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Oscars: Boring and Predictable

Ben Stiller as Na'viThis year’s Oscars were boring and predictable. Simple as that. Also, the ceremony looked less glamorous than usual. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I was definitely surprised to see that.

In fact, I am surprised to hear good TV ratings and overall satisfaction with the Oscars night (the show as well as the winners). People actually liked it! They think it was the best show in years. Definitely not the way I saw it.

The show didn’t look like Oscars

The show itself was… nothing special. Sure, there were stupid host jokes, pointless show songs and the red carpet madness- but for some reason, it all looked plainer, uglier and much less glamorous than usual. The whole place simply looked so… small. With less people. It looked like many nominees were also presenters. I don’t remember this from the previous years.

Once again, the lack of glamour is not what generally bothers me, but it simply didn’t look like Oscars. Did they have a small budget this year? Or was there another reason behind it? Not sure. In any case, it didn’t look and feel like Oscars night. Which basically means it didn’t look important. (Now when I think about it, it’s actually ok, because Oscars aren’t- or should not be- that important anyway. And given the fact all the snubs and the way winners are chosen, especially in the recent years, I don’t think Oscars mean anything anymore). Still, it is considered THE most important movie award, so I expected it to look more important. On the other hand, I guess everybody just wanted to get to the parties and didn’t care about the show itself that much. Except for the winners. Maybe.

Oh, an another thing. Young stars. Yes, they actually decided to include many young stars as presenters (because we all know Zak Efron’s “talent” will effectively prevent him from ever being nominated). I don’t get this. It did look and feel a bit like MTV awards, or even teen choice awards. Yes, I know they wanted young people to watch the Oscars, but this was a cheap and degrading strategy, if you ask me.

The changes

There were some changes in this year’s show, that obviously worked for many people, but not for me. 10 nominated movies, for example. I simply don’t see any point behind this decision. Ok, we all know they decided to do this because of last year’s “Dark Knight” snub. But frankly, does this system really change anything? SF, fantasy, comedies, adventures, animated movies are still not going to win. All they will get is a nomination. If it’s all about being nominated, then fine, I have nothing against more nominees. But I don’t think these “additional 5″ will ever have much chance of winning. After all, we all know what an Oscar bait movie looks like, and it’s rarely a comedy or a SF film.

Another change I dislike is a new system of voting. If I understood it correctly, from now on it’s possible a movie to win for a best picture even if nobody thought it was the best . I mean WTF?

And one more thing I hated and everybody else seem to like: the new way of presenting best actor and actress awards. The system of 5 colleagues on stage, talking about the nominees might seem like a good way to personalize the presentation. But in reality, it sucks. Way too many cheesy compliments, way too many pointless anecdotes. What’s wrong with the good old clips of the nominated roles? After all, that’s why these people are nominated, not because they had fun on set with a presenter 15 years ago. I must admit I miss the clips. At least we got to see clips for supporting actors and actresses.

The winners!

Finally, the most important thing. Or, is it? I must admit it was predictable and I don’t actually have anything important to say here. I did like the fact Jeff Bridges won, and I disliked the fact Sandra Bullock won. I liked “Avatar” not winning, but I hated “The Hurt Locker” winning. That might be a great movie (artistically), but I must admit I loathe the subject (and propaganda) behind it so I can’t be happy about it being voted the best movie of the year. I am glad “Up” won for the best animated movie. And that would be about all, really.

All in all, just like I said in the title: the whole show was boring and predictable. We didn’t get any surprises, and I fail to see how the changes make the ceremony better. Oh, and please, bring back the live performances of songs and clips of nominated actors, if nothing else.

Rethinking “Closer”

Closer movie posterAs you know, Bob, I was sick in the previous days, and I had time to watch many films. I got a Clive Owen movie collection. I’m not his greatest fan, but luckily, I watched two great movies: “Gosford Park” and “Children of Men”. But the one that got me thinking in the past few days is “Closer”.

I know, I know. It’s not a type of a movie I usually enjoy. But it actually got me thinking about Patrick Marber’s play. And that one is a world for itself.

Closer: A play

On stage, I’ve seen “Closer” in a rudimental form- as a student exam play. Still, it was surprisingly captivating. I say surprisingly, because I strongly dislike work that deals with male/female relationships.

However, Patrick Marber’s “Closer” is brilliantly written. It’s perfect the way it is. No other words to describe it. The plot and the subject, in this sense, are irrelevant. Yes, the play is THAT good.

Don’t get me wrong. The subject still isn’t my thing. People falling in and out of love, cheating, jealousy… Not my cup of tea. The play is, in fact, dark and very unsettling. I found all of the characters disgusting, almost sick.

