Monday, 29 March 2010

Pop Criticism: A Shot-by-Shot Analysis of 3Oh!3's "Don't Trust Me"

[Preface: This piece was something I wrote last summer while in severe essay-writing withdrawal (yes, that exists). It occupies that tenuous space between parody of a genre and actually being a genuine attempt - in this case, film criticism. I feel like it is too ridiculous to be serious, but a bit too earnest to be parody. This idea (ridiculous, yet earnest literary criticism of popular culture) was actually the original idea for my blog...however, I soon realized it was not all that sustainable...or would at least lead to a blog that was not updated all too often. However, this essay was alluded to in one of my grad school statements of purpose. In fact, that school is the one I will be going to. But enough about me. Enjoy and maybe even have a few nice flashbacks to the summer of 2009.]

“Song is awesome vid is gay” (airballer 13)
“umm the video is kinda........... if you know wat i mean like WTF!? Lol” (aliciaboo12)
“This song rules I mean it but the video just sucks. Love this band and song” (Nevertrustme232)
“never ever ever trust a ho HAHAHAHA this song is kinda insulting to girls but i frickin love it” (chickyboheimen123)

These quotations are a few YouTube responses to 3Oh!3’s music video for “Don’t Trust Me.” After an initial viewing, one is tempted to dismiss the short film and the song as fatuous and misogynistic. The lyrics, with their refrain of “Don’t trust a ho” and their urging girls to “do the Helen Keller and talk with [their] hips,” elicit such a reaction quite understandably. The video ostensibly seems to be an accomplice to this ideology. It proffers us the enticing image of scantily clad women throwing themselves all over the last two men in the world. It submerges us into a stereotypical, imbecilic straight male fantasy. All the men on earth can die, but as long as two remain, they will still be king and women will persist to be objects that exist only for their desires.

Or is this interpretation the case? Let’s look again at the responses. People who love the song find themselves hating the video or are confused by it. Some label it pejoratively as “gay.” In fact, this work may actually be undercutting every other music video that revolves around the scenario of “straight man singing as girls throw themselves on top of him.” For, upon closer inspection, every attempt by the 3Oh!3 to assert their masculinity, to prove themselves as the ultimate alpha males and the quintessence of heterosexual male potency, only acts to further feminize or queer them.

The story commences by informing the viewer, “A global virus of catastrophic proportions has attacked the entire male population. Only two male models from Colorado survive.” For starters, let us observe that “the entire male population” has been attacked, not “the entire male population except for two male models from Colorado.” These two men are merely survivors; they have sustained the plague’s assault and lived. But does that which could not kill them really make them stronger? Or have they emerged unmanned, lacking their most essential parts?

Even if they believe they have survived completely intact, they still have another problem: they are no longer in the world of men. Two male protagonists of this video have descended from their familiar world of men into the world of women: a world of modeling, chandeliers, and fine drapery. This reality is one without typical masculinity and the comforts it enshrouds its patriarch inhabitants within. The world of men has left them. The men have left them. They are stuck among the women and are therefore women themselves. These two, stranded among 3 billion women, have can no longer rely on their phallic power of being in the majority. Instead, they are left unmanned with only their sexuality as a weapon: a situation traditionally assigned to women. The virus did not kill off all the men; it manned all the women, thus killing off all the women, but two.

The two men have already (for lack of a better term) embraced their position as the new females in this society. They are models: subjects of the feminine (now masculinized) gaze. They are on display for everyone else to ogle and objectify. They are in lingerie, their near naked bodies exhibited as they dance.

Furthermore, the underwear itself is important. It appears to be Ginch-Gonch underwear. Ginch-Gonch’s entire advertising strategies infantilizes its audience. It encourages men to be “boys” and “to live like a kid.” But are not kids always-already, by sheer nature of not having gone through puberty, castrated? Is not a boy inherently under the power of his mother? Are not mothers meant to “watch” their boys in order to control them? In the relationship of boy and mother, the mother is the man, and the boy is the woman.

Yes, there are women in the first shot, and yes, they are wearing lingerie, but they are static. They sit in the background as motionless as the chairs they occupy. Are they even models, or just furniture? For the first minute, they are content to sit in the background, barely noticeable, as the two men entice our eye, and dance for our pleasure. Even the camera seems aware that these females are furniture. It cuts to them during the beats, but then in turn cuts to the lights in the same way. The women at the photo shoot are no different than the lights. They are necessary props, but not interesting in and of themselves. Finally, the two different beings merge into one self-same creature: the photographess whose face is obscured by her camera.

The women eventually rise and dance, but are we even meant to care? 3Oh!3 remains center stage, dancing more than any other party. Why? Because we are meant to know that they are indeed the alpha males. This video is not meant to showcase the women that they can get, but the two men and their ability to get the women. But, through such an attempt to attest masculinity, the film cannot showcase the women and therefore can only showcase the men and the men therefore become the women that are showcased. Even when Nathaniel (the one with dark, long hair) sings “Don’t trust a ho” he refuses to point at one of the scantily-clad women. Instead, he becomes the ho. He imagines himself with breasts and then starts to again remove his newly-acquired clothes. He ends his refrain by saying “Don’t trust me,” since he and the “ho” are one and the same.

Of course, by becoming women, 3Oh!3, being womanish men, are queered. We can already see this in the choice of Ginch-Gonch underwear. The line is popular among the gay community and even has aimed certain ad campaigns particular at the homosexual community. But this destruction of 3Oh!3’s supposed hetero-sexual normality goes further. While the women do rub themselves over the two models, the singers in fact seem much more predisposed with caressing each other. This idea, only hinted towards in the first scene, becomes nearly explicit in the wrestling scenario.

The women in the wrestling scene are even more forgettable and invisible than those in the prior one. The photoshoot premise also seems to have gone out the proverbial window. Now we are just watching some sort of wrestling match, or more appropriately, we are just watching two guys all over each other. Sean (the blonde) at one point chokes Nathaniel and calls to mind asphyxiation as orgasm draws near. He soon pulls Nathaniel back by the leg, like a cartoon caveman about to have his way with his newest acquisition. He even is on top of Nathaniel at one point, ostensibly pinning him, but insinuating he could sodomize him at any second.

The men in this manless world do not have their choice of women. By being alone, by being singled out against the world, they can only turn to each other, only have each other, and have been married already by their circumstances. Even if these men were attracted to women, they would still be queered. We have already established that as the lone men in a world of women, they are women. If they are women attracted to women, they are queer.

Therefore again in this wrestling scenario, this display of masculinity, this showcasing of how strong their bodies are, of how well they could seize women, only transforms into another thing: how well they are at “getting” each other. The showcase is now of their bodies, and of Sean and Nathaniel’s bodies abilities to obtain Sean and Nathaniel.

