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Posted by on Nov 8, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Politics | 2 comments

Holding Celebrities Accountable

 

 

I went to a movie last night.  During the previews, the trailer for “All the Money in the World” came on.  To be released soon, the Ridley Scott-directed film tells the true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty’s grandson by terrorists during the 1970s.  At the time, John Paul Getty was the world’s richest man.  Still, he stubbornly refused to pay a ransom.

Sounds intriguing, no?

There’s just one problem.

John Paul Getty is played by Kevin Spacey.

The recent allegations against Spacey of multiple sexual and perhaps criminal misdeeds are shocking.  One of Hollywood’s most respected actors, he’s become the latest miscreant in what appears to be a mass epidemic of abuse — of sex and power.  Spacey, his reputation in shreds, is toxic — at least for the time being.  He joins the moral septic tank which includes Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, Harvey Weinstein, and other movie moguls tainted by scandal.

Just as the movie trailer concluded, I leaned over and whispered to my wife, “Well Spacey killed that movie’s chances of success.”

Think about it.  What an awkward situation for multi-million dollar film production.  Writers, producers, investors, executives, film crews, advertising departments, other movie actors — hundreds and perhaps thousands of people worked hard on that film.  They’re likely to suffer because now many people won’t go and see a Kevin Spacey film.

To be clear, Spacey was cast and the film wrapped-up production way before any of the terrible allegations came out.  Had there been prior knowledge beyond just the rumors and whispers, probably someone else would have been cast as John Paul Getty.  But hey, what’s done is done.

[NOTE:  READ UPDATE BELOW]

I wonder to what extent we should hold celebrities accountable for their misconduct.  When we make a decision to boycott someone’s film, are we really punishing them?  Or, is the collateral damage to innocents far worse?  Is boycotting a movie based solely on a performer in it really fair?

For decades, many Americans boycotted Jane Fonda’s movies because she was among the most outspoken voices of the Vietnam anti-war movement.  For millions of good people who loved movies (and probably adored her father — actor Henry Fonda), Jane crossed a serious line when she visited North Vietnam and appeared to delight in mocking the shooting down of American aircraft.

The anti-Jane Fonda boycott didn’t hurt her career.  She went on to create a stellar body of film work, including several Oscar-caliber performances.  While she later apologized for her actions in 1972, specifically to the veterans she outraged, Fonda remains stigmatized by her actions, some deemed as treasonous.  Perhaps rightly so.

I’m pretty dogmatic about standing up for my views.  But I also have trouble boycotting movies based on politics.  Before he became the frontman for the National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston was a proud liberal.  He marched in civil rights parades during the early 1960s when it wasn’t a cool thing to do.  Later on, Heston became an arch-conservative.

None of Heston’s political views bothered me when I watch (and inevitably re-watch) him playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments” or the slave in “Ben Hur,” or the astronaut in “Planet of the Apes.”  I don’t see a conservative or a liberal.  Instead, I see a master performer who was perfectly cast in many film roles who left us with an astounding catalog of entertainment.

To be clear, there are many performers I have absolutely no interest in seeing in any movie (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Lopez, Casey Affleck — all make my short list).  But it’s not because I oppose their politics or think they’ve done bad things in their lives.  I just think they suck.

Mel Gibson probably committed the gravest sin in Hollywood, which is to be anti-Semitic.  Gibson’s repeated drunken outbursts during which he defamed Jews pretty much destroyed his bankability as a beloved movie star.  Or……….perhaps not.  His controversial 2004 film, “Passion of the Christ,” released well after allegations against Gibson began to surface, has earned $430 million (most of the profits going directly to Gibson since he was the primary investor).  It remains one of the best-selling DVD releases more than a decade after coming out.  Apparently, Christian audiences were perfectly willing to forgive an overt anti-Semite.

No doubt, Harvey Weinstein was (and is) a pig.  He’s a disgraceful man who badly abused his power and probably deserves to be behind bars eating pork and beans the rest of his life.  Weinstein should never again be in a position of power over anyone in the movie business.  That’s putting it mildly.

That said, Weinstein (and specifically his former production company — Miramax) has consistently released the most critically-acclaimed movies over the past 15 years.  Many Miramax films have been quite progressive in pushing the boundaries of conventional taste.  When it was still considered risky to make movies about the Black experience in America or delve into uncomfortable (for many) topics like homosexuality, Miramax hasn’t just been an opportunistic conglomerate intent to exploit these outlier subjects.  It’s been a cultural beacon.

Sadly, Weinstein’s fall from Hollywood grace now brings the viability of making smarter and riskier movies into a perilous future.  It’s far less risky for studios to redux cartoon characters for the umpteenth time or make movies about spaceships rather than to greenlight a World War II movie about a British codebreaker who happened to be gay.  In the end, Weinstein’s victims won’t just be all the women he molested.  It will be the rest of us for missing out on what could have been.

I do find it odd that we allow certain celebrity sub-cultures to get away with gross offenses which would otherwise destroy the careers of people in other fields.  Rock stars (rappers, etc.) are almost expected to engage in scandalous behavior.  Groupies.  Destroying hotel rooms.  Drugs.  Drunkenness.  But when’s the last time a musician was charged with having sex with a minor?  Are we to conclude that pop musicians are better behaved than actors?

Even non-celebrity cases of sexual misconduct are often fraught with outlandish hypocrisy.  Teachers abusing students is a crime and should be.  When an older male teacher sexually assaults a younger female student, he’s considered a pervert.  When an older (usually good-looking) female teacher sexually assaults a younger male student, we make jokes that the kid’s lucky.

Morality isn’t so much a line, but a matrix.

 

UPDATE:  All of Kevin Spacey’s scenes will be re-shot.  The movie release of “All the Money in the World” was pushed back to a December 22nd release date.  READ MORE HERE

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Posted by on Feb 26, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

My Thoughts on the 2017 Academy Awards

 

 

“La La Land” seems like a stone-cold lock of all ages to win the Best Picture Oscar in what’s otherwise been a disappointing year for movies.

The merry musical was the lone sweet cherry piled high atop a giant shit sundae heaping with plentiful box office busts, instantly-forgettable docudramas, mindless futuristic fluff, Star Games, the Hunger Wars, kiddie crack, and several embarrassingly awful films which should never have been green lighted (hang in there, Warren Beatty — I’ll get to you later).

Everything about La La Land” worked for me.  I loved the catchy music, infused with piano and jazz.  I loved the romance.  I loved the two main characters — played by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who were perfectly cast and dazzled with their acting, singing, and dancing.  Call me sentimental, call me old fashioned, but I adored the quirky retro-tale about two struggling dreamers trying to make it big in Hollywood.  I was also riveted by the unknown of what would happen at the end.  Until the final curtain and closing note, we have no idea if Gosling and Stone will end up together as one.  This was a great movie.

“La La Land” received a ton of nominations — and rightfully so.  It deserves to win several Oscars.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is, there wasn’t much else worthy of praise.  Unfortunately, the competition was so weak this past year, that I expect a record low number television viewers (partially due to half the country buying into the anti-Hollywood ruse).  Those who do tune into the 89th annual awards show will be utterly sick of the repetitive speeches from pretty much the same filmmakers over and over again by the time we reach the Animated Short category.