Still, the way it’s written (and planned) is amazing. We see some scenes from the lives of four people- only selected, key scenes. For example, we see the first (and the last) time each of them meet. We see them flirt. We see them break up. But we don’t see anything in between.

Also, we are not informed about the time passing between the acts. In one moment, a guy meets a girl. In the next, he is flirting with another woman- a year has passed. We must fill in the blanks, and since we never see the actual relationships- just the starting and breaking points- it’s sometimes shocking to realize what’s going on in between. Still, that’s the play’s greatest strength. It makes you focused and immersed in their world.

The other brilliant thing, of course, is the writing itself. Every line is there for a reason. The excessive profanity marks some strongest points in the play. Explicit language just make it all sound cruel, not passionate- which is, in my opinion, appropriate for the story and the characters in question.

Marber knows his way with words, and he knows how to spark an interest with the audience. We find ourselves constantly changing allegiance between the four characters. We sympathize with one of them in an act, but hate him or her in the next. It’s a constant emotional and intellectual battle. The result, like I said, is exhausting, not pleasant; the play doesn’t offer any clear messages or answers. But it’s captivating, amazingly written and makes a great experience.

The film

Closer movie castAs a movie, “Closer” is still interesting, but it loses some of its charm.

The main problem, I believe, was the fact they tried to stick way too close to the play (Marber wrote the script, after all). But what works on stage doesn’t necessarily work on film. Almost empty stage with only some hints of scenography, four people in total (with only one scene with all of them on stage at the same time)- it all suited the narrative. In the film, however, the proposed format doesn’t work that well. Sense of the time is different and, although I already knew the story, it was harder to keep the track on the time passed between the scenes.

The film, however, is not bad per se. The play was better, that’s all. The movie, on the other hand, has some strong points. The acting is very good. As someone who dislikes Julia Roberts and (a little less) Jude Law, I must admit I expected them to be distracting. They weren’t. Jude was convincing (yet, annoying) as Dan. Julia was ok- but nothing more-as Anna, and I do think her performance was the weakest. The other two, Natalie Portman as Alice and Clive Owen as Larry, were more convincing. Owen was particularly memorable, switching between sex-obsessed, moving, threatening and revengeful (mostly threatening though).

And when he shouts to Dan, near the end of the movie: “Have you ever seen a human heart? It looks like a fist, wrapped in blood! Go fuck yourself! You writer! You liar!” it is so powerful. The quote that could seem banal becomes one of the best you ever heard. And yes, he made “writer” sound like an insult. That’s acting.

Avatar. One word: Blah.

In 900+ words:

If you want to make a film completely based on visual effects and decide the story isn’t important, don’t take yourself too seriously.

I watched “Avatar” in 2D, so maybe I wasn’t able to get all of its beauty. But if the movie is completely ruined for you if you don’t watch it in 3D… Then, it’s the movie’s fault, not yours.

I was never overly impressed by Cameron’s work. Sure, “Terminator” was good, but “Titanic” was… Well, “Titanic”. “Avatar” suffers heavily from the Titanic-like problems, but it takes them to different levels. Just for the record, my main problem with “Titanic” wasn’t cheap story, Leo DiCaprio or even (even!) Seline Dion. It’s the fact a tragedy- a real life tragedy- was used for romantic intentions and cheesy emotions. Making Titanic tragedy into a date movie was a bit disrespectful, to say the least.

“Avatar” suffers from the same problems, with a few additional ones. It doesn’t treat its (supposedly deep and profound) message with respect. Is it wrong to invade other cultures, kill people and take their land? Is it wrong to destroy environment? Is it wrong to spread military terror on others? Yes, yes and yes. The mere idea we need James Cameron, of all people, to inform us about it is insulting.

A very Noble Savage problem

But even more, the way he treats all these issues is offensive. The guy obviously never heard of Noble Savage stereotype, or the fact is a harmful one. Sure, it does show you criticize wrongdoings of your culture, but you are still unable to understand other cultures or really respect them. Seeing them as “exotic others” doesn’t change your superiority complex, nor the belief those cultures need you in some way (true, problems on Pandora started only after humans Americans came, but Na’vi were also unable to defend and free themselves- they needed a help of a person coming from our western culture).

Competent marine that he is, Jack Sully learns all there is to know about Na’vi in 3 months and becomes not only a skilled warrior, but one of the best in their history. He becomes their leader and gets the hottest chick as a bonus. In other words: natives are pure and close to nature, but the good guy of our (western) culture is still better than them and they need his help to survive. Not a good message.

