June 21, 2008

Random Musing: Best Original Song Oscar

Today is a sad day for Disney films and musicals. "The number of original songs that can be nominated from a single movie will now be limited to two, according to a rule change by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences late Tuesday." Last year's "Enchanted" will then be the final film to have three nominations, which included "Happy Working Song," "So Close," and "That's How You Know," none of which won. The year before, Jennifer Hudson-powered musical "Dreamgirls" also had three nominations, including "Listen," "Love You I Do," and "Patience," also none of which won. The only other two films to have more than two nominations were 1991's Oscar magnet "Beauty and the Beast" and 1994's "The Lion King," both Disney films.
With this change in nomination policy, I am actually not sure for whom it would become more difficult---Disney films and musicals or the Academy itself. With the nomination list from any one film limited, anyone would instantly think the film is missing another opportunity for an Oscar in that category, but with the nominations limited, it makes it more difficult for the Academy to piggyback so many songs from any one film into the category for nomination. I mean, come on! "Patience" from Dreamgirls was nowhere near being Oscar-worthy, but two other songs were chosen from the film, and because it was "original" too, it made it easy for the Academy to round out the category with five nominees.
And now I have to bring up the trouble with Oscar. I have realized that "Falling Slowly," a song from "Once" and the actual winner of the Oscar for Best Original Song last year, was hardly originally composed for "Once." No, according to Wikipedia:

"It had appeared in 2006 on "The Cost" (an album issued by [writer] Hansard's band, The Frames) as well as in the movie "Beauty in Trouble"; it had also been performed by the [writers] in various European venues. The Academy ruled that because the song had been composed for the movie, and the prior public exposure during the long period that the movie took to produce had been minimal, it remained eligible."

Total bull. It was not written specifically for the film, so it would therefore be ineligible, and their reasoning is bull. The Academy itself says:
"Only songs that are 'original and written specifically for the film' are eligible to win."

Therefore, "Falling Slowly" is officially ineligible. That is all there is to it. It was not written specifically for "Once" because it clearly popped up on at least one band's album before the film was even released! "You Must Love Me" from "Evita" was certainly not on any album by Madonna before the film's release! And again, I do not know who is losing out the most in this circumstance: the other eligible songs that rounded out the nominees last year or the Academy itself for bending its own rules and proving to be hypocrites?
Anyway, I just thought it was fascinating to share the news of the original song nomination rule change and to point out the Academy's recent bending of rules. And I still have not reasoned for whom it would be least fair in any of these cases.


June 20, 2008

Random Musing: Queer Theory 101 (Class One)

