Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is an event coinciding with Turner Classic Movies' "31 Days of Oscar" month-long celebration, in observance of the Academy Awards. In both events, the theme is the same: recognition of Oscar-nominated films throughout history. The blogathon is hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. See the links above for a list of participating blogs.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit
seen on TV @ TCM

I've seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit lots of times before, but in watching it the other night, I noticed something new, or at least, something jumped out at me that I had never considered before. This is a pro-public transportation movie - and not in a subtle way, either! The master plan of Christopher Lloyd's character, Judge Doom, is to tear down Toontown and build a freeway - in a time, the late 40s, long before freeways were depressingly common all over California - and Bob Hoskins' character Eddie thinks the idea is nuts. I think his exact words were, "Only a toon would come up with such a wacky idea" or something like that.

More importantly, however, Eddie is shown as someone who doesn't ALWAYS need a car to get around Los Angeles. In an early scene, we see him trying to get on a streetcar, but all he has is a check, so he sneaks to the back as the streetcar takes off and sit on the rear with some kids. One of them asks him why he doesn't have a car, and he says something like, "Who  needs one? We've got the greatest public transportation in the world!" Every time we see him in a car, it's either borrowed, or it's that toon car. Obviously he had a car at one point in his life, since he can drive, but when we see him in this movie, he's not dependent on it.

I think this is a wonderfully subversive aspect of the story, especially when you consider how the development of freeways eventually led to the further sprawl of LA, making people more reliant on cars and foreign oil, that have polluted the atmosphere and so on and so forth. One wonders how Eddie reacted when the freeways finally did come (if they came; in a world with living cartoon characters, anything's possible, I suppose).

Part of Judge Doom's plan involves buying the streetcar business, the Red Cars. They have quite a history, which you can read about here. In the movie you can see them mixed with cars and pedestrians on the streets with no problem at all; indeed, it seemed as if there was less car traffic in general.

This may not seem like such a big thing compared to the visual wizardry of the film, but to me it is, especially when you consider how public transportation and people who choose not to drive usually get treated in the media. I've never read the book on which Roger is based, so I don't know if this was as pronounced an element there, or whether the screenwriters were aware of it or not, but it's refreshing to see a movie that portrays public transportation in a positive light.

Roger won three Oscars, including Visual Effects, and perhaps it's appropriate to write about that now given the current problems facing the visual effects industry. On that, I'll simply say this: it seems to me that Hollywood created this problem for themselves when they chose to continually push spectacle-filled, yet empty-headed, blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy/horror films at the expense of character-based, real-world films, yet we the audience clearly demanded this stuff in copious amounts, so we don't get off easily either. Movies like Life of Pi, which won this year's Visual Effects Oscar, are the exception, not the rule, though - films that utilize the outstanding skills of companies like Rhythm & Hues in service to an equally outstanding story - and that, too, is as important a problem.

Let's get back to Roger, though. Director Robert Zemeckis and the animation team led by Richard Williams, who received a special Oscar for his work here (he's the genius behind The Thief and the Cobbler, and the story behind that film is a tragic one indeed), put together a one-of-a-kind film that still holds up well in this age of performance-capture effects. It's the light and shadows that sell the animated characters most. One needs them in order to believe that humans and toons inhabit the same space, and the illusion is carried off expertly.

Zemeckis, of course, continued to experiment with visual effects throughout his career, whether in sci-fi flicks like the Back to the Future trilogy, to performance-capture films like The Polar Express, and even straight drama, like the unforgettable plane crash scene that opens Flight. I think that his films have a greater sense of... humanism, for lack of a better word, than most of James Cameron's movies. I couldn't imagine Cameron making a movie like Forrest Gump, for instance. As great as he is, he tends to let the spectacle overshadow the characters, at least in his more recent stuff. Zemeckis tends to avoid that more than Cameron.

