Friday, February 27, 2015

Live Long and Prosper



A lot of Star Trek fans who are even more passionate than I am will be sharing their thoughts all over the internet in the next few days. I can't begin to match their stories of how the character of Spock, changed their lives. Some were able to live more happily by accepting their own differences, others will have been inspired to pursue careers in science and in writing. There will be a thousand good stories of the actor Leonard Nimoy, touching peoples hearts and minds at conventions, in interviews and with personal contact. I don't have any of those stories. What I have is a heart that was touched by one of the least emotional characters in fiction. How can this be? It is simple, the actor who played the alien was a real person and the real person is what made the character someone we could care for. We have an emotional connection to Mr. Spock because of the friendship he had with the other main characters on Star Trek, Captain Kirk and Dr.McCoy .

Ethos, Pathos and Logos battled it out each week in an effort to solve the problems faced by the crew of the Enterprise. We usually discovered that it was not one path that leads to a solution but many combinations of these essential traits. That two humans with outsized personalities could find comradery  with an emotionless, cold, half alien seems hard to believe, until you see the show. Then we know that friendship can be many things, including frustrating. Kirk and Bones would tease Spock but he never seemed to take it any way except in the way it was intended, as the gesture of a friend. Leonard Nimoy imbued the character with the capacity to be a friend, even if the nature of the character is to reject such an emotional relationship. Nimoy was accomplished outside of the Trek universe and he had much to be proud of in all his other work, but everyone knew that when this sad day came, this was the image of the actor that everyone would recall.


All of us will feel as if we were in this scene, unable to touch our friend as he left us, bereft of the friendship that has been a part of our lives for fifty years, and sad that as with all of us, the final frontier awaits.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 Academy Awards

Having now seen all of the pictures nominated for Best Picture, and most of the performances in the Acting Categories, I'm willing to make a few calls for this evenings show. We will basically be going with the six big plus the live action and animated shorts since I have seen all of those.

Best Live Action Short



I'd be happy to see "Boogaloo and Graham" win. It was a delight to watch but it is ultimately a bit slight. My pick for winning is "Parvaneh", a well made, politically correct parable about cross cultural connections.

Best Animated Short




Of the five nominees, "Feast" has to be the most widely seen and it is also the one that is most completely put together. Basically it tells a complete story without dialogue but with a huge amount of heart and humor.

Best Supporting Actress




In the category that they found another slot to fit Meryl Streep, I think anyone would be surprised if someone other than Partricia Arquette were to end up with the Award. She is the glue that holds "Boyhood" together. She has been winning in all the other contests at the end of the year, so she is a pretty sure thing.


Best Supporting Actor




If a name other than J.K. Simmons is called tonight, all bets are off. He is as close to a sure thing as there is and he deserves the award. Whiplash was my favorite film of the last year and it needs to get some props from the Academy. It is unlikely to win the big Award tonight so this will be the one place where it can make a splash.


Best Actress




This is the one field where I have not seen all the performances. All indications seem to be that the barely released Alzheimers drama, "Still Alice" will;bring Julianne Moore her long overdue award. I thought Rosemund Pike was outstanding in "Gone Girl" but I will go with the conventional wisdom.


Best Actor




Since people like the idea of a horserace, this is the category where I can see a close competition. Eddie Redmayne as Steven Hawking did a good job with the physicality of his role but the part is so conventionally drawn that the character is just not as interesting as he should be. Michael Keaton has the opposite issue, his character is so interesting that the performance may be hidden by the fireworks. I'm going with Keaton, I think the movie is catnip to film proessionals, it is about an actor struggling with his place in the world and it is shot in a style that celebrates creativity.


Best Director




Alejandro González Iñárritu for "Birdman". Other than Keaton, his is the hand that is most visible on the film. Richard Linklater managed a similar influence with "Boyhood", if that film ends up as the Best Picture winner, he could be pulled into the winner's envelope. Conventional wisom is to go with the DGA winner and that would be Alejandro González Iñárritu. The Academy Awards gets more and more conventionally unsurprising as it's membership expands.

Best Picture


This is the place where there is the most uncertainty about the award. A late surge by "American Sniper" may have been undermined by controversy of a political sort. "Birdman" was a critical favorite and might still win, but it is the most off center film nominated, and the broader Academy is likely to be satisfied with splitting the awards and giving this unusual film it's glory in other categories.  My guess is that this is a "Driving Miss Daisy" and then "Crash"-ing year. The major award going to a film that is not a landslide but a default winner because it is ultimately emotionally satisfying. While I'd love to see "Whiplash" give every prognosticator a heart attack, I think the winner will be "Boyhood".



5 for 8, I can live with that but I've done better before.







Saturday, February 21, 2015

AMC Best Picture Showcase 2015 Day Two


So day two of the annual Best Picture Showcase featured four films that I had not yet seen. This was an unusual year for me, last year at the Best Picture Showcase, "Her" was the only film I needed to catch up on, so it was the only one from either day that I needed to do a fairly complete post on. This year, the burden is more complicated. All four of today's movies were new to me, but I don't have the energy to do a full review of each at this time of night and I want to be finished before the Awards tomorrow. So you are going to get a thumbnail review of each of the four, and during the Awards tomorrow, I may post some commentary video to go along with my opinions and guesses.

This is the film that I was least looking forward to. The subject sounded a little mundane and the film looked like it was entirely predicated on a gimmick. I had heard a number of positive comments and the reviews have mostly been glowing, but I could not shake off my dread. After being subjected to "The Wolf of Wall Street", "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "The Tree of Life" in the last few years, I assumed there would be a pretentious turkey in the bunch and this looked like it would fit the bill. I am happy to say I am completely surprised and that this is indeed an outstanding piece of work, deserving of some acclaim and a warm spot in almost anyone's heart.

While it is episodic and sometimes without much of a theme or structure, it is also a lot more entertaining than I expected. There is a stronger narrative than I was lead to believe, although it gives Patricia Arquette the thankless task of playing a woman who can only choose losers as husbands.  I should have known that the slice of life approach could be enthralling coming from director Richard Linklater. He did a fantastic job on "Dazed and Confused" twenty one years ago and this proves that he has the right touch for character pieces.

Ellar Coltrane grows up in front of us but there is more to the story than that. His character has to give up friends, confront bullies, live with neurotic parents and cope with a broken heart. I read some criticism of him in a few spots but I thought he was very good at the younger age and got better as the years passed. If you are a parent, be prepared to see some of the events in the growth of your own child pass by in the blink of an eye. It was not always smooth, and the "movies" have conditioned us to expect the worst at times, but this personal diary of a young boys life is a nice way to experience those moments again (minus the abusive drunks).

Eddie Redmayne may very well win the Oscar tomorrow for his portrayal of physicist Steven Hawking. He has a love story and a tragic human malady to support him, and the well known specter of Hawking himself hanging over the proceedings. The part is an actor's dream because it requires a variety of emotional touchstones and a physical transformation that will impress even the most casual of viewers. It is as a result, a technically excellent performance but an unsatisfactory accomplishment. The fault is the completely straightforward narrative of the picture, which takes us from point A to point B and then to point C in exactly the manner that everyone expects.  There are no surprises here, and the thing that even the cosmologist would say is the least important reason for his being well known, the crippling disease that trapped him in a failing body. The brilliant theories are in the movie but they are not realized in a creative way and they are still almost as abstract as the lesson in quantum physics we got in "Interstellar".

The Cambridge environment and the 1960s setting are an elegant tapestry for the love story between the two leads to play out against. The clothes, music and manners of the times feel genuine with these characters. Felicity Jones is a match for Redmayne's performance, without all of the physicality that goes with it. The sad dance of decaying romance turning into respectful friendship also undermines the last half of the story. Yes it is honest and sensitively played, but it is also a downer which finishes the movies  early strengths with hard fact.

This was the most conventional of all the films nominated this year. Even Selma, a story that has history all over it, managed to inject a little tension and anticipation to the events it showed. This film just feels like the cliff notes version of the story, and a very obvious biopic that could have worked on any number of media formats. It is a very good film, but not an excellent one.

From a story telling point of view, this film feels like a very traditional mainstream Academy friendly movie. An oddball genius, has to overcome his own failings as a human being in order to work effectively on a critical job. It is an important part of history, especially World War Two, but also technology since it features what is basically an early computer. It also benefits from having a theme about the oppression of women and homosexuals, two pieces of bait the Academy is unlikely to ignore. Coming as it did right after "The Theory of Everything" it made me feel as though I'd seen almost every British actor of the current generation in a four hour span.

Bouncing around three time periods in the life of Alan Turing, we get enough background to see where he is coming from and why he ends up as he did. The central part of the story is the pressure filled race to crack the "Enigma" code and save lives and win the war. Benedict Cumberbatch has secured his place as a modern British movie icon after a short ten year period where he had small roles in a dozen big films and a breakout role on BBC television. His face is a passive mask on which we can easily project coldness, malevolence and a robotic personality. That he manages to make the later scenes into something more human explains his presence among the nominees for Best Actor this year. Kiera Knightly shines in a clearly supporting role as a woman who is also incredibly bright and overlooked for completely different reasons.

"The Imitation Game" is a well told war story, with a huge chunk of intrigue to boot. That it makes math puzzles interesting and important is an accomplishment of some sort. Mark Strong will soon be the new Michael Caine, he will be appearing in every other movie that comes out of Great Britain before long.  I also enjoyed recognizing Rory Kinnear as the police inspector. He is now a regular in the 007 films playing Bill Tanner the Chief of Staff, and he is technically Veruca Salt's brother.

At Eighty Four years old, Clint Eastwood puts the rest of us average mortals to shame. He had two films that he directed out this year, the musical "Jersey Boys" and this combination war film and biopic of Navy Seal Chris Kyle. As I watched this film today, I was impressed with the detail of the battles and the settings used in filming. There is a terrific performance from the lead actor (and producer of the film) and Clint manages to get a musical credit for himself as well. This is the most financially successful of all of the films nominated and the biggest hit of Eastwood's  career, either in front of or behind the camera. Oh yeah, did I mention that he is 84. Man I feel like a slug by comparison.

Billed as the most lethal sniper in U.S. history, Chris Kyle's story is one that is motivated by a deep love of country and a creed that appears to have been a part of his life since childhood. He is a Shepard protecting the flock from the wolves. I can hardly believe that this story has come in for criticism from some political points of view. There may be legitimate criticisms of the Iraq war, but the troops shown here are heroes, doing their job in incredibly hard circumstances. They have a tough time balancing the warrior spirit with the need to win hearts and minds of the locals. The film never depicts the enemy as anything other than what they are, and it walks the fine line of showing evil and innocence in the same places. That is the story that Kyle tells and the movie shows.

Bradley Cooper is nominated for the third year in a row, suggesting that we can put to rest any doubts about his abilities. He shows that Kyle was a simple man who had to life a complicated life in order to do his duty. While we can celebrate his acts, they are never lingered over or shown in a gratuitous fashion. The only time any sniper shot is show boated is in a final tense shootout when an incredibly difficult shot is depicted with a slow motion camera zoom along the trajectory of a CGI bullet. This moment from a CSI episode was needed because of the distance being shown at which the shot was taken, not to make the killing of an enemy more spectacular.  The much criticized other special effect in the film ( a mechanical baby used for a brief couple of scenes) was not nearly as distracting as some have said.

The brotherhood of the soldiers and the strains on the family at home are not new concepts. They are however honestly shown here and not played for melodrama. Eastwood has the right touch for the domestic scenes and a surprising ability to make the war sequences harrowing and real.  "American Sniper" is a more relevant story than any of the other films nominated this year and the film making skill that went into telling it is second to none. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service



This is one of those meta experiences that so often crop up in films these days. It is a film about spies that references James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer, yet it engages in the same over the top story telling and effects that it is simultaneously lampooning. Having done the same thing to Fairy Tales with "Stardust" and Comic Books with "Kick Ass", director Matthew Vaughn now turns to a new genre with this hyper violent exercise in adrenaline based movies. Oh, and just so you know, he pulls it off brilliantly.

The opening credits will make you giggle with the use of exploding pieces of an ancient fort, blowing onto the screen to form the credit titles. All of this is scored with Dire Straights "Money for Nothing", yeah that's the way you do it. Colin Firth is is Harry Hart, codename Galahad, an agent of the privately organized intelligence and espionage agency that borrows from every cartoon spy film of the sixties and makes the idea of a gentleman spy come to life. Firth was once imagined as a James Bond replacement, and the fact that his boss "Arthur" is played by Michael Caine, the working class Bond of the Harry Palmer films, makes the whole thing even more delicious.

Newcomer Taron Egerton plays the hard knock, working class son of an earlier protege of Galahad, rough around the edges but ready to be polished. Early parts of the movie and recurring sequences focus on the recruitment and testing process of likely "Kingsman" material. As the job interview begins, a threat to the world by well meaning but crazy billionaire tech guru Valentine, sends the regular agents out in the field to investigate. Samuel Jackson plays a George Soros/Al Gore hybrid with a distinct lisp and an aversion to seeing the violence that he himself wants. As Hart crosses swords with Valentine, they engage in a parody of cliches from most spy movies of this variety. In their interactions they even discuss the Bond films that feature megalomaniac rich guys who play villain to the English spy, and they both play with those roles effectively.

If your liberal sensibilities are easily offended, you may want to stay away from this. Jackson's character is a rich genius with an evil plan to save the world from global warming. He attempts to recruit influential leaders and celebrities from around the world to be part of his new world order. Visualize the Socialist/Green/Celebrity Environmentalists as the dupes that will populate the Earth like Drax's genetic specimens in "Moonraker" or Stromberg's mermen in "The Spy Who Loved Me". This is the biggest drubbing of liberal sacred cows since "Team America". The Kingsman might seem reactionary to some, invoking as they do the names of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They even use a piece of equipment supposedly part of the loathed Strategic Defense Initiative [referred to as the Star Wars satellite system] to fight back against the plans of the villain.

Since Star Wars does get mentioned here, it is fun to note that a nearly unrecognizable Mark Hamill appears as a kidnapped scientist. Mark Strong, who has been in most of Vaughn's previous films, plays "Merlin" the aide de camp to the Kingsman.  There also seems to be a CGI version of an American Leader with prominent ears, who plays along with the scheme. At this point some audience members heads will explode, but hold on because that will not be the end of the fireworks. This movie also parodies the Westboro Baptist church crazies, the aristocrats of Great Britain, and dog lovers everywhere. Some of the humor is broad, such as the meal served by the suspected billionaire to the agent posing as another billionaire. It is either biting satire or great product placement.

The young leads get to take over the action at the end and they are just as effective as Firth was in his moments of glory ( or maybe I should say gory). This movie takes "Kick Ass" violence to new levels with some sick jokes mixed in. Imagine the damage a flying marital artist with razor sharp blades for feet can do, and then expect to see it on the screen. The slow mo, fast action styles explored in other films of this ilk are used here to good effect, but if you are over that approach, there are plenty of other bits of violence to delight you.

In all honesty, this is a movie that was genetically designed to tickle my funny bone and stimulate my adrenal glands. If "Kick Ass" and "James Bond" had a love child, this would be it. The film never takes itself too seriously but sometimes it plays with that idea as well. There is classic rock on the soundtrack, Colin Firth, Samuel Jackson and Michael Caine on the screen, and there is enough violence for ten movies. I was in love with this film when it was being hatched in the minds of the comic book artist who created the concept and the person who is responsible for putting Matthew Vaughn in charge. To quote Harry Hart: "Manners maketh man. Do you know what that means? Then let me teach you a lesson". I consider myself well schooled after seeing this.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Academy Award Nominated Shorts 2015


Theater chains often get a bad rap because they play the same films as every other chain, on multiple screens, and they are for the most part faceless entities lacking a distinctive ambiance. In 1998, a thirty screen complex opened in our neck of the woods and it was a better experience than that. They held onto movies for a longer period of time, they programmed in the occasional independent film, and while it does look a little too corporate planned designed, there was a cool space station motif to the decor. A few years ago, after opening another venue even closer to us, the thirty screen theater had such a drop off in business that they closed thirteen of the theaters, basically the south wing of the facility. AMC has continued to try and keep the theater more than just a shopping mall extension, by showing classic films, special event programming and continuing to host the Best Picture Showcase. This year our local venue added the Academy Award nominated shorts to its weekend screenings. We did not get the documentaries but we did have the Animated and Live Action shorts to watch.



The animated shorts were a complete delight and they added three or four honorable mentions to help fill out the program.

A Single Life


This was the shortest of the shorts, a piece of computer animation, Pixar style, with a funny premise and a couple of sly winks at the regular movie industry.

FEAST


An Actual Disney film, I think we saw it playing last year with "Big Hero 6", but it might have been another film it was with. Beautiful story telling and a heart warming payoff, just what you expect from the crew at the most reliable animation studio in the world, and of course it has a dog.

Me and My Moulton


The animation style reminds me of the films I used to see in the seventies and early eighties at the annual Tournee of Animation that we went to at the Rialto Theater every year. The story centers on three Finnish sisters and their desire to have a bicycle. It's another short coming of age story that works well despite some of the odd Finnish touches.

The Bigger Picture


This tackles a tough subject, the care of an elderly parent and the conflicts between siblings that it engenders. It has the most strikingly different visual style and will affect those who have gone through this experience like I have.

The Dam Keeper


This is a parable about bullying, misunderstanding and friendship. It is done in the softest style using water colors and drawings that often look like impressionistic art. It is sixteen minutes long, the lengthiest of the five nominated films.

Prediction: I have no idea how the animation branches of the Academy see things, but I suspect that "Feast" will be the winner because it is the most complete concept and it is extremely polished.



The Live Action Shorts are all longer and they are very different from one another. I am not well versed in this field, although I have encountered Live Action Shorts on occasion. This is an outsiders perspective so I hope you will make allowances.

Aya


This was the longest film at almost forty minutes. It is basically an odd conversation between two strangers in a car in Israel. How they come to be in the car and who they are is part of the charm. I'm not sure what it all means but it was enjoyable.

Boogaloo and Graham


Two boys in Belfast are given chickens as pets by their feckless father. Mom is not as enamored as they are and complication ensue. This was a relatively brief film at fourteen minutes, it was also my favorite of the five.

Butterlamp


Of all the shorts today, this was the one that was most esoteric. A Chinese Photography crew takes pictures of rural, maybe Mongol or Tibetan families in front of a variety of backdrops. That's it. There are some amusing picture combinations and a couple of humorous interactions, but in the long run it did not feel very meaningful.

Parvaneh


An Afghanistan girl struggles to earn money for her family back home while working illegally in various jobs in Switzerland. She speaks German but has some basic cultural issues that make being clear a bit odd. She needs the help of a resident with the right I.D. to get Western Union to wire the money home. The solution to her situation is a great story in overcoming cultural barriers and establishing friendship.

The Phone Call


A crisis intervention phone operator attempts to provide solace to a painfully lonely man on the brink of ending his life. Sally Hawkins, a nominee for Best Supporting Actress from "Blue Jasmine" gives an affecting performance as a woman who doesn't judge but empathizes with her client. Jim Broadbent is the disembodied voice on the phone.

Prediction: Although I liked Boogaloo and Graham the best, my guess is that the message of "Parvaneh" will trump with an Oscar win. We'll see next Sunday.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

AMC Best Picture Showcase 2015 Day One


I still can't talk everyone into doing the one day version of this, even though there were only eight films nominated this year. This is an extremely rare year for me, in that I have seen only two of the nominated films this year. I combination of circumstances kept me away from the movies when they were first released and then as it got closer it just seemed to be a better idea to wait and see them all at the annual showcase at our AMC theaters.

Today the first two films that ran were the two that I have previously written about. Both films were in my top five for the year and one of them was my favorite film of last year.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-grand-budapest-hotel.html
This marvelous Wes Anderson film is a joy to behold. Filled with eccentric characters, an outlandish plot and a story structure that allows dozens of actors to pop in and out of the film, it is hysterical and very well put together. A combination of miniatures, process shots and fantastic set design takes us through a pre-World War Two , Eastern European country with Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustav, the concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel and his faithful Lobby Boy.





Whiplash

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2014/11/whiplash.html
If you have not seen this film yet, prepare to be shocked. It is one of the most intense experiences you will ever have at a movie and there is virtually no action and with one mild exception, no violence. This is a game of mental torture and artistic chess played by two unlikable characters, both of whom need each other in the worst possible way. Expect J.K. Simmons to walk away with the Best Supporting actor award. Terrence Fletcher is a nightmare of a teacher but a driven artistic taskmaster may be what is needed to push someone to greatness. Just be aware that there is a huge amount of collateral damage along the way. My Favorite film of the last year.



Birdman : (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

This one has been discussed a lot since it came out and it may be one of the favorites to win the big award next week. I was aware that it was a surreal film that uses off camera voices, strange visuals and an unusual set of actors who at times seem to be mining their own experience for the purpose of making this movie.

It is largely a one man show although there is an outstanding supporting cast, including two actors nominated for their roles in the film, but Michael Keaton is the show here. As an actor who make a series of highly successful films in the early 1990s but now is struggling to find artistic and financial success in a Broadway show, Keaton is "Batman", sorry, "Birdman".  The character he plays reflects every insecurity an actor is likely to feel. He has written an adaption of a story by Raymond Carver, and id directing it himself. The voice he hears is his alter ego from the successful film series, both spreading doubt about the current undertaking but also bolstering his confidence at key moments.

As the film starts, I noticed several trademark Keaton mannerisms in the performance. He pauses in mid sentence, he shakes his head and holds up his hands as we have seen in several of his earlier works, but the longer we watch, the less we see of the familiar "movie Star" and the more we see of a troubled performer at war with himself and the world. Despite the shots that Hollywood takes from the script, Keaton shows that he has mastered the art of screen acting. He underplays scenes at times and makes the grand gestures at just the right moments. If he wins the award, it will not be some lifetime achievement honor that is catching up with him. He will have deserved it.

The movie also skews Broadway, rehab cliches, reality TV, critics and modern social media. While less focused on the narcissistic fantasy of love that "Her" projected last year, "Birdman" shows us how shallow comments and accidental video can build up a personality. The fact that a man not schooled in these techniques manages to make them work in his favor is part of the joy of this movie. It is very cleverly shot, suggesting a continuous point of view through out the movie. There is an occasional passage of time but the camera always picks up at the last spot that it left us. This does mean that the photography is sometime a little frenetic, but you probably don't need to take any Dramamine.

This picture is a chance for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, to show off a little. The only other film of his that I have seen is the multistory culture clash movie "Babel " which was not nearly as visually accomplished but was a lot more coherent. "Birdman" is jarring in it's oddness but very interesting and thoughtful. It reminded me of a less irritating version of "Black Swan", without the "Twilight Zone" twist.


Selma

The story of the civil rights movement continues to be an important one to this country. It is hard to imagine that the events depicted here happened in my lifetime. It is also hard to believe how much the film makers tried to turn the passionate Martin Luther King Jr. into a different kind of hero. There rational and compassionate minister gets a steroid injection by the cutting together of many of his words into a series of sermons and speeches that shown in this manner, make him more belligerent than the times called for. So much of the story is on point that it seems like a cheat to shoehorn in some of the extra drama.

I have read that former members of L.B.J.'s administration are offended at the way their President was depicted in this movie. Johnson may have prioritized things but he was not an impediment to the Voting Rights act. In fact he had authorized a stringent attempt to create a bill that would be as strong as imaginable. Despite having 68 Democratic Senators he feared that the Southern democrats would block the legislation so soon after the Civil Rights Act had been passed the year before. The movie attempts to show how the violent tactics used by the authorities in the South, spurred Johnson on to support the legislation. Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen was particularly moved to push the legislation through because of the Selma March and the tactics used by the Alabama authorities to stop it and it is one of his legislative legacies.  the problem was very complex and this film focuses on the infighting of the different supporters of the legislation in the Civil Rights movement and an occasional appearance by intransigent  Governor George Wallace. The performances by Tom Wilkinson as Johnson and Tim Roth as Wallace are good side lights to the story but the main focus of course deserves to be on Dr. King.

David Oyelowo plays King with a great deal of dignity and authenticity. His cadence and voice range seem to fit the part perfectly. He has several opportunities to channel Dr.  King at the pulpit or the podium, and he comes off effectively at both. If there is a weakness to the film it is that it is so dependent on exposition that it seems as if it is a series of endless conversations. Sometimes they take place in the Oval Office, while others are in a bedroom or in jail. Regardless, there is a lot of talking going on and it seems like it is all written as a history lesson rather than a drama. The most compelling parts of the film are the recreations of the racial confrontations with police and state troopers. These are the events that manage to spark some life into the movie.

"Selma" was the longest film we saw today, and unfortunately it felt like it. The movie loses it's pacing every time another meeting takes place and there are a lot of meetings in this story. Still it is a compelling story because of the events that it depicts if not the scenes that dominate the film. The set design and costuming are effective at evoking the time and place for these events. Right up until the unfortunate rap tune that is used over the closing credits, the movie felt authentic. When that tune started, it felt like the film became polemic instead of enlightening, and that was a turn off for me.

Next Week Part Two: The Final Four Best Picture Nominees.

Fifty Shades of Grey




OK, this is clearly not a film made for me, but I do know some of the people it is made for and they will mostly be happy to have it to go with their copies of the book. You know , the one that started off as fan fiction porn inspired by "Twilight" and then pulled from on-line and published in traditional form so that all the Moms who don't have access to the internet can perv out on it as well. After all the hype about the percentage of time the film spends with the leads naked, I'm afraid I found it a lot less enticing than I expected. I also found it less laughable than most of the reviews and comments from skeptics make it out to be. This is not an endorsement, just a recognition that this film works pretty much the way most "romance" films do, only with an over-hyped sense of kink.

There is not really much point in belaboring the issue, the reason people are going to see this is the BDSM angle the film has on the story. The rest of what you get is standard romance novel plotting about a girl from modest means falling for a rich guy who is really good looking. That's it. They have the usual slow build up to sharing their feelings, the one where we see them meet, do a little social tangle, push back against the feelings, and then give in to them. This is the stuff of a thousand books and movies. It is sprinkled here with the elaborate lifestyle that a billionaire can lead, so the wooing includes helicopter flights, luxury cars and the freedom that comes from being able to buy whatever you want. Sometimes that includes trying to buy the attention (not love) of the girl you are smitten with.

People who are deriding the film as amateurish and the dialogue as laughable , are simply taking a position. The movie is competently made with some very standard scenes of budding romance and some deliberately silly humor. It does not rise to any great levels but it is certainly not the steaming pile that it is accused of being. I thought it felt over long and I was surprised at how long it took to get to the "good stuff". When the sex scenes show up, there is barely a sense of eroticism in the start and by the end of the film, it was sort of dull that we get another round of whipping, this time destined to create a cliff hanger for the next film in the series.

fifty_shades_of_greyI don't want to get into the sexual politics that a story like this invites. I just saw a rant from my daughter on tumblr concerning Anne Rice's defense of the film, and I really don't want to get involved. My kid is smarter than I am and very articulate and also full of opinions that I don't agree with. Instead of spending time discussing a piece of pop ephemera, I'd rather just avoid the subject and let those with passion on the subject have their say. I don't feel passionate about this film one way or the other, that should be enough for anyone to make a judgement about whether they want to see it.