History for dummies

The other huge problem is Cameron’s need to dumb everything down to the point one wonders if “Avatar” is actually aimed at 8 year old kids. New flash, kids!: destroying nature is wrong. Invading other cultures is wrong. But if there are other cultures in danger, it is OUR job to help them, because we are superior and they are unable to defend themselves. They need us, kids.

In this aspect, “Avatar” reads way too much like Paulo Coelho, Dan Brown or good ol’ Stephenie Meyer. Just like Coelho is good for those who never understood philosophy, Stephenie Meyer for those who don’t like vampire stories and Dan Brown for those who don’t have any education in art history/history/anything at all (example: people who didn’t find blatantly obvious that “an ancient word of wisdom, 5 letters” is Sofia)- “Avatar” is for those who never thought about colonization and history (not even on Disney “Pocahontas” level). To the rest of us, it’s simply insulting to watch such a predictable story.

But it’s not about the story!

No shit?!? So, what is it about, then? Visual effects? If it’s really about it, then fine. Honestly, if Cameron meant this to be Pocahontas/Dancing with Wolves in space, I am fine with it. But “Avatar” simply takes itself way too seriously.

I don’t personally have anything against people who believe they are great and responsible for major achievements. If you’re good, be aware of it all you like- nobody likes false modesty anyway. But you have to have something actually great to back up your feeling of self importance. “Avatar” isn’t that great, James Cameron. In fact, apart from visual effects, it’s not great at all- it’s below mediocre. It’s predictable, it’s childlike in a bad way, it’s insulting both to non-western cultures AND your audience (for estimating their intelligence and education as pretty low).

Random annoying things

  • Even with all the beautiful visual effects, the world building itself is weak. Humans still look like humans, horses like horses and wolves like wolves- only blue. And there isn’t any hint that it’s intentional analogy.
  • Pandora is Jupiter painted blue. Just take a look: here. It even has the Great Red (well, in this case Blue) spot. I mean, WTF?!?!? They couldn’t even make an original planet design?
  • It’s so predictable that is insulting.
  • Those poor noble savages wouldn’t be able to do anything without the compassionate marine Jack.
  • This wasn’t aimed at kids. If it were, it would, perhaps, make some sense.
  • It’s a box office hit and got so many Oscar nominations. And it deserves only one.
  • People like it. People actually like it! They like it so much that I really wonder if I was giving humans way too much credit when it comes to education, intelligence or a taste.
  • And the good things…

    • Visual effects. Convincing, almost realistic. CGI will (hopefully) never be the same again.
    • USB hair.
    • Sam Worthington’s voice. He does have such a beautiful, deep voice. Too bad he can’t act.

    Interesting links

5 songs I like against all odds

MikaI’m not your regular music geek, but I am some sort of music obsessed. Mostly rock music.

The irony: I am untalented for singing or playing (not that I don’t try to play bass guitar from time to time), and I am definitely not one of those people who can name every single obscure alternative band from the 80s. Alternative rock (whatever than means exactly) is great, but I don’t have any problem admitting my passion for more “mainstream” stuff, too.

But when I look at my playlist, I do see it’s mostly rock music- some sort of it. As if other genres don’t really work for me. Another thing I notice is the lack of music created in the last-what? 10 years or so. Yes, I am getting old and I can’t stand modern popular music. Apparently.

And yet, there are some songs that I like, against all odds. I try to resist the urge to actually feel ashamed because of it. Only one of these songs could be somewhat categorized in the rock subgenre (perhaps), and most are recent. Some of them are quality songs, but not in a genre that usually gets my attention. Other clearly lack substance, but were overplayed and catchy enough to make an impact.

Right Here, Right Now (Fatboy Slim)

It was a smashing 1999 hit. To my knowledge, this is the only Fatboy Slim song I really liked.

Why this song? I must admit, it’s not so much for the song- it’s the video. I consider this video to be one of the best ever created. It’s certainly my favourite. It must be noted this was the only time I liked the song because of the video.
Why is this surprising? I am not into this kind of music… Whatever “this kind” might actually be.

Sky (Sonique)

Wikipedia defines it as “a trance-house song by singer and DJ Sonique”, released in 2000. It was a big hit where I live, but for some reason people in general don’t seem to remember it.
Why this song? “Oh I wanna touch the sky I wanna fly so high / Oh I wanna hold you I wanna love you tonight”. It’s too catchy to resist.
Why is this surprising? It’s not particularly surprising, considering the fact that I like to dance, even as this clumsy. I do feel rhythm inside me. But I am not usually impressed with this type of songs.

Ya Soshla S Uma (t.A.T.u.)

Yes. That one. Russian (and, I believe, original) version of “All the things she said”, created in 1999. Remember these energetic fake Russian lesbians? (Fake lesbians, not Russians). And yes, their music is too catchy to even make sense. Their Eastern European accents are clearly touchable when they sing in English. They sound better in Russian.
Why this song? Because of the atmosphere at one moment in the song. And yes, that’s about all.
Why is this surprising? You’re kidding, right? Do I really have to explain?

Bring Me to Life (Evanescence)

Yes, they were a rock band… Technically. But I never considered them as such. This song was impossible to escape in 2003. It’s not that I was ever overly impressed with their music, or even the lead vocalist, but out of all the crap that was out there at the time, this one stank a little less than your average Britney Spears song.
Why this song? This damn thing was catchy and impossible to escape.
Why is this surprising? Because even with Amy Lee’s voice and electric guitars here and there, this song (or band’s work a s whole) never managed to make me believe they are a rock band (I have the same problem with Bon Jovi).

Relax, take it easy (Mika)

Seriously, people. We need more quality vocalists in popular music. And Mika is such a great singer, he could make me listen any sugar-high-pitched-song there is. And this one is actually memorable enough. That being said, I hate remixes.

Why this song? Because it’s actually a decent song. Perhaps the best on this list, sung by a really good vocalist. And it makes me feel calm, yet excited.
Why is this surprising? I prefer deeper voices. I don’t particularly like when a man sings that high: apart from concern for well being of his testicles, I can’t really enjoy the velvet beauty of a baritone.

See also: 5 songs I dislike against all odds

Sherlock Holmes: Captivating and Memorable

Sherlock HolmesI was sure I wouldn’t like this film. Sherlock Holmes as an action hero, in Guy Ritchie style? No way.

I was in for a surprise.

My first impulse was- “this is ridiculous and it makes no sense”. Well, it doesn’t, does it?- which is exactly what makes this film memorable. Maybe I am giving Guy Ritchie way too much credit, but he didn’t simply made “Sherlock Holmes with many fight scenes”- he actually made a pretty good deconstruction of the story. Ritchie’s reading of Sherlock Holmes might not be close to mine, but he managed to make a memorable story which, against all odds, make sense- the way it is.

Unique reading of the story

First ten minutes or so were predictable, in a way I was almost bored (excessive movie action often does that to me). But restaurant scene with Mary blew me away, and it’s followed by the boxing match- so yes, you could say it got me interested.

Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “The less I thought about Sherlock Holmes, the more I liked “Sherlock Holmes.” Which is a good advice for anybody who likes traditional interpretations of A.C. Doyle’s stories (or anyone who is not crazy about fight scenes). But one must understand this is Sherlock Holmes; it’s not any less “true” because it’s not traditional. It’s Doyle’s world deconstructed, and you can see this in all the little details: allusions to original A.C.Doyle stories (along with quotes), setting (not true to the time, but not random either), and, perhaps the most interesting one, the clues left for the audience to deduct character’s past.

Robert Downey Jr. as HolmesThe best thing about this film, however, was Robert Downey Jr. His dirty, sweaty, smelly- but at the same time witty, hedonistic and egoistic Holmes is simply captivating. As interesting Ritchie’s reading of the story might be, not many actors could pull it off. It simply wouldn’t work well- or work at all- without Robert Downey Jr. Just like Johnny Depp is captain Jack Sparrow, Downey is this unique Sherlock Holmes. He completely stole the show- but it’s more than that. There wouldn’t be this film without him. Period.

The bad things?

You can’t really count often incomprehensible action sequences, since they’re meant to be that way. The only thing I really disliked were the female characters. Kelly Reilly’s Mary was so and so, but for some reason I couldn’t stand Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler. “She looks and acts too modern!” would be my first complaint, though, in whole honesty, you can say that for all the characters, as well as setting. But I still feel she didn’t belong there; she wasn’t captivating enough, interesting enough, memorable enough. Maybe the woman simply can’t act. But I am so happy they didn’t (spoiler) have wild sex (they didn’t, did they?), that would spoil everything.

The best of

  • -Boxing scene with “Rocky Road to Dublin” in the background. Not as amusing as fight scene in “Snatch” with “Golden Brown” in the background, but equally awesome.
  • -Art direction and cinematography. They are excellent, and serve the story perfectly.
  • -Watson with a brain. I hate interpretations that make him mentally slow (to say the least).
  • -Clues left for us to deduct character’s past.
  • -Unique vision of the story and setting.
  • -Last, but certainly not the least: Robert Downey Jr.