One more thing: if you love Roger, there's an awesome graphic novel you oughta check out called Three Fingers. It's a darker spin on the idea of toons and humans co-existing. Created in the style of a documentary film, it chronicles the history of a Mickey Mouse-like toon movie star, unique among other toons in that he was born with only three fingers (and an opposable thumb, of course). The implications of this difference, and what it means for toons everywhere, lies at the heart of this story. It's excellent.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
Cabin in the Sky

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

One Two Three

One Two Three
seen @ Landmark Loews Jersey theater, Jersey City, NJ

When I still drunk soda on a regular basis, I was a Pepsi drinker. As a kid, drinking soda went hand in hand with redeeming the empty bottles for cash. There was a tiny bodega a couple of blocks from our house that accepted empty bottles, and my parents places the responsibility burden of redeeming them on me. While it was always great to get free money, especially when you're young, I hated having to be the one to gather all the bottles, stuff them into a garbage bag, and schlep them down the street.

I remember, of course, when New Coke came out, but since I didn't regularly drink old Coke, I wasn't as indignant as everybody else was over this new flavor. I did try it, but I certainly don't remember now how it tasted. Back in the 80s, for awhile it really did seem as if your choice between Pepsi or Coke said something about you personally, though that was probably just the result of clever marketing - and we as kids were certainly susceptible. 

Therefore, I remained loyal to Pepsi in the face of all this New Coke hype, though I will say I thought Coke had the better commercials.

The only Pepsi commercial from the 70s/80s that I can recall at the moment was the Michael Jackson one, and of course, that's mostly because of the accident he got into while filming it. There was even a playground rhyme that grew out of it (please forgive the political incorrectness): "I pledge allegiance to the flag/Michael Jackson is a fag/Pepsi-Cola burned him up/Now he's drinking 7-Up." How do these things get started, anyway?

When I spent the summer of 1993 in Spain, I drank Coke. At the time, they sold Coke in tallboy cans, which I had never seen in America before, so I suppose the novelty of it appealed to me as much as anything else. (I should've remembered to save a can; it would've been in Spanish.) Of course, I also drank a lot of bottled water too, since we were told not to drink the local water.

I certainly drank other sodas too. I loved Sunkist, which was great on a hot summer day. Their commercial re-wrote the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and now I can't hear the original without thinking about Sunkist. The "un-cola," 7-Up, had that commercial with that guy from Live and Let Die, Geoffrey Holder, but something about the way he said "The Un-Colaaaaaaaa!!" was funny and kinda weird.

Shea Stadium used to serve RC Cola, which I hated! It was always flat and didn't have the same kind of punch as Pepsi or even Coke for that matter, but you needed something to go with your hot dogs and pretzels, and I was too young for beer.

While living in Columbus, my eating and drinking habits changed slightly. I don't recall if it was a conscious decision to cut down on soda, but I think it must have been. Certainly Max was a subtle influence. He's a generally healthier eater than I am, and while I bought my own groceries, I'm fairly sure that his example rubbed off on me a bit. So I would buy juice and punch for myself, and I've stuck with that ever since. I did, however, acquire a small craving for Dr. Pepper.

So soda has never been completely cut out of my life and I doubt it ever will, though I have weaned myself away from Pepsi in recent years. I find that odd, since as I said, I was such a die-hard Pepsi drinker for so long. I guess that's just how people change.

It's Coca-Cola, however, that's part of the story in One Two Three. I've already written about what growing up under the Cold War was like, and I've paid homage to Jimmy Cagney as well. I'd only seen thi film one other time, and I had forgotten how funny it was. Maybe it had to do with seeing it with an audience, but I was busting a gut laughing at this one! Plus, Billy Wilder shot it HUGE. It's got to be the same dimensions as The Apartment, his film prior to this, and indeed, the two share a few of the same compositions in places.

