Do the Oscars Really Need a Host?

So here’s how the Kevin Hart thing went down:

  1. The Academy (whoever they are) offers a comedian a job being meh funny for a few hours while pretty people in gowns walk across the stage to announce other pretty people in gowns and then give each other shiny statues.
  2. Activists on Twitter (whoever they are) digs back through his tweets and his standup routine from ten years ago and discovered stuff that was not all about the LGBT community.
  3. The Usual Call for Apology is issued.
  4. Comedian posts video stating that he’s Moved On from That Time, and everyone else should.
  5. This is Not Good Enough.
  6. Comedian posts another video declining to apologize on the grounds that he’s Addressed This Before.
  7. This is Super Not Good Enough.
  8. Comedian announces that he’s declined the gig, whereupon he apologizes.

Other than the apology coming after the point when it might have done any good (not really, though), this is obligatory. The only question is how soon we’ll get the Burned by Oscar Controversey, Comedian Mounts Comeback narrative. My guess is next year, depending on whether his next flick with The Rock performs above or below box office expectations.

The obvious question now is, who hosts now? The more interesting question is, why anyone? I’m completely serious. The perennial complaint of the Oscars is they go on too long. What better way to slice the Gordian knot of technical awards and laundry lists of people to thank than removing the superfluous element of what’s ostensibly an award show?

All the introductory elements of the show can be handled by one of those navel-gazing retrospectives. All the introducing can be done by some red-carpet casualty who’s not up for any awards (that’s 90% of what happens now anyway).

All hosting the Oscars gets for you is the harrumphing consensus that you should never do it again, partly because one of your weak one-liners Offended someone, and partly because you’re Not Billy Chrystal, who remains the only acceptable Oscar host (along with Zombie Jonnie Carson) in the eyes of people who care about such things. And there’s a low six-figure paycheck, which sounds nice from where I sit, but I don’t have to pay for Southern California real estate or Hollywood divorce lawyers.

Skip it, give the people their statues, and let’s get on with the mindless speculation about what’s gonna go up next year.

Ace Of Spades Does “The Other Side of The Wind”

ie9ybrhceuuozazbrohuAs part of a retrospective on Welles for its weekly movie post.

His opinion matches my own. It’s an odd little movie, ambitious and self-referential, with an element of satire, both of Hollywood culture in the 70’s and of the art-house trends of that decade. The film within the film, which has the same title, is colorful and stunning to look at but also incredibly basic, to the point of being plotless. That’s a pretty strong critique of what avant-garde cinema tends to do, which is to say, spin its wheels fast enough to dispense with such pedestrian things as narrative, and then to expect plaudits for it. Which it usually gets, because, as the main movie demonstrates, everone wants to act like they’re in, even when nothing they’re looking at makes any sense at all.

Is it as good as Citizen Kane? I don’t think so, but what is? Not that I accept the notion that Kane is the Greatest Movie Ever Made, (because what does that even mean?) but it is a good movie. Kane tells a man’s story, beginning to end, and in the process of doing that leaves open the notion that for everything we know about him, there was more, a core of him that he alone will take to the grave. It’s watchable and provocative.

This doesn’t rise to that height. It lacks the Everyman subject. Movies about Hollywood are inevitably more interesting to people who are in Hollywood than the rest of us, and while it’s certainly fun to see Welles pronounce a plague on all their houses (if in fact that’s what he’s doing, but I think that’s there), there’s a kind of been-there-done-that to such a message. The provincialism of the elite is a well-mined subject.

But that’s just my opinion. There’s a larger value to the work that makes it worth checking out:

This is like discovering that Emily Dickenson had a complete collection of poetry hidden under her mattress since her death, or da Vinci had created another masterpiece but no one had laid eyes on it since the 16th century. This is akin to finding a trove of Greek drama previously unknown to exist, or a lost Shakespeare play.

I’d advise looking at the accompanying documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, as well.

Someone Hold Dan Akroyd Down and Make Him Stop Babbling About Ghostbusters 3

Let. It. Go.

For over two decades there was talk of a third Ghostbusters movie, but that particular phantasm never materialized. Instead we got 2016’s Ghostbusters, a reboot of the property with an all-new cast that suffered all kinds of controversy and ultimately failed to be a hit at the box office. That seemingly killed another Ghostbusters in that continuity, but perhaps it opened the door for a true Ghostbusters 3. In fact, Ghostbusters 3 is currently in the works according to Dan Aykroyd, who said:

The same nonsense he always says, it’s being written, he’s hopeful, he thinks Bill Murray will want to, blah blah blah.