Finally, the video transitions to its third, final, and most curious vision: the two members of 3Oh!3 (and those curious women) as cavemen. Again, their bodies are exposed and on display (Sean even tries to make up for lost skin, so to say, by stripping off the top of his wrestling uniform during this part of the video). Again, the women are forced into the background. Again, Sean and Nathaniel are the ones dancing for our pleasure. Again, they are the same as the props (or are they? Nathaniel seems much more interested in having sex with the prop bison than any of the cavewomen).

Finally, the work reaches its climax when Nathaniel says, “Shush girl. Shut your lips. Do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.” When only heard, this part is misogynist and perhaps even offensive. However the video undercuts that elementary interpretation. Sean is first Helen Keller as he mimes feeling his way due to lack of sight. Nathaniel soon joins him. They have placed themselves in the role of the ultimate woman of male fantasy: the completely castrated woman. In this role, they can neither see, nor hear, nor talk…nor penetrate. They accept their necessary roles as subservient creatures in what was supposed to be the society that they ruled with the last two remaining penises. This conclusion reaches fulfillment as Nathaniel is the one who “talk[s] with [his] hips” and showcases his anus for the world to see.

Suddenly, the video goes fuzzy for a moment. We have reached critical mass. The proposed reality, this “Planet of the Apes”-esque world where women have the power, men are objectified and the subject of the gaze, and where the last two men are anything but men as they “do the Helen Keller” must collapse. A “proper” music video must take its place.

The first image is one of the most undressed models from the first scenario, now front and center and ready to entice us, just like she should have been from the start. Next is Nathaniel, who wears the protection of sunglasses and looks out from them only to assure us that he has reclaimed the gaze and is using it. The photographess reappears, now emerging from her camera so we can see her whole face. She can no longer shield herself from the newly reconstructed male gaze. Finally, Sean appears. He is a fully covered man (we can’t even see his eyes), no longer the boy who paraded around in his Ginch-Gonch briefs. The first model from this montage soon reappears, just in case we still had any doubts what direction this video was taking.

When the montage is over, Sean and Nathaniel fall. The former fantasy of the past three minutes is over, having already reached its orgasmic climax. Their charade of their post-ejaculation penises only works to affirm the fact that they did ejaculate and therefore must have had an erection for the entire three minutes. By falling, ironically, they become men.

In the last 30 seconds, they are men and the women are now on display. They force their way to the front of many shots. In the wrestling match, they have gotten into the fight, just so they can be all over the bodies of Sean and Nathaniel. They even do the split jumps that 3Oh!3 had done less than a minute earlier. However, this new world cannot last, not even for 3 minutes. Once the women start moving, once they get up from their chairs, everything becomes unstable. The cuts grow even more frenetic. The furniture that the girls had mimicked flies around the room of the photoshoot. Furniture should not move on its own, and neither should woman in a music video. Do they not know the video was about 3Oh!3, not them? Finally, this world has no option but to combust, which it does in a symbolic mushroom cloud.

Ultimately, this video shows us the necessary dilemma of the stereotypical rap video (i.e. that in which a bare-chested, well muscled man is surrounded by women fawning over him, e.g. Nelly’s “Hot in Herre”): the men must either showcase himself and his body and therefore become a woman, or he must let the women take center stage and therefore lose control of his video. Furthermore, when the video stars not a solo artist, but a duo (or more), this showcasing must invite hints of homosexuality. When two men have their bodies on display, they are creating a type of gay porn no matter what they do. Their only other option is not to be on display, which leads us to the former problem of loss of control.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Lady Haha

Last week, I, like most Americans my age, found myself in a rapturous stupor over the nirvana that is Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s video for “Telephone.” And then I, like many, listened to “Telephone” around a bajillion times, all the while thinking about the video. One of the roughly bajillion things I loved about the video was how Gaga says “We did it, Honey B!” at the end of the video. She sounds more like she just won the dance-off to save the youth center than that she just succeeded in poisoning dozens of people.

In short, she adopts the tone of a supervillain. A Batman villain. And then, an epiphany: Lady Gaga would be a perfect choice to play Harley Quinn.

We have a woman who dresses in outlandish costumes, who performs her entire life as if it were an eccentric burlesque, and who rarely appears without makeup. Nearly every video involves her joyfully committing homicide. In “Paparazzi,” she murders costumed her – I mean, pop stars – one after the other and then proceeds to pose lasciviously for the mug shot camera. In “Telephone,” she theatrically dons a chef’s outfit (or Gaga’s idea of an outfit, which is plastic top and nipple tape) to prepare poison. She even dreams of having “a bad romance.” She is Dr. Quinzel sans the squeaky voice.

Of course, having our favorite very very bad bad girl don a domino mask and greasepaint to play our favorite fictional bad girl is not without impediment. Aside from having to shape the character to suit the needs of the actress, there is the issue of how she could fit into the already established Gotham of the prior two Batman films.

[Note: For the rest of the entry, I’ll be talking about Nolan’s Batman franchise, Ledger’s Joker, etc. While I still remain less than a fan of these, I’m putting aside any judgments for the sake of the entry. This entry would not profit from constant Nolan/Ledger-bashing, but should also not be read as a change of heart on the films.]

While the character of Harley Quinn as is perfectly complements that of the Joker, she would be as much of an aberration in Nolan’s Gotham as Chico Marx would be. She is a predominantly comedic character, serving often to temper Joker’s darker scenes. While, of course, one could argue that such comedy in the face of horror only further twists the situation, this route was not the one taken in Dark Knight. Admittedly, we received bits such as the “pencil trick” or Joker in drag, but nothing so far as for him to beat a man to death with a rubber chicken or anything to that level.

Furthermore, Ledger’s Joker (I speak of this Joker as a character that, to an extent, is independent of Ledger in so much that a subsequent actor would be drawing directly from this Joker than any other incarnation of the villain) simply lacks to inclination to create Harley Quinn. That prank was one for Hamill’s Joker. The Diniverse Joker had different goals and motivations than Dark Knight’s antagonist and fooling his psychiatrist to make her a clingy, demented girlfriend fits into such an agenda. Raising havoc as a two-person vaudeville act fits his modus operandi. Harley, however, fails to find comfortable lodgings in the social philosophy espoused by Ledger’s Joker. Just as Joker was reimagined to fit Nolan’s needs, so must Harley be recreated and reformatted to appease this universe. Even the staunchest of Dark Knight fans could not (or at least should not) argue that vastly different Jokers would inevitably create vastly different Quinns.

Oh, and there is one other bigger problem: Joker. The aura that lingers around Ledger’s performance threatens to make any actor who attempts to play the character next appear presumptuous, disrespectful, or even heretical. Putting the Joker on film with anyone else besides Ledger behind those scars risks alienating the devoted fans.

