retsuko: (spoilers!)
General notes:

* Can someone please tell the people who win awards for movies based on books to thank the author who wrote the original work? Only Alexander Payne remembered to do this. I do want to see "Hugo", but I loved the book long before the movie came along, and someone needs to thank Brian Selznick for his work.

* I enjoyed The Artist, but I don't think it's half as clever as everyone thought it was. Still, nice to see a black and white, silent film garner so much attention.

* Billy Crystal turned out to be a much better host than I thought he'd be. I enjoyed his running insistence that he enjoyed the jokes that were falling flat, and I liked his delivery of most of his lines. He has some great timing and an amazing poker face.

* Why does any/every clip from Bridesmaids have to be the bathroom one? I mean, yeah, it was horrible/funny, but there were many other scenes in that movie that were funnier and showed off the actresses' talents much more effectively.

* Speaking of clips, when it came time for George Clooney's nod in The Descendants, the editors didn't pick the clip I thought they'd go with, which was a nice surprise. The more I think about that movie, the more I like it, and I'm glad that it did get a few awards. Compared to the other films it was up against, it wasn't gimicky or overly forced.

General fashion blah-blah:

* I thought there were a lot of pretty, pretty dresses tonight. I liked Ellie Kemper, Tina Fey, Penelope Cruz, and Octavia Spencer; all of them looked glamorous without looking too unlike themselves.

* One trend I'm not too keen on is the "help, two dresses are fighting on me!" look, as exemplified by Viola Davis. The color on her was gorgeous, and the top half of the dress with the beads was beautiful, but the bottom half was all ruffles and tears and I couldn't tell what the hell was going on down there.

* I do wish that Tilda Swinton or Cher had been there and wearing something utterly crazy--it's nice to have one outfit that's completely over the top! (And Tilda always brings the awesome, no matter what she's wearing.)
retsuko: antique books (books)
There have been very few books that I've simply not been able to finish. I've even lasted for months on just one book. But once or twice, there have been books that I simply stopped reading, not out of active dislike but rather because I completely forgot about them. For example, I was reasonably entertained by Life of Pi, and was about halfway through when one day I put it down and forgot about it. Months later, I came across the book while cleaning and couldn't remember what on earth was going on, so I never finished it all. This is a weird reading sensation, a literary deja vu, because of the same maddening sense of non-closure and the nagging feeling that you've been familiar with the work on some level before.

Weirder still, though, is the works that I have finished, adored while I was reading, and then never thought about again. I cannot tell whether this is just a temporary issue that's due to all that's going on in my life, or because the works themselves aren't actually that good. In the case of The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, I really enjoyed it during the reading process. I recommended it to several friends and profusely thanked Yebisu, who'd given me the hardcover for Christmas. I was so invested in the plot that I stayed up late to plow through the last fifty pages, and then I felt very excited and pleased. But here it is, only a few weeks later, and I cannot remember who the main characters are, exactly, or the book's ending, although I do remember the central drive of the story and its unique setting. Does this mean it has no staying power? It certainly seemed well written at the moment when I was in the thick of it, but now I cannot bring to mind any specific phrasing or sentences that I especially liked. Odd.

I also enjoyed The Artist very much while I was watching it, but haven't really thought about it since. (And, I suspect, we should have seen Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy instead, because Yebisu didn't care for TA at all.) There was more drama and pathos than I was expecting (I had been led to believe that the movie was more in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy than what it turned out to be.) I do remember that the black and white was simply beautiful, and the soundtrack was very nicely done. There was also a funny sequence that played with sound in the main character's nightmares, and the dog was adorable. But I haven't gone back to the film once, or thought about any of the shots that I liked. I do remember thinking that it wasn't quite as clever as the filmmakers wanted it to be, and that it felt a little like a film class project waiting to be taken apart. But it wasn't a bad movie at all, just not particularly memorable in the long run. Still, well worth seeing on the big screen if you want gorgeous black and white--that, I suppose, is the one thing that really sticks with me. This movie brings my Oscar Best Picture tally to two, and I far prefer The Descendants, although I have no idea which will win.
retsuko: (eels in the photobooth)
I think it was Kurt Vonnegut who commented that a loaded gun in the first act of a play needs to be fired by the third act in order to for the dramatic experience to be satisfying. I am pleased to report that this is entirely true, especially when the first act presents loaded gun after loaded gun, and the dramatic experience becomes a waiting game to see when they all go off (one by one? all at once? something in between?).

Recently, I've had the distinct pleasure of reading The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry, and seeing The Descendants, starring George Clooney and written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash.* Neither one of these reading/viewing experiences is easy, and I know that they both have their detractors. But I liked both of them immensely, despite some twists and flaws, and I think their very complicated and loaded guns are what makes them likable, instead of being the obstacles that their critics perceive them to be.

The Lace Reader is difficult to describe totally without giving away the big plot twist at the end, but it starts with a highly unreliable narrator who immediately admits that she often lies and that her memory isn't what it used to be since her stint with electro-shock therapy in a mental institution. (When Sophya/Towner, said narrator, casually mentions that she reconstructed her childhood with the help of her brother after leaving the mental hospital and being in a fiction-writing class, I began to ignore the other loaded plot guns and the preposterous-ness of the whole set-up in favor of letting the story just unravel itself, figuring that if I believed nothing, I wouldn't be annoyed with the big reveal. It was not unlike meeting a drunk at a bar with an amazing story who is making it up as he/she goes along.) It's a good thing that about halfway through the story that the narration passes to a more stable character who has no reason to lie, and the success of book is here; after all, you can't have an entire plot that's rumored to be false without completely pissing off your audience, and Sophya/Towner's love interest is a detective who stays away from the past and firmly focuses on the present. When the plot went back to its original narrator in the last third of the book, the narrative loaded guns started going off, and the reading experience changed from a sleepy, "ho hum, this is a crazy story" feeling to a "must know NOW" raw need to finish. I liked it. The plot twist that is annoying most of the readers... well, if I even hint at its nature, I risk giving it away, but I have to say: if you're a careful reader who's willing to suspend disbelief even knowing that the narrator is not necessarily telling the truth from the first word, then you're going to be very, very satisfied. If you're not a fan of magical realism mystery fiction, then you might want to select another tome for your next book group meeting.

In sharp contrast, The Descendants is all real life, and in some ways, it's the worst parts of real life, all happening to some poor fool all at once: Matt King's somewhat estranged but not yet divorced wife lies in a coma after a speed boat accident, and he's left to be the parent to his two self-destructive and out of control daughters, ages 10 and 17, the older of whom reveals to him that his wife was cheating on him before she was in the accident. A lot of the complaints about this narrative center around "it's so cliche!" or "it's boring!" I hate the idea that a story that asks its audience to sympathize with a man and children who are so clearly suffering is somehow cliche or dull. Sure, there are familiar ideas in the plot, but I think part of the idea of this story is that at the worst times, there is nothing to comfort you, not even what's familiar. Instead, you fall back on what you have, and what the main character has is not a lot. It's clear that instead of dealing with his emotional problems, he's buried himself in his work, and that he really has no idea how parent his children, or to take care of himself in the face of tremendous odds. So it's incredibly gratifying and cathartic to see him taking the smallest steps to becoming a whole person and parent, someone who can forgive his wife for having an affair and still admit how much he loves her. The loaded guns of the plot fired in all directions, but at last, he was able to stand his ground, and that made me so happy. George Clooney is clearly bucking for an Oscar, and I have to say... this is a pretty amazing performance. It's understated, true, and above all, not smug. I didn't think I would love Matt King if I had to spend a lot of time with him, but I wanted to give him a hug the whole way through, and I cheered for the last image of the film (one that I won't give away here), a deceptively simple but incredible herald of victory for him and his family in aftermath of tragedy.

* Who is also a star on my much beloved Community (he plays the Dean) and who I am beginning to suspect is a much more immensely complicated and interesting person than he lets on, based on the way he acts and writes.
retsuko: (FTW!)
In no special order:

1) Anne Hathaway could have handled the hosting duties entirely by herself and I would not have noticed James Franco's absence. Her costume changes alone were made of awesome and win, but her charisma, musical talent, and wit were miles better than anything Franco could come up with.*

2) Hailee Steinfeld was robbed! Robbed, I say! *grumbles*

3) Yay, King's Speech! It's nice to see a movie that is simultaneously crowd-pleasing and well-made be honored for its many accomplishments. Out of all the awards it received, though, I was most pleased with the screenplay win. For your work to finally be recognized after years and years of plugging away... I imagine it must be quite validating.

4) Fashion: I would like to buy Hilary Swank's dress. I will wear it everyday. When I am doing laundry, going to the grocery store, teaching, etc. etc. Helen Mirren looked amazing (as per usual) and made me look forward to getting older and more graceful. On the flip side: what was going on with Cate Blanchett and Marisa Tomei? Both of them appeared to be wearing outfits where two dresses were at war with one another. But in dress wearing (as in Highlander) there can be only one!

5) I wish "True Grit" had garnered more awards, but... :(

6) Whoever put those montages of the 10 Best Picture nods together had a monumental task of crazy... and while she/he did the best he/she could, it still didn't make a whole hell of a lot of visual sense.

7) Why do the shorts always play for one week ONLY at the tiny art house theater that is almost impossible to visit without excessive planning in advance? Couldn't these be shown in the bigger theaters? Because I would go. I am curious what these films are like, and just as in an anthology of short stories, you learn a lot about the craft when you have the chance to see it in miniature.

8) On Friday, my Mom and I will have our annual fashion snark session! Wheeee! :D

* Is it just me, or does Mr. Franco seem perpetually stoned?
retsuko: (ceiling)
I don't know that the best part of "Doubt" was yet (still a lot to process), but here are some high points:

1) An entirely unobtrusive yet highly effective soundtrack by Howard Shore.

2) Excellent casting of minor characters, so that everyone's face was memorable and told a story.

3) Amy Adams as a sweet nun with a secretly tough and ethical core.

4) Viola Davis. Her screen time is short, but her performance is onion-like, starting with the surface and stripping her character down, layer by layer until we see what's at her core. I almost want to hand her the Oscar now.

5) Clash of the Titans=Philip Seymour Hoffman vs. Meryl Streep. Words seem to fail when it comes describing the interactions between their two characters, but... riveting, raw, and driven. There are a few which approximate what I'm thinking at the moment.

I had thought this might be a small screen rental, but I'm glad we went and saw it on the big screen, even with the flickering projection and the crowded, hot theater. Highly deserving of all the praise it's gotten, and well worth going to see while it's still in theaters.


In other movie news, the Oscar nominations have been announced. (OK, a few days ago they were announced, but I work too much now to blog things as they happen.) Anyway, I'm pleased that I have seen three of the Best Picture nods and seeing the other two shouldn't be too much trouble. I'm more excited to see "Slumdog Millionaire" than "The Reader", but mostly because I've heard great things about the former and nothing about the latter. I am somewhat disappointed that I haven't gotten a chance to see more of the foreign films that were nominated and more of the best original screenplay category. Interestingly enough, "Hellboy 2" is also on that list, but up against some stiff competition in the best makeup category ("The Dark Knight" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"). All in all, a lot of good stuff this year, and not quite as much in "DARK AND GRIM AND DEPRESSING" category as there was last year.

May 2016

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