2 Knock Out Films

So what are they?  Where to Invade Next and Room.  One doc one fiction and both tremendous.

Michael Moore has taken his boat ride to Cuba with 9/11 rescuers who couldn’t get adequate medical care in their own country and find what they need in Cuba, from Sicko, and made that gesture into a film. Did you know Italian workers can get 8 weeks of paid vacation time/year, 5 months of maternity leave, paid, and a 13th month of salary routinely? Did you know that half of the members of corporate Boards of Directors have to come from the workers in Germany? Or that Finland is far ahead of the U.S. in achieving educational goals by spending less time in school, requiring little or no homework, having no standardized testing, and relying on innate curiosity to drive students to learn?

How about Norway’s prisons, even for murderers, where prisoners have apartments with their own keys and freedom of movement as they learn how to become responsible member of society? Or Slovenia’s free university education for anyone, including foreign students? (It’s just one of dozens of countries to do so.) Or the gourmet meals Moore enjoyed in France, 3 or 4 courses, with scallop appetizers and fantastic main courses, followed by cheese and desert, not at a restaurant, but at a middle school? Or the Constitutional right to equity that women enjoy in Tunisia but not in the U.S.?

The list goes on. Moore has gone to numerous countries, not to expose their corruption and failures but what they do right. And they do a lot that we don’t even know about, even though in many cases, the idea first came from here. Penchants for insularity and attitudes of superiority have cost us dearly. Presidential candidates lie about our greatness when most of the industrial world, and beyond, is doing better than we are with such basic issues as health, education and welfare. The film is a genuine eye opener and could easily form the platform base for Hillary or Bernie, if they were brave enough to say we can actually learn from people different from ourselves.

Room is a different kettle of fish. A young woman and her five year old son have been confined to a single room for seven years when the film begins. We learn she’s been abducted and help captive, that her son has no clue what the rest of the world is like. It is, in fact, only the pretend world he sees on TV, and the view from the too high to reach skylight is like the Reality that Plato’s prisoners fail to turn around to see.  But they are not duped by illusions; they are held captive by a pervert.

The film’s power resides in 1) the fact that much of it is told from the pov of the five year old boy who is just beginning to grasp what lies beyond his room, 2) the incredible performance by Brie Larson as the fiercely protective mother of a son whose father is not to be spoken of, trusted, or believed for a moment, and 3) from the totally not fairy tale aftermath to freedom when Joy and Jack, the captives, must contend with friends and family and media that cannot comprehend or accept what these two brave souls have gone through. The film packs a visceral punch far beyond that of most films. It hits at our wounds from childhood and how we are all trapped inside the rooms and stories we are given and create. It forces us to ask how hard are we willing to struggle to escape, what price we are willing to pay, with what risk to body and soul? It’s no wonder Larson is up for an Oscar and very likely to win, but even more, this is a film up for consideration as one of the most painful, probing, disturbing, and emotionally powerful films of recent years.  It operates in a zone far beyond the formulaic dimensions of the otherwise truly best films of the year, Spotlight,  The Big Short and Revenant. And, perhaps because of that, it’s not an Oscar nominee, but it is one  of the most memorable films I’ve seen in quite some time.


Oscars: Lost, Lost, Lost

What’s become of Oscar? It all began as a way to buy off discontent by handing out awards for good filmmaking, and behavior, in the 1920s when union activism, to some extent Communist led, threatened the autocratic iron hand of the studio bosses. Now it’s little more than smoke and mirrors, a parody of its own co-optive origins. The super-baroque set this year set a new low in garish overkill, with enough Oscar statuettes, most of them Robocop size, to suggest a deep rooted sense of panic and insecurity about the significance of this unsexed little sourvenir and all the fuss over it.
The Academy hived many technical awards off to a separate event some time ago and needs to do the same with most of the below the line awards for costume design, sound editing, and so on. Over an hour went to awards that no one remembers and few care about, despite their genuine value to film production.
The songs, designed to support dramatic films, are usually too insipid to stand on their own and to convert them into cornerstones of kitschy spectacle becomes a pathetic case of desperation. The glitzed p production numbers can’t compare to MTV videos or even to the Super Bowl at half time; they’re knock offs, highlighting songs meant to lend emotional support to a film, not steal the show. Would anyone deeply miss them? Why not have musicians who performed in nominated films do a different number, one where they can show their stuff, and Please, Please, no more Sound of Music-like resurrections of the long dead!
How about a host who’s just an MC rather than a more often than not failed prime mover whose jokes are pathetic, if not distasteful, and whose sense of genuine respect and appreciation for the achievements of others seldom on display? How about Colbert or Daily Show-like sketches that poke some real fun at all this pretense? How about some behind the scenes, candid footage of the actors, actresses and directors who are the heart and soul of the awards rather than clip after clip of films many viewers have aready seen? Where does Clint go to workout? Does he have a spotter for bench presses and what flavor smoothy does he drink after? How does Julianne Moore interact with her kids? Does she drive them to school? What do they talk about? What’s J.K. Simmons like when he’s listening to music or heaading to the beach? What does Inarritu think of Kim Kardashian or Tatum Channing? How did Steve Carrell transform himself into “coach” or “Eagle” for his role in Foxcatcher? What did he do after wrapping for a day? Would’nt little clips like those give us something a lot more fun to see than clips from movies that are no better than the trailers we’ve seen a dozen times before?
And there’s always the fasion show side to it, something in the midst of sliding from runway try outs to Why are you staring at me? I’m an actress not a pin up type resistance to the very thing wearing these extraordinary gowns invites? Let’s see the women really go to town on the feeding frenzy voyeurism and turn up in jeans, designer jeans of course, accessorized by Jean Paul Gaultier in his max leather mode. And tell it like it is: You may think I am trying to draw attention to myself and my fabulous looks but I’m really here as an artist to celebrate great achievements in motion picture making, just like everyone else, so let’s go on with humdrum lives and hand out some Oscars.

The Oscars: Boobs and Buffoons

The real boob here was the host, Seth MacFarlane. If “the hook” still existed from its vaudeville days, the first line or two of his “I saw your boobs” song (using the word extremely loosely) would have warranted putting it into play.

The Academy’s membership and its viewing demographic skew upward, into the mature and elderly.  They know they need to reach a younger, more diverse audience.  Instead they seemed to have decided that all they need is to reach teen age boys on testosterone binges, the kids who flock to gross out comedies, horror films and action movies.  MacFarlane gave that group lots to laugh at, but noting the aghast expressions, cut short by the show’s producers who must have realized the reaction shots were of appalled female stars who couldn’t believe their ears, Captain Kirk’s judgments were being born out as he tried to jokingly side step the disaster Kirk warned of.

How to fix it? Apart from banishing MacFarlane back to juvenline TV shows, the Academy should do 3 things:

1. Downplay the host role.  At best the canned humor and ad libs pale compared to solid stand up comedy.

2. Play up the movie role.  Give more time to the films celebrated. Show more clips, but in the spirit of the now ubiquitous but seemingly unknown to the Academy Bonus Material on DVDs.  Add commentary by participants, add interviews and voice-over, add “making of” coverage and behind the scenes moments.  Help viewers appreciate the magic that lies within all great or even really good films.

3. Banish “thank you” from the winners’ vocabulary.  How can anyone hunger to hear winner after winner thank people we have never heard of?  As one winner said this time, “I will be thanking the people who helped win this over the next two weeks,” as well all winners should.  Let winners Thank the Academy. Period.  Let them say a few words about what they did or how they did it, or what working on the film was like, or how it came about, or what was most challenging or rewarding.  Let them share with us something of what brought them to the stage in terms of what they did.  And then let them exit with dignity, not with fanfares of trite music as if they were uninvited party crashers.

These three changes along with banishing buffoonery from the show will make The Oscars the kind of “inside” celebration, which, once shared “outside” the industry in a live television broadcast will linger in our minds as something memorable and not because it’s  a disturbing demonstration of how many boobs it takes to mess up a potentially great show.