In fact, between the expected Oscar overkill for La La Land,” cringe worthy political posturing from the usual suspects, and the woefully unfunny Jimmy Kimmel doing his very best to remind us why we all miss someone genuinely funny like Billy Crystal, or Ricky Gervais, or Jim Carey who would have done a much better job in their sleep — I don’t expect to make it all the way through Sunday night’s telecast.  That’s really saying something, since I’ve seen (I estimate) 42 out of the last 44 Academy Awards telecasts, from start to finish. [SEE FOOTNOTE ABOUT KIMMEL BELOW]

That doesn’t make me a film critic.  But it does provide the basis of an opinion.  Here are my thoughts on some of the films I’ve seen this year, and many I have not seen, which have been nominated for Oscars.  The envelope of pleasure and pain, please:

“Arrival” — This was a better-than-average sci-fi flick which was greatly enhanced by some marvelous special effects.  That said, there’s no way this film deserves Best Picture consideration or anything else other than a few technical Oscar mentions.  “Arrival” was filled with jaw-dropping plot holes big enough to make a James Bond scriptwriter bust out in hives.  One thing that cracked me up:  If an alien spaceship the size of the Empire State Building really landed in the middle of Kansas and wasn’t able to communicate with humans, wouldn’t the U.S. Government hire more than just one linguist?  Go figure.  I was also annoyed by the bigger story which eventually gets revealed and somehow engulfs the entire previous episode of how the world reacts to invading space aliens.

“Hell or High Water” — Copy cat of the outstanding “No Country for Old Men” this film lacked much originality.  Story about a couple of erratic brothers who turn into wildly reckless bank robbers in dusty West Texas, while they’re pursued relentlessly by an impossible-to-understand local sheriff played by mumbling Jeff Bridges, who’s mouth is filled with so many marbles he could stock a gumball machine.  To be fair — this movie does have it’s moments as a very watchable crime hunt caper.  But in the end, we all know what’s coming, and the conclusion is less than fulfilling.  I can’t think of a single thing about this movie that’s Oscar-worthy.

“Manchester by the Sea” — I hated this movie.  I hated it.  I hated it.  I hated it.  Dreadfully dull and depressing blow-your-brains-out downer of a film about a pathetic loser-janitor from Boston who makes one bad choice after another until the point where we (the audience) have completely run out of patience.  Just jump off a bridge and end this, please.  There’s hardly a character in the movie who’s appealing (aside from the orphaned teen son, who’s excellent, by the way).  Casey Affleck (personifying the same sub-par acting abilities of his more famous brother) becomes the accidental star in this bore of movie — as someone you’d pluck out of shitty job, cast in a movie, and then praise for his authenticity playing common working man.  Hell, any half-shaven truck driver in America could have played this part.  The drug-addicted turned religious nut of a wife is just as bad.  Inexplicably, this film is up for several awards.  I have no fucking idea why.  A horrible movie.

I’m embarrassed to say I’ve not yet seen some movies that were nominated in various categories that look quite decent, and perhaps might ultimately change my opinion of the caliber of films released this past year.  Foremost among these is “Hidden Figures,” the remarkable little-known story about a group of Black female mathematicians who fought prejudice and ended up making great contributions to the NASA space program.  I admit I’d not heard about this story before, so I look forward to seeing the film, which is being praised highly by those who saw it.

Moonlight” also looks like a film worthy of seeing, of for no other reason than it received eight nominations.  “Loving” was on my radar screen earlier when it was released, but didn’t receive as many positive reviews, so I put that on the back burner, until later.  “Lion” looked intriguing.  However, I then saw a film documentary on the actual person who was lost as a child on whom this movie was based.  After being exposed to the real-life tale, the movie didn’t interest me quite as much.

As for movies and actors I’m rooting for strictly as a personal preference, here are my thoughts:  First, “La La Land” can do no wrong.  Anything it wins will be well deserved, especially in the Best Director and Best Picture categories.  “Fences” was the blood and sweat of the always excellent Denzel Washington, who finally deserved and got his chance to produce and direct the movie he’s wanted to make for a long time.  This film probably won’t be called out much when the envelopes get opened; however Viola Davis seems like a worthy choice in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Viggo Mortensen has done some outstanding film work of the years, and he’s among the very best actors working today.  I saw only a glimpse of “Captain Fantastic,” a challenging emotional role for which he’s been nominated for Best Actor.  I’d love to see him win.  Admittedly, this is probably Ryan Gosling’s award on Sunday night, but Mortensen walking onstage would be just as satisfying.