Well as I promised, today was the day I got to read the first few chapters of "The Lavender Screen" (thank you, oil change). Anyway, I have learned quite a bit already just from those chapters.
In the preface, writer Barry Sandler accurately declares that "the image of gay people on the [film] screen has been one of perverts and killers or freaks or grotesques or screaming queens or interior decorators or 'La Cage aux Folles.'" This one quote made me realize so much about the history of homosexuality on Hollywood's silver screen and how I could not think of one character from any movie who did not fall into those categories (especially the perverts or killers). Furthermore, these films with gay characters only show homosexuality from the assumptions of straight society and what they think homosexuals are like. In addition, many films today choose to perpetuate flamboyant stereotypes of homosexuals, such as "Kiss of the Spider-Woman" or "La Cage," but the films that show the boy next door as gay are too close to home to assimilate or even choose to accept. Because of this, I have realized that Hollywood (even today!) has been okay with the "homo," just not the "sexual." How many films have had a gay character that most viewers sit back and opinionlessly watch? Probably quite a few. But how many films have had gay characters that become intimate lovers? Those films are the ones that scare or shock people. For example, 2005's so-notorious-it's-infamous "Brokeback Mountain" included a scene where Ennis and Garth engage in anal sex in a dark tent. Such a scene drew the fire of conservatives and many who thought it was too shocking to put on film. But how many of those same people were bothered when a hetero couple had sex in another film that year? Unless it was because of children who could potentially see it, I doubt many people would have been as bothered. Unless it is "normal," then homosexuals on film cannot be themselves.
Meanwhile, in 1959, the Production Code relaxed (thanks to the Catholic Church, of all people) to allow the first American film to feature a gay character (and completely invisible except by reference!) to be Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly, Last Summer." Being invisible leads a gay character to be "worthless," contends author Boze Hadleigh. In fact, I curiously learned that great, revered Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn, who took the role of Sebastian's mother as a "character part," wanted to make her character nearly insane because only an insane woman could let her son be gay. Oh, yes. You are interpreting correctly. I have discovered that Miss Hepburn was a complete homophobe. (She did not even know that her co-star Montgomery Clift had a thing for men!) Because of this, now I understand some of the thinking behind the roles of actors or actresses in gay-related films; in this case, Hepburn obviously wanted to compare her character to what she thought of real-life parents whose children were homosexuals. How sad. And now I can see that homosexuality in classic Hollywood was perhaps not really for the salaciousness... perhaps it was because they needed a good villain.
On the other hand, most people would be both surprised and unsurprised to learn that Germany produced the first gay films (in the 1920's!). Also on the cutting edge of Expressionism at the time, such films as "Different From the Rest (Anders als die Anderen)" and "Maedchen in Uniform" did not portray homosexual characters as evil or whacked out. No, they did their best to show that the love of two homosexuals could be as real or touching (or normal!) as the love of two heterosexuals. Unfortunately, the rise of National Socialism destroyed the propagation of these values, just as the implementation of the Production Code in America censored all homosexual references (or characters) in film, making all things gay "contemptible."
In the final chapter I read, the films "A Taste of Honey" and "A Special Day" are mentioned. The former is a great example of the "okay to be homo, but not sexual" example I already explained because the main character's gay best friend is clearly homo, but never sexual. On the other hand, Marcello Mastroianni plays a gay man about to be sent to exile for his sexuality in "A Special Day." His dilemma is treated with respect and his feelings are real. This might be one of the first examples of modern film featuring a gay character who is real and does have feelings, but is not a freak, killer, criminal, or flaming for laughs. A film like this gives me hope for what is to come. Let us study some more...


June 18, 2008

Random Musing: Why I Love A Streetcar Named Desire

Everytime I pass a copy of the film "A Streetcar Named Desire," I do not usually reflect on how classic it is or the multiple Oscar nominations (or wins!) that it garnered. In fact, I have even seen the film and quickly recognize its presence among the greatest American films of all-time. But no, everytime I pass a copy of "Streetcar," I usually drool over hunky Marlon Brando in his first film role...the same hunky Brando who struts around shouting "'Ey, Stella!" while sporting tight, tight tee-shirts that flaunt his buff body.
Anyway, this picture never requires words (ok, so I'm contradicting that...), but nevertheless, just admire. This is why I love "A Streetcar Named Desire."


June 17, 2008

Random Musing: Of Human Bondage

When some people ask me my favorite movies, such classics as "Gone With the Wind" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" always slip past my lips. When they go for my favorite actress, it's always Bette Davis. And with that said, I always go further, adding that my favorites by her are her second Academy Award win, "Jezebel," and her 1934 breakout role in RKO's "Of Human Bondage," based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1915 book. The first time I saw the movie was a few years ago, and I have loved it ever since, especially for Davis, who was just stunning as selfish Mildred, a marvelous performance for her first leading role. Now imagine my surprise when I am searching for copies of the film on DVD one day on Amazon.com (some time ago) when I found the most shameless rant ever...
So before I go on, let me tell you what the movie is really about. In the film, Davis is devious Mildred (I can just hear Leslie Howard saying her name now...). She is a Cockney waitress who uses Phillip (the main character, played by Leslie Howard) until she almost ruins his life (not even in that overdramatic sense). The way she lets loose in several scenes ("You cad! You swine!") shows exactly how talented she would be as an actress over the course of the next several decades. Just the way she acts with her whole body---her face---those eyes. The way she speaks, the way she moves. Davis was magnificent.
But enough praising, it's time to get to why some people never cease to amaze me. When I was on Amazon.com, I ran across a review. Whereas you have now read my praise of the film (and not even in full detail!), this person took it to some level on another planet. Here's what I found:

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Warning: Bait and Switch!!!, November 18, 2007
By "Interplanetary Funksmanship "Swift lippin'..." (Vanilla Suburbs, USA)

I spent my hard-earned money on this movie, and sat through an eternity of talky scenes, and Bette Davis acting all catty and cheap, just to get to the bondage scenes.

Well, THERE AREN'T ANY! NOT ONE BONDAGE SCENE AT ALL! I was waiting for the scene in which Bette Davis dons her dominatrix getup, and has Leslie Howard down on the floor at the tip of her whip, bound in a leather harness, with a gag in his mouth.

I'm here to tell you: YOU CAN SAVE YOUR MONEY, BECAUSE IT'S NOT IN THERE! Not even Bette Davis in a catsuit!

Spend it instead on "Buxom Bondage Club," which you can find in the DVD section here at amazon.

This movie is a RIPOFF!!!!!!!!

Someone sure missed the point. I can't even make this up. Sigh. "Of Human Bondage" is certainly not referring to anything sexual, so wise up, dude.


June 16, 2008


** out of ****

Jim Fall’s 1999 comedy, “Trick,” takes a funny, realistic look at gay life but ultimately falls flat with a weak script.

In the film, Gabe (Christian Campbell) works in an office by day in hopes of one day becoming a successful Broadway writer. At his side is really clingy, needy friend, Katherine (Tori Spelling), who takes everything way over the top in her quest to become a successful actress. After a difficult day at an aspiring Broadway writers’ showcase, Gabe decides to go to a gay bar, where he sees sexy go-go dancer Mark (J.P. Pitoc) and becomes interested. When Mark follows Gabe out of the subway later that night so that the two can hook up, everything goes wrong as the two fail at every turn in order to finally get the space and privacy to get off. After being thwarted several times, particularly when Katherine expropriates Gabe’s apartment (and printer) to make 500 copies of her résumé (what an optimist), the two start to feel the pressure to finally get together, all the way to the film’s surprising ending.

One of the best parts of the film is Coco Peru’s bathroom confrontation with Gabe. In true diva style, her guest appearance steals the show near the mid-point of the film. In fact, I would debate that Coco was the best actor in “Trick” (especially since Campbell relies on his cute dimples, Pitoc his occasional sour look, and Spelling her overall annoying personality). If anyone was ever able to rip quotes from a film for use in real-life conversation, Coco’s lines are the most easily accessible from the film.

For an LGBT film, “Trick” is far more mainstream than most. Although I admire it for its frank portrayal of gay life (including older queens and even drag queens), “Trick” as a film is nowhere near the caliber of films like “Transamerica” or “Brokeback Mountain.” Its greatest weakness is Jason Schafer’s script, and with the screenplay being so essential to any film, a weak script is never a good sign. It is also never good when I am left, thirty minutes into the film, questioning the character of Gabe and why I feel like I know nothing about him. I also do not understand the film’s incessant need to linger on scenes that could easily be edited further, especially dreadfully long scenes like Tori Spelling’s singing number (in his original review, even Ebert exclaims, “She's singing the WHOLE SONG!”). In addition, plot shifts reveal that a seemingly shallow go-go dancer is perhaps not so shallow, but I do not buy it; with a film based around two guys trying to desperately get in each other’s pants for just one night, the introduction of a possible relationship or substantial connection is simply unbelievable.

I cannot fault the film its moments of charm, but “Trick” is just all over the place. Though it is worth seeing once for the laughs, the average viewer would probably not require return engagements.


Random Musing: Queer Theory in Film Studies

Studying film at Vanderbilt, I have the choice of courses spanning a pretty broad range of topics and interests, including modern Italian cinema, Nazi cinema, America on film, and even feminism in film. On the other hand, there is one important area of film studies that is missing from this group: queer theory. Since the youngest years of Hollywood, directors such as Hitchcock have used undertones of homosexuality in some of their films. Why? That's what I intend to find out.
Having visited my local McKay's the other day in search of a copy of "The Celluloid Closet," a notable book on queer theory written in the 1980's, I instead found a book called "The Lavender Screen," a book that promised to explore the introduction of homoeroticism into film and why subtexts of homosexuality suggest traits of a film itself. I intend to digest this film guide by the end of the summer and discern reasons for the subtext of homosexuality in cinema over the course of the last century, especially the films that precede the queer cinema of today. Throughout the course of the summer, I hope to update everyone with my readings and conclusions. Ready, everyone? Let's study.


June 11, 2008

Random Musing: Alain Resnais

To the shock of some film scholars out there, I'm going to contend that French director Alain Resnais is one of my least favorites. (I'm going to validate this contention, though!) My first encounter with the celebrated (by some) director was in my Film course at Vanderbilt, which showed "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" one evening... After watching the film, I was completely stumped by the lack of satisfactory conclusion and more specifically by the film's (sometimes sudden) twists and turns. I will vouch for Resnais' efforts by arguing that he has inspired some of the greatest techniques used on film (such as filming on action in "Last Year at Marienbad"). This brings me to my next point: "Last Year at Marienbad". What was it... "Hiroshima 2"??? I saw the trailer for it at the Belcourt Theatre one day and was entirely stunned at the complete structural plagiarism that I was witnessing (ok, a bit strong because it is the same director, etc., but come on!). But literally... it features two nameless characters who meet and discuss their past history through a fog of amnesia and oversentimentalism. Please! I already watched it!
Anyway, unless a really valid argument can be proposed to me, asserting that Resnais' other work is worth watching, I'm going to leave his name in the recesses of my mind along with "Hiroshima, Mon Amour" and its eccentricities. I like directors who can try different things and still make great movies, even if they stick to their own style: people like Kubrick or Hitchcock. I do not approve of directors recycling their material in film, especially directors who make the same movie twice with a different title.


June 10, 2008

Random Musing: Laura Linney

After some thought, I have come to the conclusion that Laura Linney is the new "dark horse" of the Oscars. Once a title reserved for someone like Kate Winslet, who has since gone on to become an A-list actress whose nominations are no longer a surprise, Linney is a constant surprise for someone like me, and even for an awards show like the Oscars. Now do not get me wrong... I think Linney is a talented actress, whose work in both big Hollywood flicks and indie films are noteworthy. In fact, Combustible Celluloid raved about the actress a few years ago, accurately saying "the beautiful, tough actress has emerged slowly and deliberately over the years." I am simply amazed at how she flies under the radar while slowly establishing herself as one of the best actresses of modern Hollywood. I have recently been fascinated that she has already acquired three nominations from the Academy:

2000 (73rd) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- You Can Count on Me {"Samantha 'Sammy' Prescott"}
2004 (77th) ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE -- Kinsey {"Clara McMillen"}
2007 (80th) ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE -- The Savages {"Wendy Savage"}

And just this year, she bypassed a list of ten somewhat "predestined" nominees made by the Hollywood Foreign Press for 2008's Golden Globes "ceremony":

Marion Cotillard, La Vie En Rose
Amy Adams, Enchanted
Nikki Blonsky, Hairspray
Helena Bonham Carter, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Ellen Page, Juno
Julie Christie, Away From Her
Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Jodie Foster, The Brave One
Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
Keira Knightley, Atonement

And she landed a spot on a list of five for Best Actress at the same year's Oscars---a list that some women would die to make:

Cate Blanchett -- Elizabeth: The Golden Age {"Queen Elizabeth I"}
Julie Christie -- Away from Her {"Fiona"}
* Marion Cotillard -- La Vie en Rose {"Edith Piaf"}
Laura Linney -- The Savages {"Wendy Savage"}
Ellen Page -- Juno {"Juno MacGuff"}

Again, I am not saying her role in "The Savages" was not amazing (I still need to see it, actually), but I am amazed at how the Oscars would select her (seemingly randomly) despite her lack of nomination at the Globes. Because of this year's Best Actress nomination and her two other nominations since 2000, I am inclined to believe that soon, Miss Linney is going to be clutching an award on Oscar night as their new darling.


June 5, 2008

Encounters at the End of the World

*** out of ****

Though Antarctica is often forgotten in most people’s minds, celebrated German director Werner Herzog has channeled his fascination with the continent into an entrancing film, called “Encounters at the End of the World.” His appreciation for its wonders easily channels to viewers like me, who quickly recognize the ethereal secrets that every part of its geography holds. Though Antarctica has always seemed like a huge, lifeless sheet of ice at the end of the world, Herzog takes a calculated, conscious effort to exhibit its wonder while ensuring that Antarctica is less otherworldly and more realistic than it seems.

In “Encounters,” Herzog explores Antarctica through a series of interviews and vignettes that communicate the displays of magic that Antarctica contains. Having been drawn there by underwater photos taken by a friend, Herzog’s greatest curiosities are more distinct when he searches the depths with a team of divers, finding some of the most startling creatures on the planet.

Unlike some of Herzog’s more famous films, including the critically-lauded masterpiece, 1972’s “Aguirre, Wrath of God,” where the adventurers in the film have selfish motives, leading to a futile end, “Encounters” implies that with wonder and wanting to understand, a desirable, fulfilling outcome will transpire.

Because of the extraordinary circumstances that surround Antarctica, featuring the unusual beings and awe-inspiring sights, I was surprised that, despite the occasional interviewee’s connection of his surroundings to the moon, Herzog did not make his film more “space-themed.” In fact, one of the first few shots of the whole film was under the ice in the water, where the eerie glow reminded me of the “To Jupiter and Beyond” segment of Kubrick’s classic “2001.” On the other hand, this is why the film is not so galactic: Antarctica is not space, therefore Herzog applies a constant humanistic element to the film, making it all seem so tangible. For example, everyone he interviews in Antarctica has two job titles, such as “philosopher, construction worker” and “filmmaker, cook.” Such implications convey to viewers that normal people just like them live and work there, also relating Antarctica’s tangibility. In addition, various instrumental pieces that are played during shots of the icebergs connect the whole world to Antarctica by cultural coding, conveying how they share in the wonders presented in the film.

Another humanistic aspect of the ice is how it reflects on its inhabitants, making them remember that they are also a part of their surroundings since they can sometimes hear their own heartbeat when it gets so quiet. In addition, one interviewed person said that the ice was once like a cold, lifeless “monster” in the minds of most people, whereas it has now become a “dynamic, living entity.” This establishes how Antarctica, especially because of the film, is now a place that wants to be understood and is currently making its presence known.

All in all, “Encounters” is a simple but exquisite beauty that conveys the power of a freezing, (almost) barren land through the people that work daily on it and the awesome things they do. Tending to be pensive and philosophical, though direct, this film sometimes wanders about in terms of a logical sequence of events and it becomes somewhat slow around its mid-point, but it is still nonetheless enjoyable and especially enlightening. It appeals to all kinds of people who thrive on adventure or even desire to see what they have never seen. In addition, it even subtly breathes awareness to concerned environmentalists despite its apparent lack of political agenda. Clear, concise, and calculated, “Encounters” is the first great documentary about a too-often forgotten continent at the end of the world.

“Encounters at the End of the World” will be showing at the Belcourt Theater starting July 25.