In Cameron Crowe's book Conversations with Wilder, Wilder indicates that while he liked One Two Three, he didn't consider it among his very best. Still, he gave Cagney all the credit for making the film work like it did:
...we had to go with Cagney because Cagney was the picture. He really had the rhythm, and that was very good. It was not funny. But just the speed was funny. The speed was very good, how Cagney figured it out. The general idea was, let's make the fastest picture in the world, and give the actors, in order to make it seem fast, some slower scenes too. But that went very, very well.
Wilder goes on to compare Cagney's rapid-fire delivery to that of Edward G. Robinson in Double Indemnity, especially in the scene where he describes all the suicide possibilities.

I had no problems getting to the Loews this time around; the PATH train service was restored to normal weeks ago. Speaking of the Loews, by the by, you need to check out this article about one of the Loews' sister theaters from back in the day, the Valencia, here in Queens. It's now a church, but the original architecture and design has been faithfully kept up and it looks remarkable.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Welcome to the TERRORTHON!

It's been awhile since I've had a blogathon; my success with it has been kinda so-so... which is why I knew that if I were to do another one, I'd better team up with somebody. And there are few fellow bloggers that I'd enjoy co-hosting a blogathon with more than my pal Page from My Love of Old Hollywood.

The theme this time out is scary old movies - I mean, the ones that REALLY made you duck under the covers and run screaming to your mom. Page says we can stretch the definition of "classic" movie a bit, so feel free to include material from the 60s/70s/80s as well.

Check back either here or at Page's for any and all updates.

Oscar 2012: The winners

Best Picture: Argo
Directing: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables

The rest.

18 out of 24! Only two less than last year. Way better than I would've thought. I knew I shoulda stuck with Jennifer Lawrence...

I feel good for Ben Affleck. I mean, I remember seeing him in all those Kevin Smith films way back when and then watching his career take off, and I always had a feeling he'd do good, but I don't think anyone could have predicted this level of success. I've said it before, but it's an important point: his success as a director has been by making engaging, well-acted, well-written adult movies that appeal to critics and mass audience alike. That's exactly the kind of film we need more of. It sucks that he couldn't have gotten Best Director as well, but I suspect he'll get another chance before long.

I was kinda surprised Amour didn't do better than it did. I really thought the support was there, but I guess there wasn't enough of it. Django winning Original Screenplay over Amour (and ZDT) was something I definitely didn't see coming.

Seth MacFarlane was funny at first, but his song-and-dance shtick wore thin very quickly. In fact, I could've done without most of the musical numbers, except for Adele (OF COURSE) and Shirley Bassey, who looked great. Seeing William Shatner back in his Starfleet uniform was surprising, but less of a big deal for me than you might think. Certainly not as big a deal as seeing the First Lady announce Best Picture! I won't miss MacFarlane if they decide not to bring him back. Seeing Sandra Bullock reminded me once again what a good host she'd make...

How many picks did you get right?

Oscar 2011 winners
Oscar 2010 winners

Saturday, February 23, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #8

Previously: Back in Columbus, City Mouse recruits his old friends to work on his movie with him.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscar 2012: My predictions

I definitely don't expect to do as well as I did last year, but then, this was such a bizarre Oscar season to begin with.
Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Django Unchained
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Best Director
Michael Haneke, Amour
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Actor
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
Best Actress
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook

Adapted Screenplay
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Original Screenplay
Django Unchained
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty
Animated Feature Film
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph
Best Foreign Language Film
Amour, Austria
Kon-Tiki, Norway
No, Chile
A Royal Affair, Denmark
War Witch, Canada
Best Documentary Feature
5 Broken Cameras
The Gatekeepers
How to Survive a Plague
The Invisible War
Searching for Sugar Man

Production Design
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Anna Karenina
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Costume Design
Anna Karenina
Les Misérables
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman

Film Editing
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Makeup and Hairstyling
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Original Score
Anna Karenina
Life of Pi
Original Song
"Before My Time" from Chasing Ice
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" from Ted
"Pi's Lullaby" from Life of Pi
"Skyfall" from Skyfall
"Suddenly" from Les Misérables

Sound Editing
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
Sound Mixing
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Visual Effects
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Marvel's The Avengers
Snow White and the Huntsman

