Saturday, March 3, 2018

Handicapping This Year's Best Picture Oscar Nominees

By Steve Evans

Out of nine Best Picture nominees this year, The Shape of Water is favored to win tomorrow night. It’s lavishly produced, weird and strangely compelling in its love story.

Because the Academy has been quirky of late, I’ll say Shape will indeed win.

Here’s my annual effort to break down the contenders and handicap the race. Let me be clear. These thoughts have less to do with artistic merit than with Oscar politics, past trends and an intuitive sense of how the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chooses Oscar winners for maximum

Jordan Peele's Get Out, a thriller with horror and science fiction elements, was probably the most profitable film of the year with a $252 million-plus worldwide gross against a $4.5 million budget. It's scary and funny, and the makers of the film pushed hard after the fact to play up the picture as a racial allegory, instead of just leaving it as a black comedy, yeah, pun intended. Instead, the film comes off as a reverse-racist polemic to some viewers. Controversy might be good for box office, though seldom for Academy Awards. And despite the ignorance of film critics hailing Get Out for originality, the picture is highly derivative of films like The Clonus Horror, Coma and The Island. Get Out and freshman director Peele will have to settle for the honor of nominations only. He now has the clout to make plenty more films and establish a track record that could lead to an eventual win.

Dunkirk and Darkest Hour – both stories of Brits during World War II – will cancel each other out.

Call Me by Your Name is handicapped by the fact that a film about gay boys won Best Picture last year, and Hollywood is not inclined to overdo it.

Lady Bird is a sweet little comedy-drama about a gal’s coming of age in the shadow of a difficult mother. But that’s it. The film just…ends. Not nearly enough gravitas for a Best Picture win.

The Post and Phantom Thread are both prestige productions directed by and starring some of the top talent working today. Problem is, neither found a wide audience. The Post is overwrought with odd character quirks, which are distracting, and a focus on so much inside baseball about newspaper operations that the greater issue at stake is obscured. Scotch that one. Phantom is reputed to be Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting swansong – and he may just pull an upset for Best Actor over Gary Oldman, but in the age of #MeToo the film’s tale of toxic masculinity is not going to sit well with Academy voters ever conscious of appearances.

That leaves Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.  Any other year, this would be the runaway favorite. It’s got bleeding-edge social issues, powerhouse acting and delivers an unflinching look at rural America. But. As some critics have observed, this is also a black comedy directed by a Brit, taking some easy potshots at America’s rural South. My point is, the tone of the film is off, never quite believable, though the actors try mightily to sell the story. In sum, it’s flawed.

So we’re left with The Shape of Water, the strange story of a mute woman in love with an aquatic lizard man who escapes his government captors. This is what you get when you cross The Fugitive with The Creature from the Black Lagoon, only this time the gal is not screaming and has even brought her own condoms. I made up that last part. On balance, this is high fantasy, beautifully produced and powerfully romantic, plus it delivers a unique twist on some familiar cinematic tropes. All of this is a semi-fancy way of saying The Shape of Water is a novelty of pure escapism that puts a balm on the frayed nerves of modern moviegoers living in a surreal world of their own with Trump, Kim Jong, et. al. doing crazy things most every day.  Count on The Shape of Water to win.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Come for the Oscar, Stay for the Dissolution

By Steve Evans

Some win Golden Globes and Oscars. Others get stuck on Sunset Boulevard (1950) and end up floating face down in swimming pools. Boulevard of Broken Dreams, as Tony Bennett likes to sing.
Though I mainly invest my time on this blog trying to keep film classics alive, now and again there comes occasion to resurrect some obscure band I used to love that will kick your ass if given half the chance. So it is with bassist/lead singer Johnette Napolitano and her group. This is one of the all-time great rock videos. Phil Spector did not produce.

Hit it.

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Little Donald's Bitter Lament

By Steve Evans

He may think he's as ruthless and capable as Michael Corleone. He certainly has the foul temper of Sonny. But wee Donald Trump shows himself increasingly as nothing more than a frail and insecure Fredo. Take him fishing. Please.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

We're Down for a Remake of Death Wish

By Steve Evans

The original Death Wish (1974) with big Charlie Bronson is an exploitation classic -- and like Dirty Harry three years earlier -- a product of its high-crime time. Bronson plays a pacifist architect whose family is attacked in a home invasion. His wife is murdered. His daughter is left catatonic. Charlie follows the only sensible course of action: he acquires a gun and goes out every night killing muggers, would-be rapists and other miscreants who spark his wrath.
Audiences ate it up.
The movie spawned four sequels. Inevitable, then, that we would eventually get a re-do of this seminal film. The original made Bronson a star at 53 after 20 years of film work. Death Wish remains the role with which he is most closely associated. And the picture holds up nearly 45 years since its release. The film benefits especially from an older actor in the lead, as the notion of a deadly vigilante demands portrayal by an older man possessed of self-control, discipline and the resolve to not get caught. Remakes usually annoy the hell out of me, as does director Eli Roth, who may well be a certifiable lunatic but is at least consistent and dedicated in his thematic concerns. Chief among these is revenge (Tarantino works the same turf).  The trailer below is very slick and accomplishes a difficult trick: counteracting potential cries of racism and fascism (as were levied against the original) by remaking the hero as a kindly doctor who cares for people of all creeds and races. The trailer makes clear he's out for revenge and, eventually (inevitably?), he embraces the thrill of killing bad guys without mercy and in increasingly gruesome ways. But mostly it's about revenge.
Having invested some time pursuing this subject, I've discovered that the idea of revenge is far more satisfying than the actual getting of revenge, which carves out some of your soul and leaves you diminished. Because movies enable us to live vicariously, looks like I'll just have to pony up coin for a ticket to the remake of Death Wish. It looks tight. Great cast, too. Besides Bruce Willis, who is aging nicely in his role as senior statesman of action-film badassery, we have Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Dean Norris (DEA agent Hank on Breaking Bad) and Mike Epps. I'm sure Willis is serviceable in the role, even if he's no Bronson. Big Charlie always looked so ferocious he probably didn't need a gun to take out the street trash. Charlie could insert the damn bullets manually if he wanted to. He could level a scowl and give villains a stink-eye and they would drop like shoo-flies on a hot summer day. He sweated testosterone sufficient to kill a dozen strong men. I tell you, Bronson was tuff. Still, Willis is always fun to watch, going back almost 30 years to his breakout role in Die Hard.

But there's another, subtle, reason this remake will fascinate. Experience and my cynical nature tell me this picture will play audiences like a grand piano -- pushing buttons, eliciting reactions, jerking with emotions. Hitchcock was a master at this; Roth considerably less so. But I'll take what I can get. As an amateur anthropologist, watching an audience watch Death Wish is almost as entertaining as checking out the film itself. There's nothing quite like the sight of a crowd responding to pure cinema. Originally set for a fall 2017 release, the film was pushed back without explanation to March 2, though I suspect the October mass shooting in Las Vegas may have precipitated the studio's decision. While neither bears any relation to the other, delicate sensibilities can set off an online firestorm -- and studios are all about keeping up appearances while protecting their investment. Word is, the remake is coming out with a hard-R rating typical of Roth and befitting the film's tone. This is not a date movie, but you guessed as much, didn't ya?

Cinema Uprising copyright © 2018 by Steve Evans. All rights reserved.