Now comes my favorite part: what I would do!

I am going to be fair and play by Nolan’s rules. The character has to be semi-realistic and threatening. And she has to be a product of Ledger’s Joker. Personally, I might add a few more jokes or quirks here and there, but nothing that would stretch beyond simply a writing decision; this screenplay would not be part of another reboot.

My Harley came to me as I listened to “Paparazzi.” This Harley Quinn has never even met the Joker. She’s just a fan. A obsessive, crazy fan. Think Squeaky Fromme and John Hinckley meet the crying Justin Bieber girl. She followed Joker’s crime spree from Dark Knight in the papers and instead of panicking, reveled in the brilliance of each act. Maybe she understood his angle, maybe she didn’t completely get it. Maybe she was so blinded by the spectacle and explosions that she never paid attention to whatever he was saying about soldiers dying vs. old man in car crash. This could allow for different concepts to be explored in this film instead of just rehashing the conceit of Dark Knight.

So she goes on a crime spree to prove her love to Joker. Every bombed building, every mutilated face, every corpse is a Valentine to Mr. J. He could be dead or in jail, but either way keeps him off screen and makes her character even more twisted. Just like the Justin Bieber girl, she is convinced that Joker does love her back, except the situation is a lot less cute and a lot more disturbing when we’re dealing with a thirty year-old instead of a toddler.

And, I even play by Nolan’s rules so much as to allow for commentary. Where Dark Knight’s villain led to an investigation on terror and the subsequent war against it, this sequel’s Harley allows for a contemplation on the meaning of celebrity and fandom. Michael Jackson’s death led to a simultaneously circus and sanctification of the former pariah. Sarah Palin’s words about Barack Obama resulted in people sending the President death threats. And, were the filmmakers particularly ballsy, they could even comment on the cult of Ledger/Joker that formed in 2008. This direction would also coincide with Gaga’s own work, which often scrutinizes our relation to stars, fame, and pop culture.

I leave you with a possible scene. Like I said, I would keep this Harley grounded…but as her motivation would revolve around the necessity of creating a show to impress another, I would allow her for a bit more theatrics than the prior Nolan villains…

A street in Gotham. Two or three police cars at one end, speeding towards Quinn at the other. She puts one hand into a gun shape (an act often performed Gaga in her videos). The other holds a trigger to three explosives (a button for each one). She presses one button and simultaneously points at one car. The explosive goes off as she pulls the “gun” back. She does the same with the second and third car. There. Showy, but still nothing more than what someone in the real world could do with a little imagination and some high quality demolition expertise.

So, Mr. Nolan, in the very likely chance that you are reading this (I’d rank it around 97%), I offer a truce between us. You pay me a few million to write the screenplay and I’ll apologize for whatever I’ve said about your prior movies. Though, I did really like Memento. That seems totally fair, right?

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A-Drinkin' We Will Go!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! While I could do an entry on favorite Irish characters or green stuff or best movies with carbombs, I have chosen instead to do something far classier and more appropriate to honor such a special day for my fellow Irish-Americans. Without further adieu, I give you the ten fictional places at which I would most want to get drunk!

The rules:
1. The place has to be fictional (not a real place that appears in a fictional context).
2. There has to be some precedent of alcohol readily available at it – enough so to get one drunk (so while getting schwasted in Wonderland would be pretty awesome, that’s not an option…and I don’t think Vizzini had enough wine on that mountain top to get all parties past the point of tipsy).
3. These are not in any real order. Not a top ten, just ten.

Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency (from the television series Mad Men)

One hand clasping an old fashioned, with the other one busy slapping a secretary in the rear. A lovely blend of alcohol abuse and sexual harassment, straight from the sixties (it was a simpler time). I feel cooler just from watching Mad Men; I can’t even imagine what a boost (no matter how unjustified) to my ego it would be to knock a few back with Don, Roger, and company. I’d probably be under the table while most of them were still capable enough to make multi-million dollar deals, but as long as no one takes out any piece of John Deere machinery, I think I’d be okay with that.

Rick’s Café American (from the 1942 film Casablanca)

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, this one looks like one of the best. It has awesome live music, from “Knock on Wood” which always seems to be a crowd pleaser to the duet of the “La Marseillaise” and “Die Wacht am Rhein” to special forbidden songs. There is a delightful cast of characters (even most of the Nazis are a hoot!) with whom to converse. And if you provide enough of a sob story, you can get the owner to turn the roulette wheel in your favor. The only thing that would worry me is that I might stumble into some stray bullets if I have a bit too much “Vichy water.”

Mos Eisley Cantina (from the 1977 film Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope)

Grab a Blue Russian (or whatever you make out of the late Beru’s blue milk), brush aside that severed arm, and enter Nerd Heaven. And don’t worry – in this cantina, Han always shoots first.

Moe’s Pet Shop (from the episode “Homer vs. the 18th Amendment” of The Simpsons)

Moe’s Tavern usually seems quite dreary, dirty, and unappealing. It only serves deviled eggs and one draft of American beer that I suspect is not the epitome of gustatory arousal. However, Moe’s Pet Shop is the best damn pet shop in town! Everything is more fun when it’s illegal and, in a perfect world, every bar would be a speakeasy! This establishments provides not only the draw of secretive spirits, but puppies, turtles, and all sorts of mechanical contraptions as well!

Hogwarts (from the, er, movie (?)Wizard People, Dear Reader)

If you haven’t listened to/watched Brad Neely’s brilliant Wizard People, Dear Reader, go out and do that now. Then get back to me. Because his Hogwarts kicks the Cruciatus Curse out of Rowlings’s. Wine-out-nowhere spells, cognac by the fire as you speculate on Valmart’s next move, and swigs of peach schnapps amidst a tense game of Wizard Chess: this place sounds like a lot more fun than that half-decaying castle with a goblet of fire and a few broomsticks. My one caveat: if you’re starting to get beer-glasses, stay away from that wretched Harmony or the hideous Snake. You’d regret it in the morning.

Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Candy may be dandy, but liquor is quicker. Aficionados of 70s cinema (or Gene Wilder films) will remember that part of the film with butterscotch and buttergin, which makes this a-okay with Rule #2. I’m just curious to see what this sucrose savant has dreamed up in his marriage of the two best vices known to man: candy and hard liquor. Gin that will make you fly? Vodka that will take you through time to meet Catherine the Great? Bourbon that tastes like a whole weekend in New Orleans? Oh, the possibilities are limitless!

The Walker Dinner Table (from the television series Brothers & Sisters)

Not only would I get to have superb wine in abundance, but I’d be treated to a show like no other. Every Walker dinner party inevitably ends in disaster and I’d love nothing more than to be able to sit in the epicenter of the chaos as it unravels! Who’s been sleeping with whom? Who is whose father? Who isn’t a Walker anymore? Can I grab Justin in middle of the commotion and ferry him off to the pantry? What better way to spent a Sunday night than guzzling down Walker Landing’s pinot as family secrets inevitably come out and this week’s rivalries boil over to a histrionic catastrophe! And don’t forget Sally inevitably breaking down in tears and cursing her late husband! Dinner, drinks, and entertainment! Sign me up.

Jay Gatsby’s Mansion (from F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby)

This locale is like Moe’s Pet Shop, but with a splash of Ke$ha (“Oooh-oooooh-oh-oh-oh, it’s a party at a rich dude’s house!”). It provides all the fun of drinking illegally but with the extra benefits of hobnobbing with the elites of the fictional 1920s, not having to pay a cent for any of the hooch, and exploring the grounds of an opulent mansion that only a generation both jaded by war and unheeding of economic depression can create! And if you like a twist of symbolism in your martini, there’s always that green flashing light across the water.

Lucille Bluth’s Apartment in Balboa Towers or Señor Tadpoles (from the television series Arrested Development)

I could not decide between these two Bluth-haunts. Señor Tadpoles does seem tempting, especially as there would be quite a lot of people there right now for Spring Break (WOO!) and I could probably get a glimpse of some girls with low self-esteem (and maybe get into a drinking contest or two). However, Lucille’s apartment provides me with a unique opportunity: getting absolutely smashed with Lucille as we trade barbs. She’d probably win in the battle of words and drink me from there to Wee Britain without winking an eye, but the experience would be worth it.

Noonan’s Bar (from the comic book series Hitman)

This place seems like the quintessential Irish pub in a bad part of town (practically the realized platonic form of that concept), which is already a decent enough reason to want to go. Now just make that town Gotham City and add in a demon bartender named Baytor and some awesome assassin patrons (and maybe a visit by Batman or Green Lantern now and then) and I think I may’ve found my dream place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

What places did I forget? Where in fantasy land would you love to destroy some brain cells? Where's a prose-portal when you need one?

Friday, 12 March 2010

There's No Place like Oz

The past month, I had a few dreams that have been parodies/homages of The Wizard of Oz. Naturally, I mean the movie, not the book, as the dreams tend to be Technicolor spectacles and involve me skipping down the Yellow Brick Road (since, ever since Judy Garland did so in 1939, there really has not been an alternate, acceptable method of travel along such an itinerary). Upon reflection, I realized that the best part of these dreams were that, in a way, they were just as valid as the “original.” After all, Garland’s Dorothy only dreams she goes to Oz and, upon waking up, I too can say to my friends, “I had the most wonderful dream. And you were there. And you were there,” etc. The whole idea of dreaming that one is in the dream part of MGM’s The Wizard of Oz is actually quite post-modern if one thinks about it.

I then had the good fortune of seeing The Wizard of Oz again, on a big screen, at The Film Forum in New York City. I went there with my friend anticipating to marvel at the Technicolor and some of the aesthetic choices, and maybe the acting, but that would be it. I would appreciate Oz as many do: a brilliantly done fable that has withstood the tests of time. I would see the movie as a masterpiece so elegantly simple, a tale with such a universal appeal, and the quintessence of imagination on celluloid. Hell, even the furthest Roger Ebert goes with glorifying the cranial aspects of the film is to say:

``The Wizard of Oz'' has a wonderful surface of comedy and music, special effects and excitement, but we still watch it six decades later because its underlying story penetrates straight to the deepest insecurities of childhood, stirs them and then reassures them. As adults, we love it because it reminds us of a journey we have taken. That is why any adult in control of a child is sooner or later going to suggest a viewing of ``The Wizard of Oz.''

Upon revisiting the film, I was shocked to discover a movie with a tremendous amount of bite. In the act of creating an Oz perhaps more archetypal than that of L. Frank Baum’s novel, it still manages to parody and question the subject material. The Wizard of Oz is simultaneously the classic Oz and the classic Oz parody.

Before I go further, let me just add a few words to those of you raising Joan Crawford eyebrows right now. By the time the movie came out, the novel was already 39 years old and widely regarded as a “classic.” Of course, “classic” delivers both reverence and a propensity to be mocked. Furthermore, the film was at one point under the direction of George Cukor and eventually delivered to Victor Fleming to create. Both of these men were not simple-minded, idealistic artists who only wished to entertain children. Fleming had quite a few pre-Code sex comedies under his belt and Cukor, after leaving both Oz and Gone with the Wind, would find himself directing the bitchy catfight known as The Women. While none of these facts automatically prove my prior paragraph, they should at least quell any knee-jerk reactions that I am simply trying to fit the square peg of post-modernism into the round hole of 1939.

Now for the film…

As I have already said, the movie already feels like a parody of The Wizard of Oz, or at least an homage. Consider any parody/homage you have seen of the film. Most of them involve taking already existing characters and placing them in roles from the classic. One example which immediately comes to mind is Futurama’s. As we watch Leela go along Martin Luther King Blvd (the renamed Yellow Brick Road) she encounters Fry as the Scarecrow, Bender as Tin Man, Dr. Zoidberg as the Cowardly Lobster, Professor Farnsworth as the Wizard, and Mom as the Wicked Witch. We would never simply say she encounters the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lobster, the Wizard, and Wicked Witch. Furthermore, all of the choices are meant to fit the characters to the pre-made roles from the work and each side (for example the Cowardly Lion and Dr. Zoidberg) has a role to play in the ultimate product on screen.

Oddly enough, we never seem to take note that the exact same concept is at play in the MGM classic film. We do not simply meet the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, The Wizard, and the Wicked Witch. Just as we think “Oh, look! It’s Fry as the Scarecrow,” we also should think “Oh look! It’s Hunk as the Scarecrow!” Both are fitting matches, as Fry is quite brainless and Hunk had earlier been talking about a head of straw. Just as Mom’s inclination to evil deeds makes her an ideal choice for Leela’s Wicked Witch of the West, so does Miss Gulch’s cruelty make her an ideal choice for Dorothy’s Wicked Witch of the West. Mom’s choice of words colors her portrayal of the Witch; Miss Gulch’s hatred of Toto makes her green-skinned counterpart threaten “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too!” (a line absent from the source material).

I could list the differences between the film and the novel for quite some time. But let me just sum up this argument by talking about how each of the actors uses his or her position to play to his or her own acting and comedic strengths. We are watching a classic vaudeville routine as much as we are watching a recreation of Baum’s classic.

I could argue that Dorothy’s Kansas is more akin to our own than to that of L. Frank Baum’s and that, in fact, Dorothy herself has read The Wondeful Wizard of Oz. Encountered with a similar situation and a need to sort out problems, she is taken by her mind into a world very similar to a book from her childhood. The characters of the novel are replaced with familiar faces and situations are modified to become more pertinent to her own crisis. After all, in the original work, Dorothy truly travels to Oz and we know little about Kansas beforehand. The mirroring of her Kansas life to her Oz life is a device unique to the film. Just as I have had dreams about The Wizard of Oz that have reflected my own life (and have found myself not referencing the source material in my dream), so could Garland’s Dorothy have encountered such an experience.

But I digress. The whole dream sequence (i.e. the meat of the film) is conscious of its own theatricality. Every character is an actor playing a role. The movie rubs its Technicolor in the viewers face more than almost any other film had or ever will. But with this self-awareness also comes a self-awareness of the sinister nature of a children’s story, particularly the very one on which it is imbuing cinematic immortality.

This film is not a faithful recreation of L. Frank Baum’s children’s tale. Everything has an edge, a bite, and wink and a nudge to the audience. The whole celebration is Munchkinland is, indeed, quite manic, gaudy, and indicative of an acid trip. Most parodies will include some jab at Munchkinland. But look at Dorothy’s face during the event: she knows she is not in Kansas anymore and the film knows we are not in Kansas anymore. The entire transition to Oz must be anything but gradual. From sepia to Technicolor, from a world where the most action comes from falling into a pit with some pigs (twister excepted, as it is the doorway between Kansas and Oz) into a frantic celebration of nonsense and high-pitched singing. Whereas Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and earlier children’s movies seem comfortable in their spectacle, The Wizard of Oz both excels in such category and is at odds with its own nature.

Furthermore, there is Glinda. Most people seem willing to write Glinda off as an empty-headed character of insipid pink goodness. But actually, Glinda is quite sinister. Parodies have noted the danger she placed Dorothy in by not telling her how to get home immediately (again, a difference between Baum’s novel and the film, as there are two different good witches and Dorothy only meets Glinda at the end). Yet her dark nature only begins here. Watch again the first encounter between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West. Glinda pushes Dorothy towards the billow of smoke before pulling her away to “protect” her. Furthermore, throughout the whole exchange, she taunts the Wicked Witch of the West and practically paints a target on Dorothy. Even putting the ruby slippers on Dorothy by magic is a machination of the film. In this “parody” of Oz, the good witch is just as foul-minded and sadistic as the wicked one. At least the Wicked Witch is courteous enough to be ugly and to grimace.

I could again rattle off examples, such as the effeminate, queer natures of the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion or the changed nature of the Wizard’s gifts. All I will say about the latter subject is that whereas the novel emphasizes the fulfillment of the characters and how they had those traits all along, the movie appears more skeptical. After all, the Scarecrow doesn’t even give a correct mathematical equation. Instead, the focus on that scene is the movie seems to be the deception and ineptness of the Wizard and gullibility of the others. Their gifts are as much of a placebo to keep them happy as a kid’s movie is a placebo to make children feel at ease with a world on the brink of war (or a dream to make Dorothy believe there is no place like home).

And that sentence does bring us to the end. The end may be the most unsettling part of the film. Yes, there is no place like home, but there’s also no place like Alcatraz. We are ferried away from a tear-jerking scene where Dorothy says goodbye to the first characters we have seen display true affection and respect to her to the boring, sepia world of Kansas, full of claustrophobic shots and people who do not believe a single word coming out of Dorothy’s mouth. Is Dorothy’s final mantra the truth or merely a way to delude herself into happiness, even though she just abandoned her friends and the beautiful Technicolor world of Oz where she was a hero?

In short, the entire movie seems critical of its own story and characters. It tinges “good” characters with hints of sadism, heroic ones with behavior not fitting their genders, and joyous celebrations with bouts of insanity. The very tale is a dark retelling of Oz despite being the iconic telling of the story. And, all the way, it manages also to doubt its own reality. The very novel is framed as a dream, not a reality, a world of fake sets and actors in make-up. Yet, would that make Kansas the reality? Are we comfortable allowing a world without color and with character actors on the loose in the vague pretense of being farm hands to be reality? I am not sure. After all, this reality is far less present than the dream and in the end, both are figments of the imagination.

I suppose reasons like this are what grad school is for. I have only scratched the surface of the Oz question, one that most movie critics seem terrified of even acknowledging. Which I guess I leave as my final question: why has no one written about this…or if they have, why has it not broken into the world of common critical knowledge? Are we so desirous of always having one piece of innocent childhood to return to that we will, if necessary, turn something that was never all that innocent into it? In the end, I guess we are like Dorothy: ready to ignore the reality of our situation and, no matter the circumstance, click our heels together and mutter “there’s no place like home.” We do not care what “home” is, as long as it’s “home.”

Monday, 8 March 2010

The BAH!scars #11: 25 Thoughts on the 82nd Oscars Ceremony

25 Thoughts on the Oscars:

1. The Oscars amuse me so much. Just think of the concept of all those actors gathered in one studio, all just sitting next to each other. The whole image is sort of hilarious when you take a step back.

2. I am sick of Neil Patrick Harris. I know, I know – he’s the gay ambassador to straight people, which makes him Ellen without a penis. But his whole schtick of “I’m gay and I sing but I’m more or less castrated and it’s funny that I’ll dance with lots of girls because you know I won’t make out with them and if I do I won’t enjoy it,” is just tired. Can someone take him out to pasture already?

3. Though, it was nice of the programmer to give Rob Marshall a job choreographing that number, considering Nine may have destroyed his career.

4. I dug Martin and Baldwin’s monologue for the most part. Particularly how it showcased why I want to be best friends with Meryl Streep. I really feel like I could say anything about her and she would just laugh merrily.

5. What the hell was up with the stoic George Clooney?

6. I’m relatively certain that the wife of Peter Docter has been crying since she first saw the opening 5 minutes of Up.

7. John Hughes so won the Dead Person Popularity Contest. And Karl Malden came in a clear second. Roy Disney and Budd Schulberg were tied for third. I was incredibly wrong. Also I wish the cinematographer for The Red Shoes and the writer for La Dolce Vita, La Strada, and 8 1/2 had gotten more applause.

8. The guy behind “Music by Prudence” was 1,000 types of fabulous. Why couldn’t the ceremony have opened with him instead of Neil Patrick Harris?

9. I can’t believe that "The New Tenants" won! I was so proud of the Academy for a brief moment. Then they started just playing winners off very quickly and I knew they were back to normal.