The Best Actress race looks especially intriguing, this year.  Meryl Streep is Hollywood royalty among peers and critics, but she won’t win anything this year for a film what was pretty awful (an inexplicable third remake of a rich English woman who can’t sing).  I have great respect for Natalie Portman and her talent, but would prefer she not win for the title role in “Jackie.”  Please.  Enough of the Kennedy’s — already, especially the over-sanctified JFK period, an average presidency at best which has been so ridiculously overblown, it’s warped our view of history.  No surprise here, I’ll go with Emma Stone in LLL.

I customarily see most of the documentaries and foreign films which are nominated.  But due to timing and logistics, it also takes me a while to get around to seeing all of them.  I’m also one of the very few people who has seen every short and animated film (nominee) over the past three years from the Oscars (there’s a special showing, I’ve attended and written about), but this is typically a post-Oscar endeavor.  Accordingly, I can’t say much about these films, yet.  However, the massive archival undertaking that was “O.J.: Made in America” really stuck with me.  I watched all 8 hours over an extended period, and watched some of it again.  Filmmakers took a subject we all thought we knew well, and yet somehow still managed to make this a riveting detective story, with quite a bit of fresh eye-opening material, not just on the O.J. Simpson trial, but the modern history of race relations in America.  This was an amazing film series that I would describe as a “must-see.”  Note:  Why wasn’t this included in the Best Picture nominees?  Can’t a documentary be the best movie of the year?  Why the bias?

In closing, I’ll give out my own sour grapes award for the worst film/worst performance of last year.  Remember legendary Warren Beatty?  Well, he’s my winner — or make that, loser.  Beatty starred in a dreadful bio-epic as Howard Hughes in the laughably awful, “Rules Don’t Apply.”  Marieta and I stormed of the theater after wasting an hour plus 15, and $24 in cash, so I can’t comment in detail about this garbage other than to spoil the fuck out of it and save anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.  Beatty, who in real life is age 80, plays Hughes when he’s about 50, which requires applying enough makeup to bronze Donald Trump for an entire month.  Hughes’ (Beatty’s) still got it, though.  Taking his cue right out of 1975’s “Shampoo” when he was at the top of his acting game and managed to bed every hot ounce of female flesh in Hollywood, the eccentric octogenarian has a sexual tryst and then later marries a 22-year-old virgin starlet (which never happened!).  Poor real Howard Hughes.  His grave must be spinning like a top, helped by all those oil drills that made him a billionaire.  This is the worst performance of anyone on screen within the last five years, and that’s really saying something since Adam Sandler has released four movies within that time frame.

 

Footnote:  Credit Jimmy Kimmel on a surprisingly strong performance as Oscar host.  I didn’t expect much, but he delivered.  

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Posted by on Feb 28, 2016 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 3 comments

Ranking the Year’s Movies from Best to Worst (2016 Academy Awards)

 

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Today would normally be a self-absorbed exhibition of passion for the annual Academy Awards presentation, taking place this evening in Hollywood.

However, for the first time in a very long while, I haven’t seen enough of the movies and performances which were nominated in each of the major categories to provide a truly fair assessment.  So this year, I’m doing something different.

I went back and looked over all the films released in 2015 and made my own list from top to bottom of those movies I viewed on the big screen.  For those interested, here’s the complete catalog of every major film released last year:  CLICK HERE.

What follows are the movies I saw in theaters (I’m biased toward the theatrical experience — giving little or no merit to watching on later on video), ranked best to worst, along with my brief comments about each film.  I also included a list of movies which were purposely avoided, in addition to those I either missed or chose not to see for other reasons.  That way, readers will know I didn’t forget some films, only that I didn’t have time to see them all:

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