Animated Short Film
Adam and Dog
Fresh Guacamole
Head Over Heels
Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare"
Live Action Short Film
Buzkashi Boys
Death of a Shadow
Documentary Short Subject
Kings Point
Mondays at Racine
Open Heart

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
seen on TV @ ABC Family

My sister had a wardrobe. Growing up, we had to share a room - and no, it wasn't anywhere near as much fun as it sounds - and she had this largish (I'd say about six and a half feet tall) aluminum wardrobe that sat in one corner of our room. It was nothing fancy, just a giant box. I think she may have stuck a few magnets on the front and sides for decoration. I suspect this was hers as opposed to ours because she had more stuff. In addition to her many clothes, I remember that she kept her 45s and her Harvey Comics in there too. (You remember Harvey Comics, right? Richie Rich, Lotta, Hot Stuff, Little Audrey, etc.) I don't remember keeping any of my clothes in there, although I suppose I might have.

Now you have to understand - as my older sister, Lynne got to do stuff that I was too young for, and that engendered a certain amount of envy in me. I wanted to know what being a teenager was like. Gender wasn't really a factor; if I had had an older brother, I probably would've felt the same way, although I'll never know for sure. I never gave much thought as to whether or not her things were too "girly" for me. There was the ever-present threat of physical abuse, of course, but that's probably to be expected between siblings. 

My point is that I was plain nosy. So I'd rummage through her wardrobe when she wasn't around, examining her clothes, reading her comic books, playing her 45s, hoping for some insight into the mind of this sibling I was stuck living with, one I didn't ask for and couldn't relate to. Now, of course, our relationship is nowhere near so antagonistic, but back then, we were both crazy kids who didn't know any better and drove our parents nuts.

I'm fairly certain that I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at a relatively early age. (I also read some, but not all of the subsequent books in the series. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favorite. Eventually I read all of them as an adult.) I was quick to learn how to read, and I vividly remember spending a number of afternoons at the local library. So of course, like many little kids who read this at an impressionable age, I had to see if I could access Narnia through my sister's wardrobe. 

Now part of the problem with that, as I recall - besides the wardrobe being too small - was that I believed that I couldn't do it unless I shut the doors behind me, which was difficult to do from the inside. The way the wardrobe doors were made, it was difficult to get a firm grip on them and get them to close properly. Plus, Lynne had so much stuff lying around on the bottom that I couldn't stand in one place without crushing or kicking over something. And it goes without saying that I couldn't ruin something of hers without incurring her wrath.

Didn't stop me from trying, though.

I think I sympathized with Edmund, even though he betrays the Pevensie clan. I certainly knew what it was like to have an older sibling who didn't always grok you, and wanting to be taken seriously even though you're a kid. In the animated version, I found the scenes with Edmund and Queen Jadis frightening. Also, the lamppost intrigued me. Why was something so obviously part of the "real world" part of Narnia? Whenever I'd see a lamppost in a wooded park I'd always imagine that I was in Narnia. And of course, the death of Aslan was scary, especially the part when Lucy and Susan hear the Stone Table crack in two behind them.

Did I catch the Christian allegorical aspects of the book as a kid? Don't remember, but I doubt it. That's the kind of thing you don't get until you're older, though I might have at least caught on to the Aslan-as-Jesus metaphor, especially when he willingly sacrifices himself to save Edmund.

This book might have been one of the very first exposures I had to British culture. I certainly didn't understand, for example, what Turkish delight was, or why Santa Claus was called Father Christmas. I probably just thought it was part of the alternate-world aspect of the story.

I saw the film version of Lion when it first came out, naturally. To say it owes a tremendous debt to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy is an understatement, though some of the special effects don't seem quite as impressive now, on the small screen. Aslan looks too obviously like a CGI creation, though one could argue that as a supernatural, larger-than-life entity, perhaps he shouldn't look too much like a real-world lion.