Don’t.

Just don’t.

Ghostbusters was a good movie. A classic, even. Ghostbusters 2 was… enh. The cartoon was a cartoon. The reboot bombed. We don’t need another Ghostbusters movie. We don’t need to “save” the “franchise”. It’s not a fucking fast food chain, it’s a movie. Just one movie that was entertaining in 1984. The rest of the dreck that’s been built around it is forgettable and unimportant. Another movie is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing but spark unending debates and wearisome attempts at drollery by idiots on social media. 

The time and money spent on whether determining whether another Ghostbusters movie could be better spent on creating a genuine and new piece of entertainment that could itself become memorable and rewatchable over and over again. 

One of the obstacles preventing Ghostbusters 3 from happening over the years has actually been Bill Murray, who never seemed particularly interested– feeling that there was no way to live up to the original.

If this is true, then the world owes Bill Murray a debt of thanks. I’ve seen some people – like the Red Letter Media guys – blame Bill Murray’s intransigence for the existence of the reboot. That’s nonsense on stilts. Ghostbusters, but With Girls was fated to happen the day some idiot at Sony figured out he could shill some Pepsi and Papa Johns Pizza that way. They ran with it because reboots generate their own press, and controversies generate more. Because existing IP’s are the golden ticket for getting movie audiences in the door, right?

Right?

Bill Murray is right. No more Ghostbusters. No more dumb sequels, unnecessary reboots, and nostalgia pieces. Make something that doesn’t suck. Make art, you monkeys.

maxresdefault

Quick Review: The Outlaw King

outlaw-king

What the wags have called Braveheart 2 came out this week on Netflix, and being a medievalist nerd, I was all about it.

It is a more accurate film that Braveheart in several respects. For one, it gives us the real struggle Robert the Bruce had in claiming the throne of Scotland. None of this sudden Hollywood climax decision with a full army at his back for the Bruce: he had to claw his way to power, bearing a crown no one respected, hiding in the heather from his own countrymen for a number of years. For another, it’s depiction of Edward I of England is probably truer than the cartoon villain Braveheart gave us. If you loved Patrick McGoohan’s moustache-pulling (and who doesn’t? “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots!” that’s A+ movie-villainry right there), you might not like the merely iron-fisted politician this film gives us. But Edward I of England wasn’t a cartoon, he was a real man, a puissant ruler and crusader, a man who struggled to restore royal authority after the turbulent reigns of his grandfather John and his father Henry III, and largely succeeded. Call out his excess in this if you like. Say that his cruelty to the Scots crosses the line into wickedness – I can’t refute it.  But he was a man, and not a devil, and this movie does him the courtesy of making that real. You may not recognize Stephen Dillane – Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones – in the part, but you will appreciate him.

However, when it comes to Edward II, I think the earlier film got it right:  the second of the Three Edwards (for a century, from 1277 to 1377, the King of England had the same name) seems to really have been a dilettante who had neither capacity nor wish to charge into battle at the head of an army. We see the younger Edward’s weakness in Braveheart, his terror of his father, and silent yearning to be utterly unlike him (a yearning that made him a poor ruler indeed). In this film, the younger Edward is just a bad chip off the old block.

The film doesn’t run the length of Braveheart, so it can’t spend the time building and enriching the emotional life of the characters. We don’t quite see Robert’s emotional motivation to rebel in the same way we saw William Wallace’s. Chris Pine holds more back than Gibson does, preferring to act with his eyes in something of a slow burn. How well he pulls that off is for the viewer to decide.

Bottom Line: it’s both less thrilling and less fanciful than Braveheart. It runs close to the truth, and is never boring. Worth a watch.

Rian Johnson Blames Critical Reception of The Last Jedi on Russian Trolls

Yep. That’s a thing that happened.

homer-facepalm

You know, I didn’t walk out of the theater disliking The Last Jedi. Quite the contrary. I enjoyed it. My whole family – all SW fans in general, none quite as obsessive as me – liked it, too. When the Vice Admiral Hole-Card jumped to light speed right into the First Order Fleet, I whispered under my breath “that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen” and my six-year-old said “Me, too.” That was a cool moment I got to have.