10. Maybe instead of playing those guys off so quickly, they should have cut that stupid tribute to horror, which only managed to showcase how much the genre has gone downhill. And I love how they said that it hadn’t been honored since The Exorcist, then proceeded to show clips from Best Picture Winner Silence of the Lambs. It accomplished, though, proving the point that the only horror music ever is from Psycho (apparently).

11. And why the hell did they not play Jeff Bridges off-stage after minute 3 or so of his incredibly staccato speech?

12. In things that would have been better than the prior two points: maybe showing some clips for cinematography? That might have been nice.

13. I am so sick of “I see you.”

14. The winner for Best Costume gave a pretty classy, small speech. Good on her.

15. Oh man, the scores. That was the dumbest, most Oscar-y, pretentious thing I have ever seen. Particularly when they did The Robot during Up. That whole display really defies commentary. I just feel ashamed for everyone who has ever danced right now. Ever.

16. While I liked Michael Giacchino’s speech in theory, I was wondering if he was wasting his time a bit with that video camera. After all, he didn’t win for anything visually. Womp-womp?

17. I thought the editor for The Hurt Locker was pretty ballsy when he brought up how the movie was a small, unfocused group movie and how he thanked the Academy for still choosing it. It seemed to reiterate the point brought up by the producer about how this is not the $500 million film (which got him banned from the ceremonies).

18. Man, they were not even subtle about cutting away from the guy with the “text Dolphin” sign. Love that the Academy will give an award to the movie, but won’t actually care about its entire message/point.

19. Was Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire really all that much of an underdog? I mean, it may have had typical “indie movie” woes in the making, but after that, it had Oprah behind it and was a story about a poor child overcoming adversity with every “hot-button, but not controversial” issue imaginable? It had HIV, rape (but only really dealt with the victim for most of the movie), abuse, poverty, illiteracy, etc. Hell, the stereotypical “Oscar winning speech” (as evidenced in Wayne’s World) culminates in “I never learned to read!” It felt as normal for an Oscar contender as they come.

20. Furthermore, what was with Mo’Nique’s speech about the politics? Yes, the Oscars are political, but I don’t see how the politics were against her. It felt awfully entitled. Though it was incredibly soulful.

21. The Best Actor presentation was spectacular…in that it was overdrawn and hilarious. And it sounded like everyone on stage wanted to jump the bones of the actor to whom they were talking. Sadly, that did not happen on camera. I would have loved to see some Colin Farrell/Jeremy Renner action.

22. Having Oprah talk to Fatty just made my life. And yes, I did giggle a bit whenever they would cut to Fatty.

23. The two huge upsets of the night: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire beating Up in the Air for screenplay and neither A Prophet nor The White Ribbon winning foreign film. What the hell? to the latter. To the former, at least we got to see the director cut to EVERY black person in the audience.

24. This also meant that Up in the Air walked home completely empty handed. Pretty sad for a film that, back in December, was the favorite to win Best Picture.

25. Hurt Locker! Hurrah! This win may is the first time in a while I was happy at the end of the Oscars. This film was the real underdog that pulled ahead (unlike Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire). But the best part of the entire win was watching the intense bromance between the three stars going on behind Bigelow & crew.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The BAH!scars #10: The Nightmare Before Oscar Night

Twas the night before Oscar,
And all through my head,
I thought of the picks,
That would make me wish I were dead.
Maybe my head wasn’t screwed on just right,
Or maybe it was that I wanted a fight,
But all the stars in Hollywood and all the –

Er, I’m a bit confused. Anyway, on Oscar Eve, I have decided to post my Nightmare Oscars. These are what I would least want to see win each Oscar. At least with this post online, I know that no matter what happens tomorrow…I can assure myself that it could have been worse. And, if I am correct…well, at least I’ve guessed all the right picks.

Best Picture
“District 9″
Let’s face it: no one wants Blind Side to win. If that is victorious, I have legions of angry cinephiles on my side. Here, I have to deal with the fatuous masses praising the Academy for picking a really relevant action film or something like that.

Best Direction
“Up in the Air” — Jason Reitman
I’ve already seen Ron Howard win once in my lifetime. I don’t need to see such a bland director win again. Daniels was a close second…but at least I could delude myself into thinking of it as an Aronofsky win.

Actor in a Leading Role
Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
I can’t stand Morgan Freeman. Nuff said.

Actress in a Leading Role Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
See: my complaints about her back in earlier entries. Her win will just solidify that the Academy cares more about tracks of careers than singular performances.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon in “Invictus”
I had no strong feelings here. Damon rides my Freeman-hatred just as he rode the coattails of his performance to get a nomination.

Actress in a Supporting Role
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
In my own version of Hostel, I am just forced to watch Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance in this movie over and over again. Eventually, someone takes pity on me and decides to instead drip corrosive acid on my balls.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) “District 9” — Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
I haven’t been quiet about my disgust with District 9’s script that was simultaneously cookie-cutter and heavy-handed.

Writing (Original Screenplay)
“A Serious Man” — Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Animated Feature Film

Art Direction
“The Young Victoria” — Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray
Only because I was most bored by its trailers.

Film Editing “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” — Joe Klotz
District 9’s was pretty bland, but Klotz lifted far too much from Requiem for a Dream to allow me to be comfortable with his victory.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” — Bruno Delbonnel

Costume Design
“Coco before Chanel” — Catherine Leterrier

Foreign Language Film
Can’t say in all fairness.

Sound Editing “Star Trek” — Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin

Sound Mixing “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” — Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

Music (Original Score)
“Avatar” — James Horner
Although I really want to say “anything that isn’t Up.”

Music (Original Song) “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart” Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett
Crazy Heart’s music felt so manufactured to me.

Makeup “Il Divo” — Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano
Just because I am not familiar with it.

Visual Effects “Star Trek” — Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton

Short Film (Animated) “Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin
Yes, “French Roast” is the least of the picks, but “Logorama” just seems so damn smug when it does not deserve to be.

Short Film (Live Action)
“Instead of Abracadabra” — Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström

(No opinion on documentaries)

See you on the other side of the tunnel everyone! Feel free to share your own Nightmare Oscars!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The BAH!scars #9: Dead Person Popularity Contest

Up to now, I’ve speculated and weighed in on quite a few categories and awards. But there is one I have not mentioned: The Dead Person Popularity Contest.

For those of you who are not Oscar savvy, the Dead Person Popularity Contest is the part of the Awards show where they “pay tribute to those who have left us in the past year” and some people stay to hear who gets the loudest applause but most people go to the bathroom, get some chips, or make themselves another Inglourious Cocktail, Avatarita, or Hurt Locker Car Bomb. They are fools. This race is the tensest one of any year.

Sure, there may be 10 Best Picture nominees, but there are dozens of contenders for this space! Furthermore, you never know who will win. One acclaimed director may seem to be zombie-walking away with this prize only for a beloved actress to snatch it from his cold dead hands. Obviously, I can’t weigh in on everyone who died this year. Some I’m not even sure will get mentioned in the telecast. Will Billy Mays manically smile at us on Oscar night? Will they honor one of final Munchkins to bite the Yellow Brick Dust, Mickey Carroll? What about pornographic thespians; is Jack Wrangler worthy of the Academy’s attention?

Sadly, I was forced to narrow it down to nine people. I won’t get scientific (or pseudo-scientific) with it; merely just give some thoughts and speculations.

Patrick Swayze

This guy is, in my opinion, the current favorite for the winner. He died semi-young, valiantly, and tragically. He was pretty, he was well-liked, and he’s most associated with younger, innocent roles like those in “Dirty Dancing.”

Who to cut to after picture is shown:
his wife.

Michael Jackson

While MJ won 2009’s Dead Person Popularity Contest (perhaps the whole decade’s), this ceremony will leave him empty-handed. Hollywood looks after its own. Jackson may have been in a great music video/mini-movie and had a walk-on in Men in Black II, but he’s not an actor.

Who to cut to after picture is shown: the cast of Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire…as they will be the only other black people in the room.

Natasha Richardson

This poor girl looked like an early hopeful for the winner of the contest last March, right when the new season of contenders opened up. I remember thinking upon her passing that I might finally be able to make fun of Heath Ledger without getting a “too soon.” Little did we all know that the Summer of Death was to follow and she would just be a brief memory come fall, let alone Oscar time. She’ll get some applause, mostly out of guilt from forgetting her, but she’s just like Up in the Air is for best picture: she peaked too soon.

Who to cut to after picture is shown:
Liam Neeson, or perhaps her kids. Slight chance of Vanessa Redgrave

David Carradine

Considering how he died, I wonder what the reaction to him will be. His death seemed one of the quickest ones to joke about and (since he was never that prestigious or iconic of a star) I doubt the guests will hold him in all too much reverence. There will be some polite clapping, but that’s all they will muster.

Who to cut to after picture is shown: Quentin Tarantino

Ed McMahon

There will be a brief pause as people try to remember who he is, followed by much louder applause than warranted to atone for the prior lacuna in sound.

Who to cut to after picture is shown: some random D-List celebrity. Or maybe they’ll go all out and have Kathy Griffin appear just so they can cut to her after him.

Farah Fawcett

Ah, the girl who turned the death of Ed McMahon (and the earlier one of Carradine) into an epidemic of celebrity deaths. Her glamor and tragic death should have her in Patrick Swayze territory (or at least close), but unfortunately, she’s now most famous for being upstaged by the King of Pop.

Who to cut to after picture is shown:
let’s just hope they cut to someone instead of going straight to MJ.

John Hughes

He will receive a decent applause, but probably less than one would expect. This disappointment will most likely be due to the fact that he became a bit of a recluse for the past two decades and he is most remembered for pieces of 80s kitsch (and while Swayze will get more of the idealization from the nostalgia, he’ll get more of the derision and mockery in people’s heads). But he was quite a successful writer and director, so while there is still some good clapping in his future.

Who to cut to after picture is shown:
Molly Ringwald or perhaps some young teeny bopper actress who has no clue who this man is.

Bea Arthur

She’ll get standard “old dead person” applause. Reverent of her long career, but realizing that her death was not all that great of a surprise and it’s not like she was expected to do anything else of note. Unless she could’ve guest starred on SNL as well.

Who to cut to after picture is shown: PLEASE have Betty White be at the Oscars!

Brittany Murphy

“Do I clap? Didn’t she OD? Wait, she didn’t? Are you sure? Okay, then I should clap. Are other people clapping? Would it be too much if I joined in? Well, some people are clapping. Clueless was good. I should probably commend that. And she was in Sin City, right? Was I in Sin City? I think so. I got a check. Or that might’ve been for a re-airing of a Simpsons episode I was on. Man, everyone was in Sin City. It’s like Valentine’s Day but with hookers and severed hands. Granted, I didn’t see Valentine’s Day. Maybe it does have hookers in it after all.”

Who to cut to after picture is shown: the next trashy girl to kick the bucket. It’ll be the camera cut of DOOM!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The BAH!scars #8: Salute the Shorts

In a supreme act of nerdiness and/or unemployedness, today I watched all the shorts that were nominated for Oscars, both live and animated. A local Clearview was playing both and since I get two free tickets to Clearviews thanks to my Optimum account, I decided I might as well watch.

Watching shorts in a theater is a bit odd. You are both less cogniscent of time (since you’re following smaller story arcs) and more aware of time (since after each short you know that X amount of minutes have passed, as they tell you the length of each short beforehand). Overall though, it was an interesting, different experience and something I’d like to do next year as possible. Now, for my thoughts on the nominees (in order they showed them):

Short Film (Live Action)

“Kavi” — Gregg Helvey

This felt a bit like Slumdog Millionaire (abridged), though I probably preferred it to its chai-walling predecessor. Granted, there’s no gameshow and the kid doesn’t grow up, but there’s still the adorable young boy amidst that distinctly horrid poverty that only India can supply.
Thankfully, this time there’s no great tale of half-assed romance and a lack of fetishization on how exotic such Indian destitution looks. The movie hits a bit hard with its message, but at least it’s so blatant and honest about it, that I can’t fault it too much. Overall, this movie feels, well, exactly like a movie I would expect to be nominated for best short film (Live Action). This was also the first one they played and I was almost certain I was in for another ninety minutes of this. This film stands a great chance of winning though because of A) the coattails of Slumdog and B) it has such a nice, relevant Academic message and the whole Academy can feel like they made a difference.

Where I’d rank it: 3 of 5
Where it stands in chance of winning: 2 of 5.

“The New Tenants” — Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson

I loved this short film/one-act play. I loved loved loved it. It occupies the same territory as In the Loop: it’s so rude, vulgar, well-written, odd, and untidy in its ending that I am still in shock that the Academy nominated it. I’d go again (though 15 minutes late to skip Kavi) just to see this film again. It’s funny, tense, surprising, and engrossing. I can’t remember the last time I found something that dark that funny (and because it got so dark). Furthermore, lo and behold: well-written gay characters! They exist!

Of course, this same adoration also comes with the price tag that this does not stand all that great of a chance of winning. It doesn’t stand a horrible chance (I’d be it just behind Miracle Fish…to the point where I almost had it in 3), but the two front-runners are indeed quite the front-runners.

Where I’d rank it: 1 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 4 of 5.

“Miracle Fish” — Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey

I just was not feeling this film. It was horribly slow (of course, where I say “drawn-out,” others say “Kurosawa”) and did not seem to have much of a point or pay-off. The child protagonist did not attract as much empathy as he required and I really did not see all that much of a reason to the final confrontation. But, it seems dark and brooding and contemplative and "hurray for child actors!", so I’m placing it at three for odds.

Where I’d rank it: 5 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 3 of 5.

“The Door” — Juanita Wilson and James Flynn

This film was beautifully done. The first minute or so, nearly every shot wowed me. The job remained strong throughout the rest of it. I would love to see the director and cinematographer work on a full-length film.

The script, however, was not the best. So, I’m tempted to say “SPOILER ALERT,” but I think this film would actually be better if you knew the twist at the onset of the it. But, if you want to see it as the filmmakers intended it, please skip down to the next entry.

I'm in the midst of post-apocalyptic exhaustion. Or at least, with very run of the mill stories of what happens after the end of the world as we know it. Yes, the apocalypse sucks. Yes, it shows a dissolution of society and your bonds are stripped down to a few people who truly matter/you can trust and something about materialism. I blame The Road. It felt so abysmally standard that I think it obliterated my ability to enjoy an entire genre. Or maybe, on a more positive level, Jasper Fforde’s own post-apocalyptic setting in his novel Shades of Grey was so odd, unique, and refreshing (his theory is that the end of the world will be very British and vanish in a poof of politeness) that I now find it difficult to buy into catastrophic works that take themselves so seriously.

So, this short film leads us down a, er, road where we first believe it’s a totalitarian, post-apocaltypic futuristic society. Then we flash back to an incident that seems increasingly Chernobylish. At the end, we discover it was about Chernobyl. I really don’t think the movie gained all that much from hiding such information. If anything, it got itself lost in an increasingly hackneyed genre before finding its way out.

But this film is both beautifully shot and has a nice important message. One is a good reason to choose it, another is an Academic one.

Where I’d rank it: 2 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 1 of 5.

“Instead of Abracadabra” — Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström

This was mildly funny, mildly clever, but overall felt like a forgettable mini-indie film. This by all means is the winner of the “Littler Little Miss Juno Award.” Also, the “failing magician” joke is so much harder to make after Arrested Development. I’m not saying you can’t make that joke…but if you do, you have to realize it’s like writing a novel about a man in love with a 12-year-old girl…you have gargantuan clodhoppers to fill.

Where I’d rank it: 4 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 5 of 5.

Short Film (Animated)

Before I go into the nominees, I’m going to describe a few thoughts on the overall experience. Firstly, unlike the live action ones, these nominees also came with three “highly commended” short animated films. I’m guessing this was because of the fact that three of the nominees were six to eight minutes long and one of the longer two was for Mature Audiences only, so if you were a parent who came with children, you would’ve shelled out about 10 bucks for under an hour of viewing time. One of the shorts was the Pixar one that came before up ("Partly Cloudy"), the other two ("Runaway" and "The Kinematograph") were clear cases of “interesting but not great.” While I would have put "Partly Cloudy" in the running, the Academy actually chose wisely with the other two.

I noticed that all of the films were either wordless or in English. “French Roast,” “The Lady and the Reaper,” “Runaway,” and “Partly Cloudy” were all silent, which I appreciated. Such a choice really allowed for the emphasis of animation as a truly visual medium and also hearkened back to Chuck Jones's toons such as “One Froggy Evening” or the majority of “Rabbit of Seville.” I’m wondering if the other ones (as in, “The Kinematograph” and “Logorama”) were simply dubbed (since there would be more children in the audience) or if they were made for an English-speaking audience despite being made around the globe. I assume the former.

“French Roast” Fabrice O. Joubert

This film
was cute. I literally have nothing else to say about it that deserves mention.

Wait, I was wrong. I did like how the “camera” was placed in pretty much one location/dealt with the window/reflection. That was interesting and nifty.

Okay, that’s it.

Where I’d rank it:
5 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 3 of 5.

“The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)” Javier Recio Gracia

This cartoon truly felt like the lovechild of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. It had the craziness you can only get in a cartoon but tempered a bit by the higher concepts of animation to which Jones was partial. I mean, I can’t give this film higher praise than to say that it felt like it would belong in the good ol’ days when animated shorts preceded any movie.

However, the morbid nature of this film will probably be its undoing in voting time.

Where I’d rank it: 1 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 4 of 5.

“A Matter of Loaf and Death” Nick Park

This felt like standard “Wallace and Gromit” fare. Which is still very good. Okay, I’m going to attract some hate now. I like Wallace and Gromit. I really respect what it is and what it does…but I don’t love it. This case is not even one of “I don’t get the love/adoration.” I get it. I can’t even say I disagree with the logic behind it. But something in "Wallace and Gromit" doesn’t click as much with me as it does with others. I enjoyed this film, I found parts very clever and enjoyable, but overall it did not make too great of a lasting impression on me.

The namebrand nature of this short is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it is definitely the safe pick for those who do not know anything about animation. They at least know it’ll make a lot of people happy and no one will really denounce them for it (of course, no one really cares all much about this category anyway). On the other hand, it may have the Meryl-Streep curse. Wallace and Gromit are always in the public mind that voting for them does not seem all that special.

Where I’d rank it: 3 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 2 of 5.

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell

This movie was delightfully odd. Even in the frantic category of animation, it stood out like a cellphone playing Monty Python's "Sperm Song" going off in the middle of a eulogy. I was guessing this film would go one way, and it sort of did, but in the way that one orders a cheese burger and gets a halfpounder triple stacked burger with four types of cheeses, bacon, and barbeque sauce. It took “fairy tale retelling” to a whole new level. Six minutes of insanity.

As for odds, this is one of those cases where I’m surprised it was even nominated.

Where I’d rank it:
2 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning:5 of 5.

“Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin

There’s a part in Romeo and Juliet where one character keeps asking questions to a group of musicians. After each witty response, he exclaims “Pretty!” and “Pretty too!” Everything is very clever, an enjoyable little trinket that is nothing of real substance by the point in the play when corpses are beginning to pile up and the stars are really starting to cross.

I fear that my reaction to much of this short was “Pretty!...Pretty too!” Every use of a logo was clever and cute and enjoyable…but I felt an overall lack of substance. Now, were I to suspect that the overall message of this film was that, in the face of all this need for meaning, there is none and all you need is a bunch of “Pretty!”s, I’d be much impressed. However, I could not help but think that this was trying to make a point. And I worry that the majority of its point was a tired one about corporate America or globalization or the evils of the prevalence of marketing. It huffs and puffs with much gusto, but does not blow me over.

This movie has the pretentions and the buzz. Game, set, and match.

Where I’d rank it:
4 of 5.
Where it stands in chance of winning: 1 of 5.

I'm sorry. I know I promised a lighter entry for the BAH!scars. That'll come on Thursday.