I did a little bit of following along in the book as I watched the film (I have the omnibus edition that collects all seven books), and as a result I was more aware of how much the film expands on the book. I liked the way Aslan's resurrection was explained; much simpler than the "Deeper Magic" thing in the book, which even as a kid, I found to be a little hokey. In the film, they keep the Deep Magic thing, but the explanation basically amounts to Jadis not reading the fine print on the Stone Table.

The film version wasn't bad; I mean, it's next to impossible to mess up a story like this in terms of adaptation. I never saw Prince Caspian or Dawn Treader. I guess I felt like I got all I needed from this movie.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cabin in the Sky

The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is an event coinciding with Turner Classic Movies' "31 Days of Oscar" month-long celebration, in observance of the Academy Awards. In both events, the theme is the same: recognition of Oscar-nominated films throughout history. The blogathon is hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. See the links above for a list of participating blogs.

Cabin in the Sky
seen on TV @ TCM

It always amuses me whenever I see some people who have a real problem with musicals just because people sing and dance in them. I would argue that the parameters of a musical are no stranger than those of your average superhero movie. If one can accept seeing a teenage nerd with spider-like powers, or a dude with claws that pop out of his hands, are singing and dancing that much stranger? I doubt it!

Classic Hollywood used to do extremely well with musicals. Of course, we've got one up for the Best Picture Oscar this year, Les Miserables, but the genre isn't quite as big today as it was way back when, especially during the Depression, when audiences turned out in big numbers to escape their troubles through them. Post-9-11, superheroes and other, similar sci-fi films seem to serve a similar purpose. In both cases, musicals and superheroes rely on silly, sometimes bizarre premises that can often stretch the bounds of reality for the purpose of entertainment, and in both cases, some filmmakers become known for them if they make enough of them over time...

...which brings us to Vincente Minnelli and Cabin in the Sky, his first credited film. In looking over his list of films, I realize I've seen more of them than I realized, both musical and non-musical. Some of the musicals I'm lukewarm about (Brigadoon, Meet Me in St. Louis), but others I enjoy greatly (An American in Paris, Bells Are Ringing). 

Cabin in particular was such a great pleasure. Based on a Broadway musical, it's about the forces of heaven and hell competing for the soul of a small-time gambler trying to go straight, and features a mighty awesome array of black performers. There's a brief text crawl at the very beginning that acknowledges Cabin as part of a tradition of American folklore, and I believe the musical aspect serves to enhance that fact. The archetypal characters, not to mention the presence of angels and demons, don't seem as unusual within this context because the whole thing comes across as a parable anyway.

Cabin, like many Hollywood film adaptations of musicals, included a new song in the hopes that it would get an Oscar nomination, and in this case, it worked - Harold Arlen & E.Y. Harberg's "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe," sung in the movie by star Ethel Waters, whom I totally did not recognize as the same woman from Pinky! At least not at first. Seeing her sing this, you almost can't believe that Eddie Anderson's character would betray her, not even for Lena Horne!

I've written before about films that dramatize the relationship between humans and the minions of heaven and/or hell, such as Heaven Can Wait (which also came out in 1943), as well as films that disguise their biblical themes within sci-fi conceits, such as The Adjustment Bureau. It's the notion of cosmic beings manipulating the lives of humans that interests me in these cases. 

The world is full of kings and queens,
who blind your eyes and steal your dreams.
The angels and demons in Cabin can influence humans to a degree, but to what extent do they control behavior? The first time we see Horne's character, the head demon, Lucifer Junior (he's the son of the Devil, don'tcha know) plants the idea in her head to go visit Anderson's Little Joe and pretty much spurs her into action on his behalf. If he can do this much, though, why can't he control Little Joe the same way? I know, I know, that wouldn't serve the story. I don't care too much about the answer; I just like thinking about it - and given the film's ending, the point is probably moot anyway. Regardless, this is a wonderful movie. Seek it out!