But this kind of idiocy is going to put me right into the camp of the haters. It’s just a gussied-up version of the wearisome defenses of The Phantom Menace that got slung around in the summer of ’99. Back then, “Bashers” were told that they needed to get in touch with their “inner child” and then they’d see that the new movie was really great and entertaining, not tedious and disjointed. Now, critics are told the reverse, that they’re hapless stooges of Rooskie Mind Control. Both of which are ways to Dismiss and Disqualify, which are pernicious, weedlike versions of the Argumentum ad Hominem.

On top of that, it reminds us that Lucasfilm has no intention of breaking its 20-year habit of treating Star Wars like a rented mule to carry money. They have no interest in finding out what the problem is. They have no interest in meeting fans halfway. Anyone not singing the Oceania anthem for every piece of product is a filthy miscreant who is guilty of all manner of thoughtcrime.

If Episode IX tanks, they will have richly deserved it.

Addendum: Want to watch something way more subversive than The Last Jedi? Here’s a 7-minute short by some Japanese-style animators that will have you rooting for the Empire. Subversive, and awesome.

 

You Done Poked the Hive: Larry Corriea, provoked by this paranoid buck-passing, de-lurks (as far as The Last Jedi goes) to poop all over it from a great height.

Characters it’s all about rooting for someone. When your characters do nothing but stupid shit, it’s hard to root for them. Your antagonists need to be menacing, not clowns, or worse, just thrown away! (hey, Snoke is interesting… and never mind…).  Or Phasma. Hey, wow, she must be super bad ass to have the silver armor and…. Garbage chute… Maybe some menace this time and…. Oh fuck it.

The Ewoks had more character than this. AND THEY COULDN’T BLINK.

It’s official. Disney has managed to make a SW move that the fans hate as much as The Phantom Menace. Heckuva job, guys.

“First Man” has a Lot of Advertising, and Variety Thinks That’s Worth Knowing

No, really. This is a real article.

In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV advertising attention analytics company iSpot.tv, Universal Pictures claims the top spot in spending with “First Man.”

Is there some kind of contest for this? An award? Is there a reason I should devote a single brain cell to the fact that a studio spent more money advertising a particular film than other studios spent on other films? Is this the NFL Draft of the movie industry?

I hate the NFL Draft. Not because it exists, but because people get all excited to watch it. People find football teams picking football players entertaining. And the drama of whether this althete or that althete goes First Round or Second Round, and how the crap teams trade picks to the good teams and…

Oh-my-god-who-the-hell-cares

Anyway…

My initial prediction on First Man, in my previous post on next years Oscars, was to say that it will do decent box office and not get any nominations. I’m now going to say that some of the minor controversey about it not showing the American Flag could be sufficient among the Right-Thinking Folks to punish the sansculottes by giving it some Oscar Buzz. Mike Pence would hate that, right?

And that’s all that matters.

Judging My Predictions: A Solo Review

Han-Solo-Movie-Poster-Star-Wars-Characters-Revealed

At the beginning of the month, I made a handful of predictions about Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw it over the weekend, and have digested the various reactions to it on social media. Let’s now see how well I did:

Everyone will go in with very low expectations. The rumor about this film is that it’s been a giant clusterbomb that’s been 90% reshot. Everyone who hated The Last Jedi will have all guns trained on it, ready to blast it to hell.

It was worse than that. People were staying away in droves. People who went to see it did so out of the kind of fan-obligation (or quiet hope under the guise of fan obligation) that brought them into the theaters to see Revenge of the Sith in 2005. No one ever really wanted a Han Solo-movie. The idea was kind of irritating when it dropped. And after at least half the fan base found The Last Jedi completely irritating, there was almost no enthusiasm for seeing this. So I don’t think this prediction really panned out.

It will not suck. It will not be brilliant. It will not become anyone’s favorite SW film. But it won’t suck. It will be entertaining. I will like it better than Rogue One.

This proved correct, in my eyes. I’m not the biggest fan of Rogue One, for the simple reason that I did not find the characters, and especially the protagonist, compelling. Bringing us down into the nitty-gritty of the early Rebellion would have made a find story. They should have stuck to that story, and given us a protagonist committed to that.

