Monthly Archives: November 2015

Thanksgiving Eve – 88th Oscar predictions

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, everybody. Here are my latest predictions for the 88th Academy Awards, as well as some listed alternates, when applicable. I will not be predicting winners at this time.

Best Actor in a Leading Role
1. Johnny Depp – Black Mass 
2. Leonardo DiCaprio – The Revenant 
3. Michael Fassbender – Steve Jobs 
4. Tom Hanks – Bridge of Spies 
5. Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl 

Alternate(s): Bryan Cranston (Trumbo); Matt Damon (The Martian).

Best Actress in a Leading Role
1. Cate Blanchett – Carol 
2. Brie Larson – Room 
3. Jennifer Lawrence – Joy
4. Carey Mulligan – Suffragette
5. Julia Roberts – The Secret in Their Eyes

Alternates: Julianne Moore (Freeheld); Emma Watson (Regression); Angelina Jolie (By the Sea)

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1. Benicio Del Toro – Sicario 
2. Idris Elba – Beasts of No Nation 
3. Paul Giamatti – Straight Outta Compton 
4. Michael Keaton – Spotlight 
5. Kurt Russell – The Hateful Eight 

Alternates: Robert De Niro (Joy); Cillian Murphy (In the Heart of the Sea); Joel Edgerton (Black Mass)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1. Nicole Kidman – The Secret in Their Eyes 
2. Jennifer Jason Leigh – The Hateful Eight 
3. Rooney Mara – Carol 
4. Ellen Page – Freeheld 
5. Amy Ryan – Bridge of Spies

Alternates: Meryl Streep (Suffragette); Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl); Melanie Laurent (By the Sea)

Best Director
1. Steven Spielberg – Bridge of Spies
2. Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
3. David O. Russell – Joy
4. Alejandro G. Inarritu – The Revenant 
5. Thomas McCarthy – Spotlight 

Alternates: Ron Howard (In the Heart of the Sea); Scott Cooper (Black Mass), Ridley Scott (The Martian).

Best Picture (if I had to pick 5)
1. Bridge of Spies 
2. The Hateful Eight 
3. Joy
4. The Revenant 
5. Spotlight

Alternates: In the Heart of the Sea; The Martian. 

Advertisements

Thankful

Too often, it’s easy to forget what we were thankful for. If I don’t always show it, I apologize. With Thanksgiving just a few days away, here are some things I’m thankful for, in no particular order:

Thankful for family, who has kept me going through all the tough times. I’ve been very lucky.

Thankful to have a job. That’s something for which I’m always grateful.

Thankful to keep trying new things, even if they don’t always work out. You’re never too old to learn something.

Thankful for my friends, who provide much of the same love that my parents provide, even if it’s a different type of love.

Thankful for the ability to keep acting, and hopefully able to pursue the big dream one day. And even if I don’t, it’s always nice to have something to do.

Thankful for the well-wishes that people have given me.

Thankful for doing my best. Sometimes, that’s all you can do.

Thankful to have good health.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame…Michael Cimino

Today’s list:
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Michael Cimino for making the film Heaven’s Gate.

The setup 
After winning two Academy Awards (Director and Picture) for The Deer Hunter, filmmaker Michael Cimino was supposed to be a hot commodity. A week after the Oscars, he began work on a Western film called Heaven’s Gate. In what was supposed to be an epic film in the same vein as Gone With the Wind, Cimino’s notorious perfectionism and standoffish personality quickly put the film behind schedule, and the studio in dire financial straits. There were published reports of animal cruelty, and early press releases leaked by undercover reporter Les Gapay (who was working as an extra) ended up garnering the film negative publicity before it was ever released. There are stories of Cimino wasting an entire day waiting for a single cloud to pass into frame, waking up at 5 a.m. to get the proper shot (I don’t know if it ever happened, by the way). It quickly became a financial disaster, recovering just over $1 million of its $44 million budget. Critics savaged the film, one comparing it to a “forced four-hour walking tour of your own living room.” This is widely considered the first film to completely bankrupt a studio, as United Artists collapsed under the financial weight of Cimino’s decisions. Cimino’s career was also killed as a result – he never regained his good name, and never directed a major project after 1985.

Here’s why Michael Cimino is not to blame for making Heaven’s Gate.

Best of the Rest. 
A. The painter’s paradox. 
The interesting thing about Cimino’s career is that he didn’t originally start in film. He achieved his earlier success in another artistic medium, earning both bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in painting from Yale University. As the 1960s wore on, Cimino decided to focus on film instead of painting.

B. The Deer Hunter. 
As mentioned, a lot of film studios wanted Cimino to direct for them after The Deer Hunter won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. United Artists ended up securing him, which was seen as a lucky break by many of the other studio heads.

Top 5. 
5. Joann Carelli. 
Joann Carelli served as official producer for Heaven’s Gate. One of Cimino’s close friends, she never pulled Cimino aside and told him to get back on schedule. She was eventually fired at the behest of United Artist (UA) studio head Steven Bach, and UA eventually took over on producing the film. Only after they threatened Cimino with taking away his right to final cut did he acquiesce to the time frame.

4. Obscure subject matter. 
Now, Cimino did write the script, but he based much of the story on actual events, which was a blip on the historical radar. In the late nineteenth century, a land war occurred in Johnson County, Wyoming. According to legend, President Benjamin Harrison dispatched federal troops to control the feud, which ended in disaster and a full-scale “war.” This is the story Cimino tried to tell, but it was a story nobody cared about. One can applaud Cimino’s almost obsessive desire for historical accuracy, but nobody was going to notice because it wasn’t an important story. Cimino overestimated his audience.

3. Francis Ford Coppola. 
Around the same time that Cimino was making Heaven’s Gate, Coppola was finishing work on Apocalypse Now. Much like Cimino, Coppola ran into difficulties with this film, and also went over-budget. This wasn’t really Coppola’s fault, though, as much of the delays were caused by a hurricane and lead actor Martin Sheen suffering a heart attack. Much of Cimino’s subsequent behavior was an attempt to emulate Coppola’s success, and Cimino ended up shooting more film than Coppola did for Apocalypse Now. With his career already successful, Coppola may have set a gold standard that Cimino felt he had to follow.

2. The “auteur” director. 
Perhaps Cimino is just unlucky chronologically. Cimino was the among the last of the “auteur directors” – filmmakers who wrote their own scripts, set their own budgets, and had much more creative license to make whatever film they wanted to make. The 1970s was the golden decade for the auteur. Celebrated directors at this time included William Friedkin, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, and early in their careers, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Unfortunately, Friedkin and Bogdanovich’s latest films had been disasters, and so the studios began to exert more control. Many of the directors of that time never got their careers back. It wasn’t just Cimino – Bogdanovich and Friedkin suffered from their own perfectionism as well. Their careers never recovered, and Spielberg and Scorsese had to “make nice” with the studios to get theirs back on track.

1. United Artists. 
The studio gave Cimino carte blanche to basically do whatever he wanted. Many of the bigger names, including Arthur Krim and Bob Benjamin, had resigned because they felt their parent company was overruling their professional autonomy. Krim and Benjamin eventually started Orion Pictures, which lasted for about fifteen years. The new leadership of UA consisted of Steven Bach and David Field, neither of whom had ever held an executive leadership position before. Cimino could see that they were desperate. Only when the studio finally put their foot down after Carelli was fired did Cimino finish the film according to the schedule. Bach and Field were eventually fired as their parent company decided to sell them. UA eventually merged with MGM, but they wouldn’t have had to had they had better leadership.

The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….Holden Caulfield

Today’s list:
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Holden Caulfield for being immature and childish in The Catcher in the Rye.

The setup 
J.D. Salinger’s classic novel The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. Its protagonist, Holden Caulfield, laments on his life about being rid of the so called “phonies” that plague him. He goes on an adventure of self-discovery, but doesn’t find much, and winds up in a shelter on the West Coast. Many readers complain about Holden being “whiny” and immature. Holden Caulfield remains one of the most divisive protagonists in literature.

Here’s why Holden Caulfield is not to blame.

Best of the Rest. 
A. Roger Rabbit. 
This has nothing to do with the story, except for the fact that it parallels the way that Salinger created the character. In other words, he’s not bad, he was just written that way.

B. He knows his flaws. 
Holden admits that much of his behavior isn’t exactly heroic. He knows that he doesn’t care about school, and can’t get motivated. He is a smoker, prematurely gray, and he even admits that he’s “the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.” For all we know, maybe the entire depression and immaturity is just a front he’s putting on. Maybe Holden is lying to us the entire time. Obviously, he can choose to change his behavior, but at least he’s willing to admit his faults, which is more than a lot of people can say.

C. Holden’s parents. 
We don’t see much of them in the story, but it’s implied that they expect a lot out of him. Phoebe tells him about how angry their father will be. Holden is so nervous to face his parents that he sneaks in during the middle of the night, and only Phoebe knows that he’s gone home. Holden also mentions early on how his parents will have “two separate heart attacks” if he tells more about them.

Top 5. 
5. The nuclear family. 
Although the novel predates the Eisenhower administration by a few years, the resulting cultural phenomenon of the “nuclear family” suggests that a lot of what Holden was arguing was true. To me, the only mistake Salinger made was that he wrote the book too early. If he had written it a decade later, with the changing times, Holden probably would have fit right in. So perhaps there is some truth in Holden’s arguments about the “phony” side of life.

4. Social stigmas. 
Again, I would argue that Holden was born in the wrong decade. Although it’s less prevalent today, there’s an argument that if you have sadness or anger in your life, you talk to somebody about it or “fake it ’til you make it.” But Holden will not shy away from telling you his story. It’s not his story, it’s other people’s interpretations of it. Back in the 1950s, depression and anxiety were not things commonly talked about.

3. The death of his brother Allie.
Much of Holden’s depression is understandable. When his brother Allie died of leukemia, Holden was only thirteen (and Allie was only eleven). Having to face death that early in your life, especially when it’s somebody younger than you, is crushing. It takes a lot out of you. Holden is unsure about his life because he’s come face-to-face with death.

2. He’s 16. 
At least for the majority of the story, he’s sixteen (he’s telling it a year later, at age seventeen). It’s hard to find anybody that age who doesn’t feel confused about life. Even though Holden admits he’s immature, there’s no telling if Holden would still be immature ten years later. Age brings wisdom.

1. In bad company. 
When you look at some of the people that Holden interacts with, I’d argue that he comes out looking better by comparison. Ackley in the early chapters is a prime example. Ackley is described as having a lousy personality, and even worse personal hygiene. Ackley’s always coming in unannounced, will borrow your things without asking (and deliberately puts it back in the wrong place), and is almost always badmouthing Holden’s roommate Stradlater. And Stradlater, himself a jock, can’t get his date’s name right (her name is Jane, but he calls her “Jean.”) As an old friend, Holden wants to talk to her, but Stradlater’s charms win her over. He also asks Holden to write a composition for him, but not to make it too good, just to “make it descriptive.” And when Holden does it, Stradlater doesn’t like it. So why would Holden do it? The others he interacts with in New York all exhibit much of the traits he dislikes. Given the company that Holden keeps – and with whom he interacts is not necessarily his choice – I don’t blame him at all for feeling the way he does. Given the choice of hanging out with Holden versus Ackley, or Holden versus Stradlater, I’d pick Holden every time.

Sideways: using scenery as its own character

Here’s another attempt at film theory. 🙂 Spoilers ahead.

Many people have forgotten the film Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne. Admittedly, it hasn’t aged as well as it used to, but I do think there are things to like about it. One of these characteristics is the idea of scenery as its own character. Payne is not the first director to do this, but I would argue that he uses it better than most directors today. We also must give credit to his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael,  and if you look at it beyond the acting itself, Sideways is a much better film visually than people give it credit for. If you watch it, perhaps you’ll feel the same way. If not, this is just my interpretation of it.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen this film. I misplaced my original copy and only picked it up again tonight. It doesn’t hurt that I live behind a Barnes and Noble, but I digress. What Payne does magnificently in Sideways is that he uses California wine country as its own character. It tells its own story. In a way, it’s almost the hero of the story. Miles and Jack, played respectively by Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church, are not wicked, but Payne’s interpretation of “Americana” leaves a lot of anti-heroes in his films. Miles is the more likable of the two, and there’s a certain endearing quality to him that many of us identify with – he’s a down-on-his luck middle school teacher and would-be novelist who is also an expert on everything involving wine. His encyclopedic knowledge of it, more specifically Pinot Noir, serves as much of the ends of the story. There’s no “villain” in this story, except for inner psychology. Miles’ depression and issues with his self-confidence make rather compelling antagonists, if we want to use the term that way. Paul Giamatti is like many character actors – they’ll seek out the supporting roles, but can hold their own when given leading roles. And Giamatti isn’t your typical leading man in this film – despite his best efforts, there’s nothing really heroic about him; there are scenes where he’s willing to take money from his own mother for his passions. Admittedly, there is something a little professorial about him, by which I mean he can come across as a know-it-all, but I think Payne purposely chooses his scripts carefully to highlight the humanism in his characters. Most of the films Payne makes are adapted from novels (this one comes from a novel by Rex Pickett). Part of Miles’ problem as a writer is that he can’t figure out how to tell his story; by his own admission, it changes direction quickly, and then “devolves into a sort of Robbe-Grillet mystery.” But I think that adds to Miles’ character – he’s doing his best amidst all the confusion. Of all the things I like about this film, Giamatti shows that an effective film doesn’t always have to have a “suave” leading man – there’s a noticeable bald spot in the back of his head, and he’s a little stockier than he is in other films. George Clooney was considered for Miles by the studios, but Payne picked his actors deliberately to prove that the story is more important than who’s telling it. To me, Giamatti proves that it can be about the performance and not about the “look” of an actor.

In many ways, this sets up Church’s character Jack as a perfect foil. His character Jack is an actor in the middle of a dry spell, whose name still holds considerable swagger for him to be a ladies’ man. Whatever knowledge he lacks in wine, he makes up for in confidence, to the point of cockiness. Their characters were roommates at San Diego State University, and I love seeing the contrast between them. While Jack is described as an “incorrigible Lothario,” who is on the verge of marriage while wanting one last weekend, Miles’ self-deprecating style draws him in to other parts of the film. His eventual relationship with Maya (Virginia Madsen) helps him regain some of his confidence, as he displays later in the film, when he comes through and helps Jack out after two women call him out on his activities. When Jack’s sincere side shows up, resulting in him breaking down in tears and saying “I know I’m a bad person, but you have to help me, Miles!,” the fact that Miles decides to help him is a testament to the relationship that the two men share. The idea is that both men have a mid-life crisis, albeit for different reasons and in different ways. That’s a story that isn’t told all that often, because of the notion of looks and beauty driving our interests. That’s the driving factor to this film, which isn’t seen a lot of the time in the medium nowadays.

Much of the humor is dry, and admittedly, it does require you to think about it a little bit to get the joke. But I prefer that kind of humor. My favorite example of this is when Miles waxes eloquent about various wines and the wineries that make them. Later in the film, he makes an unfavorable review of a wine, comparing it, in the same paragraph, to tar, turpentine, mouthwash, and Raid. Jack’s retort, naturally, is “Tastes pretty good to me.” Additionally, Miles going off to Jack about how he refuses to drink any Merlot is one of the most iconic scenes of the film. Although they don’t go into detail about it in the film, it’s apparently not its quality as much as it brings back sad memories of his ex-wife. The scene that Miles and Maya share about their passion for wine is brilliantly written, paced, and acted. Each winery has a charm to it, even if Miles doesn’t like it too much. Miles is witty, while Jack is crass. It’s a study in humor contrasts.

Visually, in addition to the scenery being its own character, the DVD commentary gives another interesting take on characters. Most of the time when we see Miles, he’s wearing lighter-colored shirts, noticeably in varying shades of blue. There’s an interesting metaphor to the “gloomy” part of his personality. He even admits to Maya that he has to live “bottle to bottle.” But Maya gives him hope for himself, when she tells him about his prized 1961 Cheval Blanc. “The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion.” The sad part is that he ends up opening it after a depressing scene where he finds out his ex-wife is pregnant (he says earlier in the film that the only thing they saw eye-to-eye on was not having children), and he opens it in a McDonalds. At the same time, I think that shows his human side. I’ve always liked more vulnerable, “human” characters in film. Related to this, Maya’s monologue about the life of wine is laid out beautifully by fiery, reddish-orange colors surrounding her – lighting, clothing, and furniture. Maya eventually helps him show his funnier and calmer side, even if things don’t quite go his way. You hope that he lands on his feet. Ironically, for all of his antics, Jack does land on his – they concoct a story that gets him off the hook (even with a broken nose) with his fiancee. But I think by this point, it’s hard to resist Jack’s charm.

Not only do I love this film, but most of Payne’s works are among my favorite films. His other films also use the scenery as its own character – The Descendants in Hawaii, Nebraska in the Heartland. But this film’s scenery is probably my favorite – there’s something about the area that is not often seen in his film.

Anyway, I’m getting pedantic. But this is my attempt at explaining many of the subtleties I saw, and hopefully some of you can now watch the film for the first time, or view it from a different lens.

Nos liens d’affection (Our bonds of affection)

Pourquoi?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself ever since I got off work and found out about the attacks in Paris.

Pourquoi?

Why?

I don’t know what to say. In actual fact, I am just one man behind a computer, and honestly, most of what I have to say is banal and trite. I’m actually really terrified to write this.  I am not an angry person. I was always the peacemaker of the group. I tried to be the one that could meet in the middle. But now I’m terrified. J’ai peur. Is what I’m writing even important? Probably not. But this time, to achieve some inner peace, I need to say something.

I’ve been to Paris on two occasions. Both times, it was everything many of us imagine it to be – vibrant, majestic, full of amazing people with amazing stories to tell. And now, Paris has lost a part of itself. And what’s worse, it’s happened twice in a year. To have it happen once is horrendous. To happen twice…I don’t even want to think about it. That’s a story I don’t think anybody wants to hear.

President Abraham Lincoln, in the face of impending civil war, implored his people to look inside themselves and find the “better angels of our nature.” Hopefully, the spirit of the people can push through, and pick themselves back up.

To conclude, I’d like to say the following:

Paris, je t’aime. Tout mon amour et meilleurs voeux. Il n’y a rien que je peux dire pour soulager votre douleur. Gardez la guérison. Je ne sais pas quoi dire. Je ne sais pas maintenant. 

I just don’t know right now. Maybe I never knew to begin with. What I do know is that I feel very small right about now, and I wish I had somebody to tell me it’s going to be okay.

A Sunday story

Can’t really think of much to say, so I’ll do my best:

It’s always nice to have a day off.  Today, I had plans with a friend from the show. We went to get pizza for lunch. I don’t get out that often anymore, but when I do, it’s nice to have some company. It’s nice to go places sometimes. I don’t get another day off until Saturday, but hopefully I’ll be able to do something with my dad. What it is, we don’t know yet, but we figure that out. I also wrote a little bit over the weekend, getting fifteen pages in. Now I just need to keep up that momentum.

Additionally, the Colts got a crucial win to hopefully help boost them up. With their week off next week, they’ll have time to rest up and hopefully come back strong.

All in all, it was a nice Sunday afternoon. Good weather, good food, and good times.

Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….Neal Page for not getting along with Del Griffith

So, although the original show was about sports, this is an example of applying to other mediums.

The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Neal Page for not getting along with Del Griffith in the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Basically, Neal (Steve Martin) is attempting to get home for Thanksgiving. Thanks to Del Griffith (John Candy), they have a series of misadventures that turn what should have been a two hour flight from New York to Chicago into a three-day journey home.

Best of the Rest 
A. Del was fun. 
Although Del could be annoying sometimes, he brought a sense of fun that made the trip more bearable. There’s a saying that getting there is half the fun, and with Del, that was especially true. And even in the chaos, Del knew how to have a god time, even if it resulted in disaster.

B. (Don’t) Meet Me in St. Louis. 
The rental car agency in St. Louis made an administrative error when Neal was attempting to rent a car. He had to navigate through the snow to get back to the airport, and the ensuing rant was the stuff of legend. At the same time, Neal and Del could have parted ways and been none the wiser if not for the clerical error.

Top 5 
5. The holiday rush.  
Neal had a reason for being in a hurry – he was trying to get home to see his family for Thanksgiving. With the holidays approaching fast, it would be understandable that many people would be more impatient with regards to place and other factors. I don’t know if Neal was naturally grouchy, or if the stress of the holidays just overwhelmed him.

4. Work environment.
We don’t really see what Neal does as a marketing executive, but it does seem that he has some indecisive colleagues. Another reason why he might not have gotten along with Del is that his work environment caused him a lot of stress. As a result, Del was probably the unintended victim of Neal’s work-related frustration.

3. Weather delays. 
Of course, without the snow on the ground, most of the ensuing adventures wouldn’t happen. On the first leg of the trip via plane, Neal would have been on the ground in two hours at most, but a blizzard in Chicago caused the flight to be re-routed to Wichita. Additionally, some of the other delays were less about Del’s incompetence than it was about the time of year, which would understandably cause vehicles to backfire.

2. Companionship.
For better or for worse, Del went to great lengths to help Neal. For Del, his wife had passed away eight years prior, and a large part of him stayed with Neal because he was lonely and wanted company. It all worked out in the end, too, because Del ended up being invited to Thanksgiving dinner by Neal. There’s a very poignant scene where Del admitted that he had nothing to go home to, so he decided to stay at the LaSalle/Van Buren station in Chicago. Del’s loneliness was the driving factor for a lot of the adventures that the two men had.

1. The taxi racer. 
As is the case in so many movies, the first meeting between the two men happened by chance. The film features a cameo from Kevin Bacon as another businessman who is in a hurry to get home. Neal had everything planned out, except for two contributing factors. First, an indecisive ad man delayed his departure from the office by about two minutes. Second, once he got beaten by the taxi racer, Neal began racing for another taxi. Del accidentally left his trunk on the side of the road, causing Neal to trip and miss it by seconds. The first taxi racer indirectly created the adventure that Neal and Del subsequently had over the next three days, and one of John Hughes’ best films was created in the process.