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang

Saturday, February 16, 2013

City Mouse Makes a Movie #7

Previously: City Mouse returns to Columbus, Ohio, where his producer friend Collie lives and where he used to live, to make his movie.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When filmmakers get thin-skinned

...I would not say I enjoy writing a bad review. I certainly don't walk into films looking to hate them. I will say that when a film is particularly hard to sit through, there is a satisfaction that comes from drawing a little blood in return, and some films seem to have such naked contempt for the audience that I don't mind returning some of the same to them. And while there is something about the relationship between critics and filmmakers that has to be contentious, just by its nature, should it ever reach the point where Joe Swanberg or Uwe Boll are climbing into a boxing ring eager to actually hurt a critic because of something that was written?
Yeah, I know a little something about this. Not so much from writing about movies, but in ten years of writing about comics, I've had to deal with a few creators who just couldn't understand why I didn't like their work, though I've never had a creator challenge me to a boxing match as a result. The thing is, though, as an artist myself, I can look at it from the other side as well. I'll get to that in a moment.

Even running this poster
is probably giving this movie
more exposure than it deserves.
Last year, I wrote a review for the Troma film Mr. Bricks, which I saw at the Queens World Film Festival. I detested it and said so, in no uncertain terms. About six months later, someone claiming to be director Travis Campbell commented on my review (it was posted under "anonymous," which is why I say "claiming"), and while he didn't exactly rip me a new one, he certainly came across a bit passive-aggressively:
This is the director of Mr. Bricks. I'm sorry you didn't like the movie, we shot it with what we had, we just wanted to make a movie and show our love of 80s/90s punk hardcore music. We used the locations of Long Island City as a back-drop and went from there. It's what you do when you have passion to make a movie and not just sit on your ass. Again, sorry you feel like [Troma head] Mr. [Lloyd] Kaufman and I wasted your time, ironically I ended up winning "Best Director" for Bricks at the QWFF, that's the great thing about low budget movies and art. It's totally subjective.
Which led to this response from another anonymous reader:
Wow, I have never seen Mr Bricks and now I never will. Part of being a film maker is  accepting the fact that not everyone is going to like your movie. Instead of making excuses for your film, you should try and learn from the criticism. Congratulations on your award, maybe you should run crying to Mr Kaufman and ask him to get you another one so you feel better. I would also like to give this director the Golden Diaper award for being such a baby. Clap, clap.
Unfortunately, I did not realize this was going on at the time because, like I said, it was six months after the fact and I had no reason to revisit this review. I had probably forgotten all about it.

First of all, while I doubt that Campbell will ever see this, I should at least say something in response. While I may not have made a movie, in Long Island City or anywhere else, I am certainly no stranger to the creative process and the passion of making art, as regular readers of this blog know well, so I'd say that qualifies me as doing more than sitting on my ass. 

That said, having a passion for filmmaking only takes you so far. You still need talent, and I saw little-to-none on display in Mr. Bricks, as I stated in my review, which I still stand by. I can't speak to the reasons why Campbell won a QWFF award, but if, indeed, art is "totally subjective," then why would Campbell feel the need to respond to my review in the first place? Why should my review make a difference to him one way or another, especially since he has his QWFF award to keep him warm? (I'm not knocking QWFF itself, by the way; it's a wonderful festival and I plan on going back there next month. I could care less whether they choose to honor Campbell or not.)

Like I said, however, I am also an artist. I've made comic books and comic strips that have gotten positive reviews from notable critics, and where I've been critiqued, I've done my best to find merit where I can. And as an artist, I can guarantee you that we thrive on feedback, good or bad. Indifference is the worst reaction one can get. So I can understand why someone like Campbell, or Calvin Lee Reeder from the article quoted above, would feel the need to respond to the writer of a negative review.

At some point, however, you have to learn to rein in that impulse. Wasting energy on certain people's opinions only takes you away from making more work. By all means, listen to feedback, good and bad, but targeting a specific critic for a perceived slight seems counter-productive to me and only makes you look cheap and petty.