Solo, by contrast, has very watchable characters in a kind of makeshift plot. Alden Ehrenreich makes the right decision not to do an overworked Harrison Ford impression, but to take his own read on a young Han Solo, making the film about this nobody from the slums of Corellia becoming Han Solo, the outlaw anti-hero. He’s not that person we know at the beginning of the film, but he is getting there at the end. Good choice by an actor who got a lot of flack from the rumor mill.

The other characters are also good. Donald Glover is fun as a goofier Lando Calrissian than we might recall. Woody Harrelson works as Tobias Beckett, the smuggler who mentors Han. Emilia Clarke has a nice turn as Q’ira, playing a compromised love interest without going the obvious femme fatale route. Thandie Newton is good, Paul Bethany is good. They’re all good, fully real and fully inhabited. The reason I keep holding the New Trilogy above the Prequels is precisely because the characters in them – Finn and Poe and Rey – come across as real people, rather than the wooden kabuki puppets of Episodes I-III. We get the same thing in Solo.

The story won’t have much if anything to do with the main SW plot. We won’t see Vader, we won’t see Leia, we won’t see Obi-Wan Kenobi. It will be entirely about being a criminal smuggler under the Empire.

This was an easy prediction to make, but it was still right, and it’s one of the best things about it. The movie brings us down into the worlds, shows us some of the dirt of the Galaxy Far, Far Away, and thereby shows us what life is mostly like under Palpatine’s Empire. We go almost the whole movie without a lightsaber ignition (and the one we do get is one of the dumber moments of the film, a hackneyed piece of obligatory fan service, as if we needed reminding that we were watching a Star Wars film), and it was nice seeing a story in the SW universe totally uninvolved with the Skywalker Saga. Solo is more like a western than anything else, which fits, because in A New Hope, Han Solo is basically the Man With No Name from A Fistful of Dollars in space (including the classic double-back-to-save-a-friend antihero move at the end).

People’s reactions will very from “meh” and “whatever” to “That was better than I thought,” “actually kind of fun,” and “Best SW Prequel.” There will even be some “better than Last Jedi” (there will also be some “worse than Last Jedi“).

This jibes with what I’ve seen on Reddit and Twitter. No one really loves it, no one really hates it. Some like it better than others. I’m not seeing the vitriolic anger that Last Jedi got (which, as I said, I don’t share, but I understand). However, there is an almost palpable desire to see this movie fail, which brings us to…

It will do decent box office. People will have a bunch of dumb arguments about What That Means.

This has proven wrong. All the chatter in the entertainment media is that Solo is the worst-performing SW film ever. Yes, making $100 million over Memorial Day weekend is considered “failure” for a SW film. It’s below expectations, and now everyone is scrambling to explain it. Variety is chalking it up to “fan fatigue”, Polygon is blaming it on Prequels being unnecessary.

Both of those are ignoring the elephant in the living room, which is that the SW fandom is one of the grumpiest in the geek universe, and has been so since The Phantom Menace permanently sundered it into cynical Bashers who hate everything since The Empire Strikes Back, and brainless Gushers who will line up for a Jar-Jar standalone if the trailer looks cool. And that fandom, which was mixed at best about Disney taking over Lucasfilm, is now in open revolt.

The Force Awakens got slammed for being A New Hope 2.0Rogue One got slammed for being a bunch of fan service glommed onto a story we already knew. Both of these paled in comparison to The Last Jedi, which reached almost Phantom Menace levels of hatred. And here the difference between 1999 and 2018 shows its face. Back then, before social media, fan reaction was limited to fan-related SW websites, and people still held out hope that if the first of the prequels stumbled out of the gate, maybe Lucas would find his footing for the rest of it. Today, it’s impossible to avoid noticing the discontent if you’re anywhere on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. And at this point, people are so tired of SW movies not living up to the originals that they’ve decided they’ve had enough.

The Last Jedi got slammed for destroying the Hero of the Original Trilogy in a lame and bitter manner, for having spinning plot wheels that don’t go anywhere, and for bringing ham-fisted gender-and-class politics into populist entertainment (The Force is not Female. The Force doesn’t have a gender. That’s not how the Force works). Whether you think that’s true or not, that’s what the reaction is, and that’s why no one feels the need to watch another prequel of an Original Character. Why bother? They’re just going to screw it up.

Hence, for the sins against Luke Skywalker, Han Solo must pay.