sounds goofy and New Age, but there is no more grounded filmmaker than Herzog. He founds his work on the everyday realities of people who, crazy or sane, real or fictional, are all equally alive to him.

No person can fully understand the universe, one may even call it foolish to try. But as Ebert explains, Herzog provides a pathway to mortal comprehension. He obtains this through characters who try as hard as we do, not only to understand, but to accomplish the many objectives that life has placed before them. Whether or not we can consciously connect with his films, it is obvious that Werner Herzog understands people. That still means he’s one step ahead of us.

Movie Journal – 2/14/2012

Christopher Strong (1933)    4/5

Directed by Dorothy Arzner (RKO)

As a dedicated aviatrix who has never been in love, Katharine Hepburn gives a solid performance in her second onscreen role. Christopher Strong, a film that was not highly acclaimed upon an initial 1933 release, is significant not only for its showcase of the emerging actress, but also the way it portrays a genuinely feminine point-of-view. As Hepburn falls for a wealthy, married (and until now, resolutely loyal), aristocrat (played by Colin Clive), love softens her ability to have a record-breaking career, yet strengthens her courage to not let personal happiness (or a sense of obligation) destroy the lives of others. Meanwhile, her lover’s wife, Lady Strong (Billie Burke), is hopelessly caught in the middle. Not knowing about the affair, she does, however, question the relationship of her daughter (Helen Chandler) to a man who also happens to be married (Ralph Forbes).

Unfortunately, female directors are hard to come by, even in today’s industry. Dorothy Arzner, who began as an editor, would become a great talent behind the camera, and here, she clearly foreshadows how film may advocate feminism, especially considering a resolution that remains as “courageous” as her protagonist. Having been made before the Production Code Administration of 1934, Christopher Strong clearly benefits from a lack of censorship, Zoe Akins’ screenplay relying on elements of sex, adultery, and swinging lifestyle that are essential to the plot. With all these emerging aspects, the film remains an overlooked, historical document, demonstrating both the birth of the studio era and sound filmmaking, in addition to controversial topics that would not be fully explored until several decades later.

Tinker Tailor Soldier … Oscar?

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (February 11, 2012 – Lyric Screening in Blacksburg, VA)     3.5/5

Directed by Tomas Alfredson (StudioCanal)

If great elements of a film go over your head, does that still make it a great film? As a critic, that is the fundamental question posed to me by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, an adaptation of the 1974 novel by John le Carre, which was made into a BBC miniseries in 1979. I have yet to experience either, which leaves me at a disadvantage, quite similar to the lack of experience evident in my review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (although I would later see the Swedish adaptation, to much greater appreciation).

Predictably, Tinker Tailor has been praised by critics for a flawless performance by Gary Oldman, atmospheric direction by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (who crafted the brilliant youth-vampire love story, Let the Right One In), and an incredibly dense, narratively spellbinding screenplay by Peter Straughan and his late wife Bridget O’Connor, whom the film is dedicated to. But despite the fact that all the pieces may come together, a sacrifice must be made by the first-time viewer who has had no prior association with le Carre’s story and characters. At its worst, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is simply incomprehensible.

The basic premise, involving Oldman as a former British Intelligence agent assigned to find a Soviet mole in the Cold War era, is certainly captivating. But once the narrative threads begin to overlap, it’s anyone’s chess match. As most already know, the 84th Annual Academy Awards are approximately two weeks away, so I figured it would be fun to critique Tinker Tailor on the basis of where the Academy places the film’s strengths. And if I remain satisfied with this piece in a day or so … hey, there may be time to analyze a few others.

Best Actor, Gary Oldman

Oldman plays the character of George Smiley, forced into retirement as a result of a blown operation in Hungary. The mission that brings him pack pits him against his former allies in British Intelligence – those played by Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, David Dencik, and Toby Jones – who all give quite solid performances. Tom Hardy also does an impeccable job as Ricki Tarr, the man who reveals the possibility of a mole in the previously stated group, paralleled by equally great performances by Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and John Hurt.

So amidst a cast of British all-stars, how does Oldman’s protagonist steal the screen? In my opinion, it is both subtlety and mystery. Having no familiarity with how Smiley’s character is supposed to develop, it might just be my ignorance that defines the respect I have for Oldman’s performance, rather than his accuracy of playing the character. Smiley’s wife has left him once again, and this is arguably one element that drives him to unravel deception in other areas of life, as well as keeps the audience interested enough to do the same. Being a newbie, I wish that his relationship developments with Firth’s character were slightly more defined, in addition to the psychological rivalry between he and the Soviet master of it all – the so-called “Karla.” But I did find the performance fascinating, and the nomination well-deserved. Even in the final shot, I questioned the old man’s motives, and perhaps through trickery of his own, cared enough to wish him happiness.

Best Adapted Screenplay, Peter Straughan & Bridget O’Connor

It takes slick writing to adapt a lengthy novel/seven-hour miniseries into a compact, two-hour package. I give thanks to editor Dino Jonsater for his seamless transitions between past and present, so fluid that they are sometimes not recognized until mentioned in the dialogue. After all, this is a film that forces you to keep up. The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is also startlingly well-composed. So yes, the screenplay is visualized with technical perfection, but how is the writing itself? It pains me to say that any adult of relative intelligence, having yet to experience le Carre’s plotting, will not be able to comprehend a hefty portion of Alfredson’s film. There is simply too much occurring; in different places and at different times, in heavy British accents and incessant spy lingo.

The general story elements come across just fine, but only after looking up a plot summary did I realize just how much I had missed. Deceit is a theme of the film, yes, but to the point where it mutes our understanding of the characters, in addition to other themes, there lies a fundamental problem. Tinker Tailor is filled with the passage of information, most of which is not revealed. The goal is to enunciate the absurdity of the Cold War era, but we are instead left with a fast-paced, confusing piece of espionage artistry. Oscar worthy? Maybe. But it would be a lie to say I could completely connect with it.

Best Original Score, Alberto Iglesias

Despite the flaws of Tinker Tailor, it is always entertaining, and perhaps a key reason is the musical score by Alberto Iglesias. Despite what the film does to distance audiences, the haunting nature of Iglesias’ compositions always draws intrigue. Even when we are confused, the erratic music excites (or even jolts us) with the promise of surprise, and draws us into mystery when we already have too much to handle. It is a key ingredient to the masterful tone of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, matched perfectly to the elaborate world captured by Alfredson’s camera. There have been better scores this year, but few have so perfectly embodied why music within film is so important.

The Final Verdict

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was a picture that very much conflicted me; well-executed to the point of excellence, but complex to the point of frustration. I was indeed entertained, but upset that I could not obtain everything that I knew must be present. I sometimes believe that it is impossible to judge a movie until you have seen it at least twice. In recent memory, there has never been a film to better prove that point. I will be quite interested to see if the Academy awards anything to Tinker Tailor, and will not be at all surprised if it receives none of the three. But on a side-note, I also want to applaud the film’s narrative ingenuity. Although I fail to believe claims that this is a perfect film, it is rare to see something so mentally provoking. And I sure as hell can’t wait to see it again.

Movie Journal – 2/10/2012

Bananas (1971)     4.5/5

Written & Directed by Woody Allen (United Artists)

With the commercial success of last year’s Midnight in Paris, in addition to significant recognition from the Academy, it is interesting to realize that even Woody Allen’s third film (and arguably the first where he had sufficient creative control) artfully mixes the same level of humor and intellect. Although Bananas is surely what fans would refer to as one of Allen’s “funnier, earlier” movies, the slapstick approach does not negate any of the film’s ingenious satire.

Spoofing everything from news broadcasts to social activism, revolutionaries to courtroom antics, Allen successfully proved that not only his hysterically neurotic persona could carry a picture, but also content more relevant than in many dramas. The basic premise involves Allen as an eccentric product tester in New York, whose breakup with activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) prompts him to take a vacation to a revolution-torn, Central American country, somehow resulting in Allen becoming the new, fake-bearded president of “San Marcos.”

There is nothing particularly consistent about Bananas, but throughout the strange, light-hearted insanity, virtually every sight gag, one-liner, and rapid-paced conversation connects. Each scene is staged with the absurdity of a Monty Python skit, and although this does provide some disconnection, what we are witnessing is undoubtably the birth of one of the great American talents. On another note, with shots of diverse length, interesting compositions, and a slight ignorance of continuity editing, one can see the emerging elements of 70s art film quite clearly. Allen’s humor, meanwhile, would not simply be concentrated in a movement. He would average nearly one film a year for the next 40, and with another set of directing and screenwriting nominations in his lap, it is hard to imagination a world without the other 21.

Movie Journal – 2/8/2012

Piranha, a.k.a. “Piranha 3D” (2010)     3/5

Directed by Alexandre Aja (Dimension Films)

Expertly adapting Roger Corman camp for the SyFy Channel era, this remake of the 1978 Jaws parody gives B-movie a 21st century definition. Not a horror film in any true sense, Piranha forgoes any terror or suspense for hysterically flamboyant fish attacks, wet T-shirt contests, and 3D gimmicks. Needless to say, all conventions of good filmmaking are ignored. However, there is some funny dialogue, and even when the deliberately subpar narrative lends itself to rough waters, it is saved by animated blood, crappy CGI, and lots of bare boobs.

As if that wasn’t enough, Piranha still spoofs those story elements that remain even in the torture porn we call “horror” today, but amongst the undemanding, frat boy crowd that the film is marketed to, it is likely that few will acknowledge the satire. So is the film’s paradox, but for those of us who are in on the joke, cameos by Richard Dreyfuss, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, and Eli Roth will do nothing but delight. This is dumb, good-humored, and simply fun “exploitation” that never runs out of energy. As one character says – “we’re shooting porno, not a drama!” What can I say, Americans like to have a good time. See you at Piranha 3DD.