Monday, February 11, 2013


The 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon is an event coinciding with Turner Classic Movies' "31 Days of Oscar" month-long celebration, in observance of the Academy Awards. In both events, the theme is the same: recognition of Oscar-nominated films throughout history. The blogathon is hosted by Once Upon a ScreenOutspoken & Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. See the links above for a list of participating blogs.

seen on TV @ TCM

I've never been much for nightclubs. I can probably count the number I've been to on one hand. I'm not what you might call a social drinker, for one thing, and the kind of girls I'd be interested in (or more to the point: the kind of girls who might be interested in me) would not be found there. As for dancing, well, I remember going to a nightclub when I spent a summer in Barcelona. I tried to get into the spirit of things, but it didn't work. I just felt awkward and out of place and I ended up leaving early. (And before you say that it's a bad example, let me add that many people in Barcelona speak English and this club played mostly British and American pop music.)

But why make a spectacle of yourself when you can watch other people do so? I have a friend who once worked as a pole dancer. I never had the pleasure of seeing her at work, but I did go to her club once to pick her up, and I got a pretty good look at some of the other girls there. Sure, it's great eye candy at first, but after awhile, it's like, well, what do you really get out of it? Or am I over-analyzing as usual? (Though I suppose it also depends on context. The same kind of dancing at, say, Lincoln Center, would be called "art," would it not?)

I can get behind a striptease. That feels more involving. Like sex, it's a long build-up to a big payoff at the end, and it engages your imagination. (The brain, after all, is the biggest sex organ.) I've seen burlesque shows with stripteases and I've always gotten a big kick out of them. I even wrote a script for a comic about a striptease dancer, which I still hope to get off the ground one day.

Ultimately, though, nothing beats a good song and dance, which brings me to Cabaret. In terms of Oscar history, it's a bit of an odd duck - it took home eight Oscars, including Director, Actress, Supporting Actor and Editing, but lost Best Picture to The Godfather. There aren't many times when Picture and Director split, but when it does happen, it's always notable. This Oscar season, many pundits believe it will happen again, since current frontrunner Argo is shut out in the Director category.

Cabaret seemed like a sure thing to go all the way. In addition to its wins on Oscar night, it had won the Eddie for editing, the BAFTA (British Oscars) for Film and Director, the Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy, the National Board of Review awards for Film and Director and the Writers Guild award. Director Bob Fosse was also nominated for the Directors Guild award. 

The Godfather is perhaps the more revered movie of the two now, but it only won two other awards: Actor and Adapted Screenplay, losing head-to-head against Cabaret in two critical categories, Director and Editing. In total nominations, Godfather edged Cabaret 11-10, but three of those eleven nominations were all in one category, Supporting Actor.

The Director loss is especially surprising, since Francis Ford Coppola won the Director's Guild award, as well as the Golden Globe. Ben Affleck won the DGA for Argo, yet the Academy didn't even nominate him for a Director Oscar, which has made prognosticating this year's awards much more difficult than usual.

Still, Cabaret remains a remarkable work that pushed the boundaries in terms of what could be depicted on screen, with devastatingly subversive and memorable songs (that Nazi anthem always gives me chills). When TCM host Robert Osborne presented it, he mentioned that the film version deviates significantly from the original stage production, and yet the result is still compelling. That couldn't have been easy for Fosse and screenwriter Jay Allen - I mean, how do you decide what to cut and what to leave, especially when it's based on a Tony Award-winning musical?

It's impossible to look at Liza Minnelli in this film and not think of her mom. Technically, the character of Sally is not supposed to be this talented or glamorous, but you know what, I can live with that. For what it's worth, I wouldn't call Liza a perfect beauty. If she looked more like, say, Raquel Welch or Brigitte Bardot, it might be more of a distraction in this particular movie. Liza (in my opinion) has slightly odd-shaped lips, a not-quite-perfect nose, and eyes that make her look like an anime character, but in this movie, I find myself grateful for those imperfections. They help sell Sally.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang