"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

5th Annual Mickey™® Awards: 2018 Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: The Mickey™® Awards are much more presitigious than the Oscars, and unlike our lesser crosstown rival, we here at The Mickeys™® do not limit acceptance speech times. There will be no classless playing off by the orchestra here…mostly because we don’t have an orchestra. Regardless… expect this awards show article to last at a minimum approximately 5 hours and 48 minutes.

The ultimate awards show is upon us…are you ready? The Mickeys™® are far superior to every other award imaginable…be it the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony, the Grammy, the Pulitzer or even the Nobel. The Mickey™® is the mountaintop of not just artistic but human achievement, which is why they always take place AFTER the Oscars!

This year has been an erratic one for cinema, but with that said there are still a multitude of outstanding films eligible for a Mickey™® award. Actors, actresses, writers, cinematographers and directors are all sweating and squirming right now in anticipation of the Mickey™® nominations and winners. Remember, even a coveted Mickey™® nomination is a career and life changing event.

Before we get to what everyone is here for…a quick rundown of the rules and regulations of The Mickeys™®. The Mickeys™® are selected by me. I am judge, jury and executioner. The only films eligible are films I have actually seen, be it in the theatre, via screener, cable, Netflix or VOD. I do not see every film because as we all know, the overwhelming majority of films are God-awful, and I am a working man so I must be pretty selective. So that means that just getting me to actually watch your movie is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself…never mind being nominated or winning!

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The Prizes!! The winners of The Mickey™® award will receive one acting coaching session with me FOR FREE!!! Yes…you read that right…FOR FREE!! Non-acting category winners receive a free lunch* with me at Fatburger (*lunch is considered one "sandwich" item, one order of small fries, you aren't actors so I know you can eat carbs, and one beverage….yes, your beverage can be a shake, you fat bastards). Actors who win and don't want an acting coaching session but would prefer the lunch…can still go straight to hell…but I am legally obligated to inform you that, yes, there WILL BE SUBSTITUTIONS allowed with The Mickey™® Awards prizes. If you want to go to lunch I will gladly pay for your meal…and the sterling conversation will be entirely free of charge.

Enough with the formalities…let's start the festivities!!

Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin...

Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the fifth annual Mickey™® Awards!!!

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War - Lukasz Zal: Zal’s masterful use of a black and white with sharp contrast and his at times eye-popping framing make for exquisite visuals in Cold War that help to propel the narrative and tell the story in theri own right.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron: Cuaron’s virtuoso camera work in Roma, which includes dazzling camera movements and remarkable framing, is a master class in the art. Any single frame from this movie could hang in a photography exhibit in any of the great museums of the world.

The Favourite - Robbie Ryan: Ryan deftly uses light and darkness, especially with candles, to illuminate the dramatic sub-text in The Favourite.

If Beale Street Could Talk - James Laxton: Laxton paints this film with a striking and lush palette in this film that is gorgeous to behold.

Widows - Sean Bobbitt : Bobbitt’s framing, particularly his use of mirrors, is simply stunning and elevates this rather sub-par material.

First Man - Linus Sandgren: Sandgren’s ability to contrast the claustrophobia of space travel to the vast expanse of the moon is breathtaking and aids in giving this film a visceral element.

You Were Never Really Here - Thomas Townend: Townend’s wondrous cinematography amplifies the fever dream feeling that envelops this entire film.

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And The Mickey Goes To….ROMA - ALFONSO CUARON - This was an absolutely stacked category this year but Cuaron’s masterful work on Roma takes the award. Cuaron's cinematography on this film is stunning as he pulls off numerous, extremely difficult maneuvers with an ease and subtlety that is staggering to behold. Is Cuaron winning a Cinematography Oscar this year a big deal? Yes it is. Is Cuaron winning The Mickey™® Award for best Cinematography a bigger deal? You bet your ass it is.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

First Man : A film more about grief than space travel, this script is able to take an expansive and historical subject and reduce it into a viscerally intimate and personal film.

The Sisters Brothers : An extremely well-written narrative filled with deep symbolism and genuine humanity that turns the western genre on its head.

Leave No Trace : This script perfectly captures the powerful relationship of a young girl coming of age with a damaged father, and never falls into the trap of sentimentality or caricature.

You Were Never Really Here: Intense and disturbing, this script grabs you and pulls you into its protagonist’s tortured mind and soul and never lets you go, even when you want it to.

The Death of Stalin: An uproariously funny script that is masterfully paced and wondrously smart.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - Lynne Ramsay’s script drags us kicking and screaming into the mind of her kicking and screaming main character, Joe, and never lets us leave. A wonderfully woven nightmare of a movie that is both grotesque and gripping. Lynne Ramsay is now among the best of the best having won a Mickey™® Award.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cold War: A narrative that stretches over decades and vast swaths of Europe but with an immediate pace that never loses its sense of intimacy.

Roma: A story of a simple woman that is anything but simple. Riddled with rich symbolism and moments of magical realism, Roma is a magnificent script.

The Favourite: Darkly funny and deeply insightful, The Favourite never fails to shock, compel or intrigue.

The Quiet Place: A fascinating story that transcends genre and speaks to the larger issues of our time without ever losing its horrifyingly entertaining value.

First Reformed: An extraordinary script that seriously grapples with matters of faith, theology, philosophy and eco-politics while also being a poignant and exacting character study.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…ROMA - Alfonso Cuaron masterfully weaves a precise and detailed story of harsh realism with mysticism in this slice of life/family drama that never fails to compel. Cuaron has already won more Mickeys™® in this ceremony than other mere mortals could dream of winning in their entire lives.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams - Vice: Amy Adams is stunning as Lynne Cheney, the Lady MacBeth who is the straw that stirs the drink of Darth Cheney’s nefarious political career. This is the very best work of Ms. Adam’s stellar career.

Sakuro Ando - Shoplifters: Ando gives a mesmerizing performance as the de facto mother of this rag tag family trying to make ends meet under the oppressive boot of capitalism. A powerful yet delicate performance that is simply wondrous.

Emma Stone - The Favourite: Stone gives a delicious performance as the ambitious social climber who will do whatever it takes to survive and thrive in Queen Anne’s court. A sexy, funny and compelling piece of work.

Emily Blunt - A Quiet Place: Best Actress Mickey Award winner (for Sicario) Emily Blunt proves once again that she is not just a movie star/pretty face, but one of the very best actresses working in film today. A kinetic, immediate and stunning performance.

Claire Foy - First Man: Foy imbues her character with a frenetic and unrelenting power that bubbles just beneath her calm facade. When that power boils to the surface it brings with it a magnetic intentionality that is palpable and mesmerizing.

Rachel Weisz - The Favourite: Weisz’s use of physicality to convey her character’s intellectual and political prowess is a master class in posture and stance and is something actors should study and steal from.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…AMY ADAMS - VICE : Adams’ very first scene in Vice is the best acting I have seen by an actress on film this year. Adams’ Lynne Cheney is a force of nature and when unleashed is a sight to behold. Adams’ Lynne has an insatiable hunger for power and an arrogant streak that drives the film even if it is from the backseat. Amy Adams is a hugely rich and famous movie star, but it wasn’t until now, when she won her first Mickey™® Award, that she finally “made it”. Congratulations m’lady!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ben Foster - Leave No Trace: Foster is one of the great under rated talents of his generation and in Leave No Trace he gives yet another magnetic performance by imbuing his character with a palpable wound that torments and propels him to seek solace from it.

Sam Rockwell - Vice: Rockwell gives a delicious performance as Dubya, never falling into imitation or caricature, Rockwell turns Bush into a genuine yet damaged human being that is always compelling to watch and often times hysterically funny.

Thomas Hoult - The Favourite: In lesser hands, Hoult’s character in The Favourite, a sharp tongued and sharp elbowed dandy who plays to win the game of palace intrigue, would have been reduced to a punch line, but Hoult turns him into a dynamic presence that elevates the film considerably.

Joaquin Phoenix - The Sisters Brothers: Phoenix’s tortured character is a combustible mess who never fails to make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons but also never fails to be a compelling, unsettling and dynamic screen presence.

Jonah Hill - Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot: Hill creates an intriguing character in this film who is both a self-help bullshitter and a complicated and real human being. A subtle and finely crafted piece of acting that is a testament to Jonah Hill’s skill and commitment.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…BEN FOSTER - LEAVE NO TRACE: This is Ben Foster’s second Mickey nomination (Best Supporting Actor Hell or High Water) and first win. Foster has been known to be a rather explosive actor in the past and often thrives in roles where he is combustible, but in Leave No Trace he eschews his usual pyrotechnics for a more subdued, more nuanced and more subtle approach. Foster’s Will is an explosive character, but Foster takes all of that combustibility and stuffs it into a little furnace inside him. The furnace gets hot and even feels like it could explode, but Will fights to keep it contained and it is this struggle which makes for such a compelling and satisfying performance from Ben Foster…who rightly takes his place among the best actors of his generation with this Mickey™® award win.

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

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Thomasin McKenzie - Thomasin McKenzie is so great in Leave No Trace it is miraculous. She masterfully brings to life a teenage girl struggling to make sense of her ever changing world and also her damaged father. A deft and subtle performance, highlighted by her ability to have the impulse to cry but the skill to not let herself, McKenzie proves her worth as a vibrant and compelling actress in Leave No Trace. Much like Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in director Debra Granik’s previous film Winter’s Bone, which launched her career, McKenzie has an undeniable screen presence and a surprising level and command of craft for such a young actress. I look forward to seeing what her very bright future holds.

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale - VIce: Bale proves he is one of the very best actors working in film with his remarkable transformation into Dick Cheney. A master of physicality, Bale also is able to fill Cheney’s silences with a palpable intentionality that gives even the quietest scenes an unsettling air of menace.

John C. Reilly - The Sisters Brothers: Reilly gives the very best performance of his versatile and stellar career as the older and more sensitive of the Sisters brothers. Reilly’s well-crafted and nuanced work never falls into the trap of sentimentality and is a testament to his great talent.

Joaquin Phoenix - You Were Never Really Here: Joaquin Phoenix is may be the best actor on the planet right now and his volatile, magnetic and dynamic performance in You Were Never Really here stands as a monument to his towering talent and his mastery of craft. Phoenix creates an unsettling character suffering a Sisyphean wound that eats at his soul but never contaminates his pure heart.

Tomasz Kot - Cold War: Kot masterfully portrays a man who seems above the fray of life and then adeptly shows his unraveling and descent at the hands of love. A compelling and finely crafted piece of work that highlights Kot as both a movie star and a sublime actor.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…JOAQUIN PHOENIX - YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE: This is Joaquin Phoenix’s second nomination (Best Actor Inherent Vice) and first win. Joaquin Phoenix may be the very best actor working in film today. Phoenix is blessed with an undeniable talent and an interesting look, but what makes him so potent as an actor is his mastery of craft and exquisite skill. Phoenix never half-asses his way through a role, always committing fully to whatever is demanded. Phoenix’s work in You Were Never Really Here is as unnerving as it is glorious, as it reveals the tormented soul of a man on the edge and falling off of it. For this hypnotic and mesmerizing piece of work Joaquin Phoenix rightly takes his place atop the acting world with his much deserved Mickey™® Award.

BEST ACTRESS

Joanna Kulig - Cold War: Kulig gives an electrifying and explosive performance as an alluring Polish songstress. Kulig is like a Polish Jennifer Lawrence, charming, sexy and beguiling with a dash of danger sprinkled in. A truly mesmerizing performance.

Yalitza Aparicio - Vice: Aparicio makes her debut in Roma and could not have been better. Entirely genuine, present and grounded, Aparicio makes us feel as if she isn’t acting at all, but those of us in the know realize she is doing incredible and complicated work.

Olivia Colman - The Favourite: A deliriously delicious performance that is both funny and poignant. Colman won an Oscar for her dazzling work in the film, but being nominated for a Mickey trumps winning an Oscar…this is a fact.

Thomasin McKenzie - Leave No Trace: The winner of the presitgious Breakthrough award, McKenzie is one to watch as her work in Leave No Trace proves. A finely crafted and intricate performance that shows an actress with a refined skill set and in command of her craft.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…JOANNA KULIG - COLD WAR: This is Joanna Kulig’s first nomination and first win. Joanna Kulig is an intoxicating screen presence in Cold War and she expertly makes the audience fall in love with her even while keeping them at an arm’s length. This performance is so dynamic as to be glorious and is a pure joy to watch even when things take a darker turn. Masterfully crafted and palpably brought to life, Joanna Kulig’s work in Cold War gives her the highest honor an actress can ever receive…The Mickey™® Award.

BEST ENSEMBLE

Vice: Christian Bale and Amy Adams give career best performances in this uneven film and are joined in their sublime acting by Sam Rockwell and even Steve Carrell. Across the board this film is blessed with top-notch talent doing high level work.

The Favourite: A cornucopia of delectable performances make The Favorite a delicious joy to behold. Boasting four Mickey™® acting nominees, The Favourite is an actor’s delight.

The Death of Stalin: A cavalcade of talent lends their skill to this phenomenal dark comedy. Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffery Tambor are among the multitude of actors who shine in this movie. A very skilled and very deep cast.

The Sister Brothers: The four actors in this film, John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed all give nuanced, layered and standout performances in this alt-western gem. Reilly and Phoenix in particular have a crackling chemistry that is a pure pleasure to watch.

Shoplifters: A wonderful cast which includes Mickey™® nominee Sanduro Ando, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka and the late Kirin Kiki. All of the actors in this film, including the child actors, do tremendous and very complex work.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…THE FAVOURITE - Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult give stellar performances in The Favourite that are intoxicatingly funny and layered. When you put a collection of talent this strong with a director of such vision, great things happen…like winning a Best Ensemble Mickey™® Award!! I am truly looking forward to this cast claiming their award and joining me for a feast fit for a Queen at Fatburger!

BEST DIRECTOR

Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War: A stunning piece of film making that is concise, precise and beautiful. An achingly beautiful yet complicated love story set in the shadow of European history that never takes a misstep.

Alfonso Cuaron - Roma: Cuaron’s masterpiece is a piece of virtuoso film making that is undeniably compelling and viscerally heartbreaking. At once a beautifully shot piece of magical realism as well as an earnestly told and acted slice of life. A simply stunning and unforgettable piece of work.

Hirokazu Koreada - Shoplifters: A finely crafted film that never lets you go and haunts you for weeks after seeing. An exceedingly well directed film that boasts top notch performances from a big cast of actors.

Lynne Ramsay - You Were never Really Here: This film is a disturbing and unrelenting fever dream and character study that draws you in and refuses to let you go. Both visually and dramatically dynamic, this movie is a testament to Lynne Ramsay’s talent and vision.

Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite: Lanthimos has been nominated twice before for a Mickey™® and is proving himself as one of the great and original filmmakers of our time. The Favourite is proof of Lanthimos’ great ability and intriguing style.

Debra Granik - Leave No Trace: Granik is one of those understated directors that often gets overlooked. She has the increasingly rare skill of coaxing terrific performances from actors without surrounding them with cinematic pyrotechnics. A highly skilled, old school director who puts character and drama before spectacle.

AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…ALFONSO CUARON - ROMA: This is a loaded category but Cuaron has made a personal film that is universal in its beauty and insight. A gorgeous movie to look at and a heart breakingly human story make for a glorious piece of cinema. Cuaron has established himself as the auteur of our times with this masterpiece and with his unprecedented 3 Mickey™® Awards tonight!

ACTOR/ACTRESS OF THE YEAR - JOAQUIN PHOENIX

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Joaquin Phoenix gives three stellar performances this year in the films You Were Never Really Here, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and The Sisters Brothers. All of these performances were intricate, delicate, dynamic and magnetic and show him to be a master craftsman as well as a transcendent artist. Few actors have ever churned out three performances of this caliber in their career, never mind in one year…and it is for this reason that Mr. Joaquin Phoenix wins the prestigious, and first ever, Actor/Actress of the year Mickey™® Award.

BEST COMEDY OF THE YEAR - TIE BETWEEN THE FAVOURITE & THE DEATH OF STALIN

Two dark and exceedingly hilarious films, that boast rapturously glorious and deep casts, and speak volumes about the corrupting influence of power in history and today. In dark times, these two films bless us with their morbid but enlightening humor mixed with drama that make for spectacular cinema.

BEST BLOCKBUSTER OF THE YEAR - A QUIET PLACE

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A Quiet Place came out of nowhere to dominate the box office and to open my eyes. Who knew that Jim from The Office, otherwise known as John Krasinski, could be such a great writer, director and leading man? A Quiet Place isn’t just a fantastically well-made, finely-crafted, heart pounding and stomach churning horror/thriller, it is also an insightful commentary on our current culture. A remarkable and entertaining film that is both scary and smart and that beat out other blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Ready Player One, who all won the box office battle but lost the prestige war to A Quiet Place, the first ever Mickey™® Blockbuster of the Year award winner.

BEST PICTURE

10. HAPPY AS LAZZARRO - A magical movie that uses the mystical to peal back the scab of capitalism and exposes the gangrenous wound festering underneath.

9. LEAVE NO TRACE - This film poignantly reveals that genuine masculinity is dying in America. Subtly directed and marvelously acted, Leave No Trace is an understated gem.

8. A QUIET PLACE - A shockingly good movie that is extremely well-crafted. This movie was so well-made I exhaled a breath of relief when it was over…and I wasn’t even consciously aware I had been partially holding my breath the whole time.

7. THE DEATH OF STALIN - A masterful comedy with an exquisite cast that is perfectly paced and precisely acted.

6. THE SISTERS BROTHERS - A film that challenges conventions and overturns genres, The Sisters Brothers was an overlooked piece of gold.

5. SHOPLIFTERS - This movie is haunting as it stayed with me for weeks after seeing it. An insightful that challenges us to question what we think we know about our world and ourselves.

4. THE FAVOURITE - A top notch cast and a daring director combine to make a rabidly funny mediation on the intoxicating and corrupting sway of power.

3. COLD WAR - A gloriously shot, extremely well-acted and well-directed film that is so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic.

2. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - This film is an electrifying and pulsating fever dream of a movie that transports us into its lead character twisted mind and never lets us go. A masterfully directed and acted film that shows the moral decay on the soul of America.

1. ROMA - A true masterpiece, impeccably shot and directed. Alfonso Cuaron brings his artistic vision to life with such originality and technical skill that it is a marvel to behold. Cuaron has a lot of Fatburger meals waiting for him after winning an unprecedented FOUR Mickey™® Awards tonight!

MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF THE YEAR - THE FAVOURITE, VICE, THE DEATH OF STALIN AND YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

What could these four seemingly disparate films have in common that could make them the most important films of the year? The answer is that they are all meditations or contemplations on corruption.

In The Favourite and The Death of Stalin we see those who get closer to power losing their minds and distorting or ignoring reality just to stay in close proximity to power. If this doesn’t reflect the current state of Washington and the establishment media, nothing does.

In Vice we see the full arc of corruption when the same type of sycophants on display in The Favourite and The Death of Stalin finally finagle their way into the top spot and unleash their power on to innocents across the globe.

And in You Were Never Really Here we see the how the moral and ethical cancer that infects those in the power structure, compels the ruling elite to seek out the innocent in order to satiate their depraved desires and pass on their sickness by devouring the purity of the next generation.

All fo these films high mirror back to us the sickened world in which we live. As far fetched as the narrative in You Were Never Really Here may seem, a cursory glance at the news will reveal that it is not as fictional as we would like to believe. Whether it be the Catholic church and its never ending sex abuse scandals or Bryan Singer and the pervasive pedophilia in Hollywood or Jeffrey Epstein and his Lolita Express that exposes Washington’s elite sexual abuse of young people, this issue is very very real.

These stories are not the whole ugly truth, they are but the tip of a repulsive iceberg. If you think the Catholic church is the only institution to sexually prey upon young people, you are a fool. If you think Bryan Singer is the only Hollywood power player to systematically sexually exploit young people, you’re an even bigger fool. And if you think the Lolita Express is the last word on Washington depravity, you are the biggest fool of all.

The moral and ethical corruption on display in these films and in these scandals are epidemic in American culture. Corruption doesn’t just infect institutions but also individuals. When the powerfully depraved and the depraved powerful control the levers of power then truth gets perverted and reality itself comes under assault….this is America in 2019.

The Favourite, The Death of Stalin, Vice and You Were Never Really Here shows us that the corrupting influence of power has made the world mad (crazy), which in turn has made the world mad (angry). This anger and this madness combine to create an unstoppable force, a vortex of spiritual, mental, emotional and political insanity, that will eventually gather more and more momentum until it destroys absolutely everything in its path.

We aren’t at this tipping point just yet…the despicable Dick Cheney is still allowed to live free and walk the streets of America without fear of someone bludgeoning his brains out with a hammer. Donald Trump, the Queen Anne of our times, still skates through life without a care. Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, act like a modern-day version of Beria, Khrushchev and Melenkov as scramble to hold up the illusion of democracy in the wake of America’s death, all while feeding at the corporate trough like the insatiable pigs that they are.

That said, it does become clearer and clearer as every moment passes that this shit house is a tinder box that is going to go up flames. So the time is fast approaching when we will have to grab our ball peen hammers and get to work...the ruling elite are a target rich environment…we will have a lot of smashing to do.

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On that upbeat note…WHO’S READY FOR SOME FATBURGER!!

And thus we conclude our 5th annual Mickey Awards™®!!! Thank you for reading. I appreciate all my readers, their support and openness to debate and discussion!! We’ll see you next year at The Mickeys™®!!

And tune in later this week for the shadow of The Mickey™®, the Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards!!

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©2019

The Favourite: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.35 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A very dark, arthouse comedy set in the early 1700’s that speaks to the absurdity of the world in which we live today.

The Favourite, written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is the story of palace intrigue in early 1700’s England as two cousins, Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, conspire to out do one another in an attempt to be the favorite of Queen Anne. The film stars Emma Stone as Abigail, Rachel Weisz and Sarah and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne, with a supporting turn from Nicholas Hoult as Robert Harley.

As I have said repeatedly over the last few weeks, 2018 has been a rather tepid year for cinema, but finally, after the recent ill-exectued visual art house bombast of the highly anticipated At Eternity’s Gate and the messy mainstream misfire of the even more highly anticipated Widows, I have come upon a film worthy of my cinematic attentions and affections. That movie is The Favourite.

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Director Yorgos Lanthimos has directed two previous films that I have seen, The Lobster (2015) and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), both of which were exceedingly dark, at times laceratingly funny, uncomfortably insightful and strikingly original. Lanthimos’ ability to make the off-beat and absurd, not just palatable but penetratingly profound, elevated those two movies onto my list of best films of the year.

Thankfully, Lanthimos is up to his old tricks with The Favourite, as he coaxes deliciously powerful performances from his three leading ladies, Stone, Weisz and Colman, all while putting on a master class in verbal sparring, physical comedy and visual storytelling.

The crazy thing about The Favourite is that it made me laugh out loud on occasion due to the absurdity of it all, but it wasn’t until after seeing the movie and reading about the story, that I discovered it is based on a true story…which makes it all the more absurd…and also makes it extraordinarily prescient in regards to our current political moment.

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Watching Stone’s Abigail and Weisz’s Sarah jockey for position and using ever more outlandish tactics to get their way in order to have the Queen’s ear, made me think of the pervasive palace intrigue of Trump’s soap opera White House. Sarah and Abigail could be Ivanka and Kellyanne or Jared and John Kelly or Sarah Sanders and The Mooch or any of the myriad of other miscreants who, in an attempt to warm their hands at the hearth of presidential power, have latched themselves onto the mad king currently sitting on the throne.

Speaking of which, Olivia Colman gives a deliriously Trumpian performance as the rabidly insecure, emotionally incontinent, childless and widowed Queen Anne. Queen Anne is blissfully uninformed, ill-informed and disengaged when it comes to politics and governance…sound familiar? Colman’s Queen Anne is, for all intents and purposes, an entitled basket case (again, sound familiar?), so for Sarah and Abigail, manipulating the erratic sovereign takes a deft hand and a decidedly strong stomach.

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The Favourite is also relevant not just for political reasons but for cultural ones as well, as Queen Anne’s court and kingdom have a glaring lack, and a desperate need, for traditional masculinity…there are no warriors here, only connivers. The women, such as Sarah and Abigail, are the ones with power, close to power and jockeying for power, while the men, all impotent and effeminate dandies, are little more than pieces on a chess board for the women who rule the roost to manipulate. These “men” are not only emasculated but embrace their emasculation, and are thus reduced to being second rate women as opposed to first rate men, this is evidenced by Nicholas Hoult’s small but truly stellar performance as Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer.

The sex in The Favourite, whether it be in the court of Queen Anne or in a filthy brothel, is, in keeping with the grander theme, entirely transactional. Even when men are involved there is no actual penetration when it comes to consummation, for the fairer sex prefers to keep these perfumed and powdered geldings literally at an arm’s length during carnal interactions. In the female dominated world of The Favourite, the only body part used for penetration is the tongue…and it is very effective.

Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan do a masterful job using light and darkness to illuminate the rich sub-text in The Favourite. Ryan’s use of candles is particularly sublime, as he creates a crisp vision of light dancing in a sea of darkness, symbolic of the perils of swimming in the black oceans of power where danger lurks just out of sight and where your humanity, your name and your future can be snuffed out at a moments notice.

Ryan’s framing and Lanthimos’ embrace of animals as sub-text and storytelling devices work hand in hand and are both extremely well done. For instance, Lanthimos’ and Ryan wisely use the symbolically vital seventeen rabbits in Queen Anne’s room as notable backdrops for certain important scenes and although it is very subtle, it is extremely effective.

The performances in The Favourite are stellar across the board. Stone, Weisz and Colman all deserve Oscar nominations for their complex and thoughtful portrayals of what could have been caricatures in lesser hands.

As previously mentioned, Colman is particularly mesmerizing as the petulant Queen who fluctuates between being a tantruming toddler and a vengeful tyrant. Colman gives Queen Anne a remarkable depth, and makes her clownish antics both pained and somehow poignant.

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Rachel Weisz is a force to be reckoned with as Sarah, and make no mistake about it, she literally and figuratively wears the pants in Queen Anne’s court. Weisz’s Sarah is the cunning and compelling brains behind the throne. Weisz’s impeccable use of her physicality to convey Sarah’s strength and determination brings a forceful element to the power dynamic of the Anne-Abigail-Sarah narrative.

Where Sarah is vulnerable though, is where Emma Stone’s Abigail strikes. Stone’s Abigail is more feminine than Sarah, but equally vicious when it comes to getting what she wants. Stone’s performance is beguiling as she taps into a darker and more overtly sexual side as Abigail than we have ever seen from her before, and it suits her nicely. Stone’s natural charm makes her Abigail all the more adept at manipulating the Queen and in turn, the audience.

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I would argue that The Favourite may be Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Stone’s greatest performance to date. I also think Olivia Colman deserves to be nominated and maybe even win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, for her remarkable work as Queen Anne. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of Stone and Weisz get nominations as well as they are certainly worthy.

Politically The Favourite teaches us that being a slave to your ambitions ultimately leaves you a slave. I think Jared Kushner, Don Jr., Michael Cohen and the rest of the Trump bootlicking groupies will understand this film more than most as it highlights the degradation, humiliation, inherit myopia and associated dangers involved in doing anything and everything to gain favor with power. As the film and the actual real life events that inspired it show, the long game, if you have the strategic mind, testicular fortitude and vigilant patience for it, is a much more complicated, complex and ultimately rewarding venture than just being a sycophantic ass-kissing lackey.

In conclusion, The Favourite is a dark and delightful treat of an art house film. I believe the film is worthy of your time and energy to see in the theatre in order to enjoy not only Colman, Stone and Weisz’s performances but Robbie Ryan’s exquisite cinematography. I also think it is worth seeing for no other reason than to get a glimpse of what is no doubt the absurdist black comedy playing out behind the scenes right now in the epicenter of buffoonery known as the Trump White House.

©2018

Thoughts on the Academy Awards

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Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes 02 seconds

Well the Oscars are finally over, thank the Good Lord, and I thought I would share some very brief thoughts on the big night. 

- The Oscar telecast was awful…but it is ALWAYS awful. The show is ALWAYS too long, montages are ALWAYS moronic, and the comedy bits are ALWAYS idiotic. The Oscars are almost a parody of themselves at this point, and so the only thing that matters are the awards. I think they should actually expand the number of awards and have more technical awards and more in-depth filmmaking stuff like that…but I love cinema so I am probably in the minority on that. 

- Most of the speeches were fine this year. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell's, Allison Janney's, Gary Oldman's and Guillermo del Toro's speeches, and the editors and costume guy were good too. I admire people who are composed, graceful and grateful when they are accepting awards, which to me doesn't seem like a whole lot to ask. 

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- I disliked Frances McDormand's speech a great deal. I thought McDormand came across as entirely graceless and ungrateful. I would tell Ms. McDormand to act like she's been there before because you know…she has been there before. Her demand that every female nominee stand up was playing to type and remarkably asinine and tiresome. The cry for people to demand "Inclusion Riders" was annoying as well. How about this, instead of demanding "inclusivity", "diversity" or "equality" in a cast and crew, why not demand straight up quality regardless of race or gender instead…what a novel idea!!

- Emma Stone's introduction of the Best Director category was equally graceless and repulsive. Stone said in effect, here are the four men and Greta Gerwig. It was a classless thing to do, especially considering the fact that she said it as an identity politics rallying cry but ignored the fact that Jordan Peele, one of only five African-American nominees ever in the category, and Guillermo del Toro, a Mexican immigrant, were among the male director nominees she insulted. Obviously, I find the identity politics horseshit to be so stupid and self-defeating as to be amazing, but the hypocrisy of people like Emma Stone is what makes it all even more daft. I wonder how Ms. Stone would've felt if last year at the Oscar's the presenter for her Best Actress award said, "Here are four White actresses and Ruth Negga". Probaby not so great. 

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- As I expected, Kobe Bryant won Best Animated Short for his shitty tribute to himself, Dear Basketball. He got a huge ovation from the Oscar crowd, which proves that the #MeToo and Times Up stuff is all a big self-serving show. Go read about Kobe and the details of his rape case in Colorado, and how there were more women than just the one who came forward. Then watch the standing ovation he got Oscar night. The fact that Casey Affleck couldn't even show his face at this year's awards but Kobe is celebrated is insane. Hollywood is full of lying, hypocritical scumbags…but "Inclusion Rider!!" Yay!!!

- Jimmy Kimmel is not my cup of tea, but he is proficient at hosting the awards, and that is to his credit. If he could stop with the bits where he takes celebrities to meet regular people, then he'd be a much better host. 

- I was extremely pleased that The Shape of Water won Best Picture over Get Out, which I thought would win due to identity politics. The Shape of Water is a considerably heftier film than many of its Oscar critics would allow, and Get Out is a considerably more flimsy film than its Oscar critics would ever dare admit. 

- I was very pleased that an overrated sitcom of a movie like Lady Turd…oops, I mean Lady Bird, was shut out. It is always satisfying when the undeserving get what they truly deserve. Greta Gerwig is a media darling, but the reality is that she is not a good writer or director. Ms. Gerwig can fool some of the people, some of the time, but she can't fool everybody, all of the time. Time caught up with Ms. Gerwig and her underwhelming movie. 

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- The ratings for the Oscars were apparently way down again this year, and in response there is a lot of talk of Black Panther getting nominated next year. This is absurd. If Black Panther is one of the ten best films of 2018…they should shut down Hollywood forever. And what these "Black Panther should be nominated" folks don't get is that the nature of watching the Oscars, like all tv watching, has changed. It has nothing to do with big blockbusters getting nominated, it has to do with the fact that most people can't sit still to watch a thirty minute sitcom, never mind a four hour industry homage to itself. In addition, for a variety of reasons there are no true movie stars anymore, so no one is going to tune in to see the big names like in the old days, when Jack Nicholson was ruling the earth. If you are going to nominate Black Panther in an attempt to get higher ratings, you might as well nominate all of the Kardashians as well, it would make as much sense, both artistically and business wise. 

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- My favorite story highlighting imbecility at the Oscars is the one about Emma Watson's "Times Up" tattoo. What makes the tattoo so amusing is that it lacks an apostrophe…it should say "Time's Up". What a wonderful representation of all the poseurs in corporate Hollywood pretending to be in some sort of fierce resistance. It is also faintly reminiscent of the Clinton campaign's slogan "Love Trumps Hate", which is totally different if you add an apostrophe…"Love Trump's Hate". Regardless, both Watson's tattoo and Clinton's slogan made me laugh because I think Watson's time may in fact be up…and Clinton supporters aren't even aware of it, but they actually do love Trump's hate. 

- I did much better on my Oscar picks this year than I did last year, but I still wasn't perfect. I won my Oscar pool of course, extending my record-setting, DiMaggio-esque streak. As I said, I was extremely pleased that The Shape of Water won Best Picture and not Get Out, even though that screwed my pick percentage, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

 - Well, the Oscars are over but they are just a warm-up act for the biggest award of them all which are coming this week. This is the official notice that the Mickey™® Awards, THE most prestigious of all the awards on the entire planet, will be announced later this week!! Take a deep breath and try to contain your excitement…for the Mickeys™® are on the way!!

©2018

 

 

The Whitewashing Controversy

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Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 18 seconds

HELLBOY IN HELL

Last week, Ed Skrein, an up and coming actor best known for his work as the villain in Deadpool, dropped out of the role for which he was cast in the remake of Hellboy, after charges of "whitewashing" were made against the producers of the film on social media. You may be asking yourself…what is whitewashing? Well, whitewashing is when White actors are cast in traditionally non-White character roles. In the case of Hellboy, Ed Skrein is a White actor and his character Ben Daimio is Japanese-American in the original comic book source material. 

Once the Hellboy whitewashing uproar gained some steam on social networks, Skrein dropped out of the role stating, “I accepted the role unaware that the character in the original comics was of mixed Asian heritage. There has been intense conversation and understandable upset since that announcement, and I must do what I feel is right.”

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Skrein continued, “Representation of ethnic diversity is important, especially to me as I have a mixed heritage family,” he said (Skrein is of Austrian-Jewish and English descent). “It is our responsibility to make moral decisions in difficult times and give voice to inclusivity.”

From a public relations standpoint, this is a masterstroke by Skrein. He turned a story that was potentially damaging to his career into one that makes him out to be the hero. As for the repercussions of Skrein's decision on the wider world in general, and Hollywood in particular, I am skeptical that his kowtowing to the anti-whitewashing mob is a positive maneuver. 

THE WITCHES OF WHITEWASHING AND MICKEY ROONEY SUCKS

Whitewashing has been a hot topic in Hollywood of late, as a string of high profile White women have been cast in Asian roles or that had Asian women in the source material. The three most notable were when Scarlett Johannsen was cast as the lead in Ghost in the Shell to play a character that was Asian in the source material, Tilda Siwnton was cast in a role that in the comic book was a male Asian guru in Dr. Strange, and Emma Stone was cast as a woman who was 1/4 Hawaiin and 1/4 Chinese in Cameron Crowe's Aloha.

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Whitewashing is not to be confused with "yellow face", which is when a White actor plays an Asian character and wears make up to simulate Asian characteristics. Yellowface is to Asians as Blackface is to Blacks, it is a highly offensive and aggressive way to demean and diminish a minority through caricature and stereotype. The most famous instance of yellow face is Mickey Rooney's cringe-worthy performance in Breakfast at Tiffanys, but other famous actors, including Marlon Brando and Katherine Hepburn, have done it as well. And it wasn't just back in the 50's and 60's either, as recently as 1992 Jonathon Pryce starred on the London stage wearing yellow face in Miss Saigon.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT AND STATISTICAL REALITY

In terms of whitewashing, the theory behind people's resistance to it is entirely understandable. As long as Hollywood has been in existence, the majority of roles have been for White actors, and for a good portion of that time minority actors were systematically discriminated against, so casting Whites in potentially minority roles doesn't sit very well with some people. That historical context is important to keep in mind when addressing the whitewashing issue, and it easily explains the perception that White actors are still cast at disproportionately high rates compared to minority actors. That being said, while the conventional wisdom is that there is an imbalance towards Whites in casting, the statistical reality does not match up with that perception.

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Whites are certainly cast in the overwhelming majority of roles, but that isn't due to racism, but more likely because Whites make up the overwhelming majority of the U.S. (and English speaking world's) population. Some statistics jump out at me in regards to casting and population in terms of race and ethnicity. For instance, an Annenberg study found that Asians are cast in 5.1% of roles in film and television, which doesn't seem like much, but, according to the American Community Survey in the 2010 U.S. Census, Asians make up 5.1% of the U.S. general population. This shows that Asians are not under represented in casting, but in fact, are perfectly represented. The same is also true of Black actors, who are cast in 12.2% of roles and make up 12.4% of the U.S. population. These statistics show that contrary to popular opinion, Asian and Black actors are not under represented. 

In addition, a further look at the Annenberg study shows that White actors are not over represented according to their population percentage, but slightly under represented. According to the Annenberg study, Whites are cast in 71.7 % of roles and the census tells us that Whites account for 73% of the population. This seems counter intuitive to many people, but it is accurate, at least according to the Annenberg study and the census.

REVERSE RACISM? SO WHAT!

The question remains though, do any of these statistics matter in regard to the whitewashing controversy? The casting pendulum, so long on the White side of things, has swung away from White dominance in the last few decades, and now casts people (at least Asian, Black and White people) at relatively the same rate as their population percentage. This is a positive thing, but the fact that some people still perceive an imbalance towards Whites creates an atmosphere where whitewashing accusations resonate. 

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The problem with claims of whitewashing, is that they push the pendulum beyond the center sweet spot of equality, with its embrace of a meritocracy, to a position of identity/inclusivity, where an actors ethnicity or race trump questions of talent and skill. This identity/inclusivity approach is just as unfair as a White dominated approach, and is ultimately cancerous in the wider culture as it brings with it a backlash in the form of White resentment and in some cases, even White supremacy. 

Many people would say, "so what?" to charges that identity/inclusivity angers White people because it is a form of reverse racism. Some people I have spoken to on the subject tell me that White people are racists or have an inherit privilege, so they deserve to be shortchanged for once. I get the sentiment, I do, it is entirely understandable in historical context, but the problem with that kind of thinking is it is entirely emotionally driven and not rational. Shortchanging White actors because they are White may be emotionally rewarding in the moment, but in the long run it is not only unfair to White actors, but undermines talented minority artists and diminishes artistic quality across the board.

IS WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE WHITE GOOSE, GOOD FOR THE MINORITY GANDER?

An example of this can be found in the Skrein case where, according to the producer, he was cast not because he was White, but because he gave the best audition. Merit is why he was chosen, not race, and replacing him with an ethnically "appropriate" actor who was not as good, will reduce the quality of the film. But for those crying "whitewashing", merit has no appeal in casting decisions, only identity/inclusivity matters. Again, this approach may feel emotionally gratifying at the moment, but it is intellectually incoherent, and ultimately counter productive for minority actors when taken to its logical conclusion. For instance, if, as those crying whitewashing wish, we base casting decisions solely on the identity of the character in the source material, then no minority actor would ever be able to do classical theatre like Shakespeare (with Othello being the notable exception), Chekhov or Ibsen and Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams would be off the table as well.

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Identity casting is much like identity politics, it is a double edged sword. When democrats make politics about identity, then not only will minorities respond to that siren's call, but White people will embrace their identity as well, and like it or not, White people are the overwhelming majority of America. In casting, this slavish embrace of identity can, and most likely will, come back to haunt those who celebrate it. An example of this was seen when Edward Albee's estate refused to let a theatre company do a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? with a Black cast member. People were outraged by this decision and charges of racism soon followed, but Albee's argument (through his esate, Albee died in 2016) was that the play is about White people, and a Black actor would distort the meaning of the play. This is the flip side of the same argument that the whitewashing crowd uses against Scarlett Johannsen playing the lead in Ghost in the Shell

The reality is that many minority actors have gotten jobs not despite of their ethnicity, but because of it. Many theatre companies are compelled to use diverse casts in order to get grants and funding and it is in their best interest in some cases to eschew a more talented White actor in favor of a less talented minority actor, in order to get that funding. The same is true of tv shows and films, because contrary to what "whitewashing" critics think, networks, studios and producers desperately want diverse casts. This leads to minority actors actually having a slight advantage in the casting process, not a disadvantage, due to their non-White identity.  

The bigger problem, beyond claims of whitewashing, is the mania and hysteria brought on by our current addiction to identity, be it in casting or politics. This hysteria showed its face with the vapid #OscarsSoWhite campaign over the alleged racism of the Academy Awards. Just like claims of whitewashing, claims of Oscar racism are emotionally driven as well, and are proven false by statistical analysis. (see that statistical reality here).

CRY RACISM, AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR

Another story from last week that highlights the corrosive effect our current identity/inclusivity mania and hysteria has on Hollywood and our culture, was when actress Chloe Bennet, best known for her role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played the role of victim when she said that Hollywood is racist. Bennet, whose real last name is Wang, is of Taiwanese descent, and when someone questioned her for changing her Taiwanese last name, her defense was that she changed her name because "Hollywood is racist." This episode is a wonderful study in how identity politics and casting will devour those that cling to them. 

To start with, Ms. Bennet was smart enough to sense that she was going to be the victim of the same mob that attacked Hellboy and Ed Skrein when asked about her name change. The left is great at eating their own, and Ms. Bennet knew to throw them some red meat or she would be the next meal. In order to avoid the consequences/shame of her name change, Bennet took the cheap and cynical way out by crying racism, which seems to be the only way many liberals can argue these days, and claimed she never got cast in anything until she changed her name. Of course, the charge is vacuous at best, and insidious at worst.

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Are there racists in Hollywood? Sure, there are racists in all walks of life. But did Ms. Bennet not get cast prior to her name change because of racism? To think that anyone would care if an actress had the last name of Wang as opposed to Bennet is the height of absurdity. Casting people don't give a rat's ass about your last name, usually only your fame, talent and your attractiveness. Ms. Bennet did not become more or less attractive or talented with a different last name. Ms. Bennet basically admitted her reasoning was circumspect when she said, "Changing my last name doesn’t change the fact that my blood is half-Chinese, that I lived in China, speak Mandarin, or that I was culturally raised both American and Chinese". Yes, her name is different but she still looks exotic and not pasty White, so if Hollywood was racist they would discriminate against her for how she looked, not her last name. 

Ms. Bennet's cries of racism, besides being self-serving, were counter productive, not only in Hollywood, but in America. It is statistical fact that Asians are cast at exactly the same rate that they make up the population, so there is no casting bias against them. Yet by crying racism, Ms. Bennet diminishes the power of that charge, and undermines and belittles the struggles of people who are truly suffering under the torment of racism and injustice in the real world. 

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. STRANGE

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An example of the intellectual inconsistencies of the anti-whitewashing crowd was also on display when Tilda Swinton was cast in Dr. Strange. Swinton's character, the Ancient One, is a Tibetan man in the comic books, and the reason the producers cast a White, middle-aged woman in the role was because they explicitly wanted to avoid any racial stereotypes, such as the Fu Manchu - Asian man, stereotype. The anti-whitewashing crowd got up in arms about it anyway. Apparently Asian men are higher on the victim scale than White woman, which will come as a terrible shock to many of the White women I know in Hollywood who proudly wear the hat of victimhood like a crown. 

Further making the Dr. Strange case intellectually incoherent, was the fact that in order to have a more diverse cast, the producers cast Chiwetel Ejiofor, a Black actor, in a role that was a White character in the original source material. Apparently, slavish adherence to source material only matters when White actors are cast in minority roles and not vice versa.

BREAKING NEWS: THE BRITISH ARE PASTY WHITE

The identity/inclusivity mania and hysteria was even on full display this summer regarding the film Dunkirk. The film, set in 1942, tells the story of the British army and their emergency evacuation from Dunkirk, France in world war two. The cast of the film is almost entirely White, which is completely in keeping with the historical facts of the story, yet controversy swirled around the film for not having a diverse cast. USA Today's reviewer, Brian Truitt, commented about the film's lack of minorities in his review by writing, “the fact that there are only a couple of women and no lead actors of color may rub some the wrong way". Not surprisingly, right wing writers had a field day at Truitt's expense, turning what some thought was a molehill of a comment into a mountain of political correctness. 

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In response to the right-wing backlash against Truitt's review, Jason Wilson, a writer at the Guardian, wrote a piece decrying the right wing outrage as being manufactured nonsense because no person in their right mind would be bothered by Dunkirk's racial make up. Wilson's piece makes pains to point out that the right wing is itching for a culture war over Dunkirk, but none exists. Then a week later, Sunny Singh, a writer at the Guardian, wrote a piece directly in contrast to her compatriot Wilson by decrying Dunkirk's unabashed whitewashing and lack of Black faces. The cherry on top of the unintentional comedy of Singh's article is that Dunkirk actually does have some Black faces in it, the same ones she longs for in her piece. 

The whole Dunkirk episode, and most of the cries of whitewashing or racism, are exhausting because they are so bloated with the wine (or is it whine?) of emotion, and are thirsting for even a drop of the rational. But sadly, in this emotionalist age in which we live, this is the nonsense that captures our imaginations. 

LIBERTE, EGALITE, FRATERNITE

In a perfect world, we would live under the rule of equality, where meritocracy reigns supreme, and as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, people would be judged by the content of their character, or in this case, their ability, talent and skill, instead of their ethnic or racial identity. I certainly hope that we get there one day, but I am not nearly as optimistic as Dr. King. If history and human nature is any guide, with our current pendulum swing beyond the center where equality lives, into the deeper realm where cries of whitewashing and imaginary racism are not only accepted but encouraged, then the inevitable swing back away from that will go into even darker and more perilous waters than I care to consider. 

In our current age of emotionalism, people of all races and ethnicities do not value merit, or talent, or content of character, as much as they care about identity and instant gratification. This rise of this Church of Identity brings with it dangers, and one of those dangers now resides in the White House. If we are going to make things about identity, then we can expect to feel the wrath of the majority identity in America…White people. The resurgence of White identity, and White supremacy, is a direct result of the emotionally-driven, factually unsubstantiated claims made by those decrying White privilege where no privilege exists. As the Annenberg study and the census proves, this is the case in regards to the casting of television and film. 

When viewed within the troubling historical context of White domination in casting and the vicious arrogance and repulsive racism of yellow face, it is understandable that some, if not most, Asian actors and their supporters, would find the story of a White actor, like Ed Skrein, losing a job simply because he is White, emotionally satisfying, but that doesn't mean it is logical, rational, fair or right. Sadly, the whitewashing controversy is just another sign of our troubled and troubling times.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying Hollywood is a wonderful place filled with rainbows and puppy dogs where people are treated kindly and fairly…it isn't and they aren't. Make no mistake, Hollywood is an absolutely awful place where people are routinely and systematically dehumanized, diminished, exploited and victimized. That said, it is apparent to me that  Hollywood, with its unquenchable hunger for money and power, treats everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, equally like shit.

 

©2017

 

La La Land : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes and 44 seconds

My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars.

My Recommendation : SEE IT. Take the time and effort and go see it in the theatre as it is a very enjoyable film.

La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle, is the story of Sebastian, a struggling jazz musician and Mia, an aspiring actress, who meet and fall in love in Los Angeles. The film stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone with supporting turns by John Legend and Rosemary DeWitt.

La La Land is one of those movies that critics and layman alike will all undoubtedly describe as "charming and delightful". A big reason why they will describe it as "charming and delightful' is because it really is "charming and delightful". As cynical as I am, and goodness knows I am very cynical when it comes to Hollywood, La La Land with its vibrantly contagious spirit, was able to break through any resistance I had to it and will most likely breakthrough with other, less jaded viewers as well.

A major factor in La La Land's charm and delightfulness are the two leads. Both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are incredibly likable actors and they are at their most agreeable as Sebastian and Mia. For as handsome as Gosling is, and he is impossibly handsome, he is somehow able to play a somewhat abrasive, jazz-purist oddball with a remarkably grounded appeal and subtle charisma. Emma Stone gives an enchantingly strong performance as Mia, the under-employed actress and barista. Stone is able to exude an inner vivacious luminosity that gives her an undeniable magnetism and presence on screen. The fact is, both of these actors are so enjoyable together and have such electric chemistry, that you could watch them banter, flirt and perform with each other for days on end. 

The script and the direction are very well done by Damien Chazelle, who proved with his last film, the critically-acclaimed Whiplash, that he is a formidable filmmaking talent. Once again Chazelle has music in general, and jazz in particular, at the center of his story. Chazelle is really gifted at visually portraying music and musicians in a genuine and realist way, which many filmmakers fail to accomplish. Chazelle's camera becomes just another instrument in the band and another partner in the dance, making the entire film not just a musical, but a piece of musical art, a piece of dance art and piece of cinematic art all at once. Cinematographer Linus Sandgren  paints the Los Angeles of La La Land with a lush and gorgeous palette, creating a vivid and intoxicating dreamscape.

The dance numbers in La La Land are pretty remarkable in that they are almost all done in one take, which is no small feat with such complicated blocking. The thing to realize as you watch La La Land's musical numbers is that Chazelle doesn't use a static camera, like they did in say the Oscar winning musical Chicago, so not only must the choreography of the dancers and performers be perfect, but the choreography of the camera must be integrated as well.

La La Land is a staggering technical accomplishment when you take the intricacies of the musical numbers and the filmmaking process into account. It is also a truly unique and original piece of work that manages to pay homage to the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear yet also reinvents that genre with a new, sort of everyman, millennial day-dreamer musical. 

La La Land works on many levels. It is a tribute to Hollywood's distant and not-so distant past (there is a hidden homage to Boogie Nights in it that only the most eagle-eyed will catch) and is also an examination of the life of an artist in a world of commercialism. In addition, the film is a testament to keeping the faith and staying the path in terms of one's artistic purity. Both Sebastian and Mia have to suffer the slings and arrows of the commercial life in order to gather the courage to return to their artistic roots to find fulfillment and happiness which in turn morphs into commercial success, in other words, the Hollywood circle of life. But, as any struggling actor or musician will testify, the battle for artistic purity is never as cut and dried as the artist wishes it were. For example, Sebastian is a jazz purist, but is a demand for jazz purity the reason jazz is dying? Chazelle asks this same type of question of his audience regarding cinema while paying homage to the old Astaire musicals that purists adore, but he presents that tribute in a new, less purist and more populist, package, which is pretty brilliant. 

La La Land is a layered film that can be enjoyed on many levels. You can watch and enjoy it as a pure rom-com, or a love story, or a musical, or an homage to Hollywood or a mediation on the artists struggle, or a combination of all of these. It is tough to watch La La Land and not be overcome by its unrelentingly joyous energy. I recommend you spend your hard earned money and sparse free time by going to see La La Land in the theaters, I think you will find it worth the time and effort.

La La Land will no doubt win a boatload of awards at this years Oscars because Hollywood loves nothing more than movies about itself. I know, I know, you are shocked to hear that Hollywood is so rapaciously narcissistic, it is like hearing that Wall Street is greedy or D.C. corrupt, it can be jarring to realize...but I promise you that it really is true. Besides Hollywood rewarding movies that are about Hollywood, it also loves musicals, even the dreadful ones like Chicago, which means a good one like La La Land is going to be sitting pretty come Oscar Sunday. I assume that Gosling, Stone, Chazelle and a cinematographer Linus Sandgren along with a plethora of behind-the-scenes artists will be nominated and most likely win Oscars as well as the film getting Best Picture. While I thoroughly enjoyed the film, my award voting preferences trend toward more existential and substantial material, so I wouldn't necessarily vote the same way as the Academy. That said, I also won't complain when Hollywood rewards La La Land. There is no sense in complaining here in Hollywood, for as Jake Gittes' partner Lawrence Walsh so eloquently taught me in the film Chinatown, "Forget it, Jake. Its Chinatown." So on Oscar night, as Martin Scorsese and Silence, and Terence Malick and Knight of Cups get overlooked, I'll just keep reminding myself..."Forget it, Mick. It's La La Land."

©2017

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): A Review

"The two hardest things in life to deal with are failure and success" - author unknown

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a former star of the fictitious superhero "Birdman" franchise films, who is on the downside of his career and tries to reignite it by adapting, directing and starring in a stage version of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The film follows the trials and tribulations of the staging of the play, of Riggan's life and his descent (or further descent) into madness.

Besides Michael Keaton in the lead, the film boasts a stellar cast of supporting actors including Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis. All of them turn in solid and sometimes spectacular performances. Norton in particular is really great as Mike Shiner, a stage actor intensely committed to his craft and work. 

Keaton is the best he has ever been in the lead role of Riggan Thomson. He effortlessly captures Riggan's desperation, emptiness and regrets, both professional and personal. Keaton emanates Riggan's frantic need to be famous, important, respected and loved (both by others and himself), and that reeking stink of desperation seeps through his every pour and envelops and follows him wherever he goes.  Keaton as Riggan is both charismatic and repulsive at the same time, no easy feat, and he carries the film with the power of his performance as a man running out of performance power.

"Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige" - Mike Shiner

The symbolism of having Keaton play the lead is undeniable. Keaton has been identified for decades by his portrayal of Batman in the first few Tim Burton Batman movies of the 80's. In many ways, Keaton's once promising career never fully recovered from being Batman. His wallet certainly never suffered from playing the Caped Crusader, but his artistic soul, instincts, reputation and career most assuredly did. Keaton, just like Riggan Thomson, had not only lost his artistic soul, but he had also lost the thing most precious in the entertainment industry…cultural relevance. Riggan's staging of a 'comeback' play is on one level, an attempt to save his artistic soul by returning to the birthplace of acting…the theatre, and doing a work by Carver, a writer who once encouraged a young Riggan to really pursue being an actor. But as the ice cold theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson (brilliantly played by Lindsay Duncan) tells Riggan, "You aren't a real actor, you're a celebrity". Ouch…the truth hurts, as they say, because on another level Riggan proves Tabitha right, by using his return to the theatre as just a way for him to get some temporary artistic credibility (Mike Shiner's aforementioned 'prestige') in order to return to cultural relevance, and thus fame ('popularity'). Of course, the same could be said of Keaton, who in returning to a smaller, independent, art-house type film, is trying to re-ignite not only his long lost acting credibility (prestige), but also his fame and cultural relevance (popularity). Keaton has gotten nominated for a Golden Globe and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he gets an Oscar nomination, which brings with it prestige. So this film may work for him on both the prestige and popularity counts. Time will only tell how things play out, I certainly hope he doesn't fling himself out of a high-rise window.

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What is fascinating about Birdman is that it plays with the multiple ways in which reality is perceived from an artists (or at least an actor's) point of view, and lets all of those various realities mix together to help the viewer try and understand why Riggan is so out of and off balance. His world and his perception of the world never settles down enough for him to stand firmly upon it and claim one reality as his own, so he stumbles from one perception of reality to the next, never fully understanding any one that he inhabits.

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Riggan has a sign up on his dressing room mirror which reads, "A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing". This is a bit of wisdom that Riggan is never fully able to integrate into his psyche. Riggan, like most famous people, or formerly famous people, is stuck between being an actual human being and being a human creation. Is he defined by what people are saying about him on Facebook, or how many twitter followers he has? Is he defined by what the critics say of him? Or of what studio heads think of him? Or of what films roles he is offered, or how many awards he has won, or how much money he makes? Or is he defined by his past success as Birdman, or has his past success as Birdman actually become a failure and does that define him? All confusing stuff but it can be boiled down to this…there are two questions that famous people, whether they be actors, reality stars, cable news talking heads, politicians or general wannabes wrestle with on an everyday basis…1. what do people think of me? and 2. what do the really important people think of me?….and not always in that exact order.

The artist is not spared in the distorted perception of reality discussion either. Edward Norton's Mike Shiner is a successful broadway actor, the quintessential stage actor. He is so lost in his art that he is unable to actually be a real, live person anywhere except on stage in front of an audience. He is so committed to his art in fact, that the only time he has been able to get an erection in the last six months is on stage in front of a live audience during a performance of Riggan's 'comeback play'. He is self aware enough to know that he is a disaster area of a human being, but is so cocksure as an actor that he is willing to overlook the 95% of his life off-stage in order to 'shine' for that 5% of the time he is on stage. The artist, along with the fame hungry star, can lose their balance in the search for their validation of choice. As Mike Shiner puts it, "popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige". Shiner is the artistic shadow of Riggan, and in turn, Riggan is the shadow of Shiner, both distorted by their quest, one for popularity, one for prestige. Flip sides of the same coin.

"I do not like the man who squanders life for fame; give me the man who living makes a name" - Emily Dickinson

The lesson to take from Birdman, (and a life in the acting business) is that fame is a disease. The pursuit of it is an act of the insane. With fame comes a deep moral and ethical decay and rot. The world of the famous is filled with corruption, depravity, self-loathing and paranoia. When a person attains fame, they cease to be a human being, and morph into a soul-less product. Just like any large corporation, be it Exxon, Time-Warner or Goldman Sachs, the famous may have legal 'personhood' but they are not actual human beings.  This is the sickness of fame. It strips those who have it of their human being-ness, and that is why it strips those of us looking upon them of our humaneness. We project all of our hopes and fears upon them, often all at the same time. When a person is so inundated with all of these projections, they can't help but be overwhelmed by them as if by being struck by a tsunami. Their true selves get obliterated, and the person they were, for good or for ill, vanishes, and is replaced with a new self, that is false and manufactured. The only antidote to the disease and addiction of fame is to actively work against it and to cultivate a grounded life and a sense of true self. Fame as an off-shoot of being genuinely talented, is difficult enough, even when it is vigorously shunned, but fame that is a result of  sheer ambition and force of will that is pursued to fill a desperate psychological need or satiate a malignant narcissism, is an act of madness that will most assuredly result in self immolation. Birdman lays that hard truth bare for all to see, and it is a lesson that America would be wise to learn in this age of the reality television star and the celebration of the minimally talented.

"Whatever begins, also ends" - Seneca

As much as I enjoyed Birdman, and I genuinely did, there is one major flaw, and in some ways it undermines the entirety of the film. The ending is terribly bungled, so much so that it leaves me scratching my head because they actually had the chance to end it perfectly twice and let those endings pass and instead settled for a muddled and bewildering ending that scuttles the interest and brilliance that leads up to it. The film ends with Riggan jumping out a hospital window, and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) entering the empty hospital room and not finding her father and seeing the window open she goes to it and looks out. First she looks down, as if to find his body splattered on the sidewalk, when she doesn't, she then looks up…and sees something and smiles. We don't see what she sees, but I would assume that Riggan has become The Birdman, or a legend and now resides among the stars or something along those lines. He has become immortal at last. That ending is fine in and of itself, but it doesn't work because in the context of the film, there were not one but two different endings leading up to it, thus altering and undermining the final beat of the movie. The first aborted ending is when Riggan is on stage with a real gun and not the prop gun of the play, and holds it to his head and pulls the trigger in front of a packed house on stage. The screen goes black. The film could have ended there and people would have left talking about it. How people will literally (and figuratively) kill themselves for fame and stardom. This is a major theme running through the American psyche at the moment and numerous films are exploring the subject, from Whiplash to Foxcatcher to Birdman. The 'shooting yourself on stage' ending leaves us talking about those type of issues and our celebrity and fame infected and obsessed culture as we leave the movie theatre and for days and weeks after. 

The second ending comes right after the first, we come back from a black screen following the shooting to find Riggan in the hospital, he survived, but he shot his nose off. He has literally (and figuratively) cut, or in this case shot, his nose off to spite his face. On the other hand, he is on the cover of all the newspapers and the hot topic on television, everyone is talking about him, and even giving him great reviews. He is back to relevance, both artistic and fame-wise, prestige and popularity. He sits in bed thinking about it all, the madness of it, the hell that was fame when he once knew it, the road that lies ahead of being back in-the-mix of the decadent, vicious, vapid and vacant world of hollywood and pop culture. Keaton is brilliant in this scene, he captures Riggan's conflicted feelings and fear perfectly. It would have been an absolutely fantastic way to end the film, with just a close up of Keaton as he hears that he IS BACK ON TOP, and seeing what that really means to someone who has lived through it before and knows he won't live through it again this time, and how empty and toxic the prize he has just won really is. Cut to black…prepare Oscar speech. But again, they didn't do that, they instead have a few more minutes of the film which just aren't necessary and which undercut the brilliance that preceded it and disrupt and alter the rhythm of the film. I have been trying to figure out why the decision to end the film where they did was made, it is baffling. It isn't a more 'hollywood' ending, in fact it is still an 'art house' ending, just a more muddled and less coherent one. And of the three artistic endings it could have used, it is without question the weakest. 

As a result of the unskillful ending of the film, I had the experience of finding the film to be…well...forgettable. That is not to say that I didn't enjoy the experience of watching it in the theatre, and it is also not to say that it isn't a good film, it is to say that by faltering at the end the film does not end up staying with you for very long. You don't walk out of the theatre and talk about it for hours. You don't think about it and mull it over for the following days and weeks. The film had the chance to be a sumptuous feast if it had gotten its ending right, but instead it lurches from one false ending to the next, which ultimately, like chinese food, leaves you hungry twenty minutes later.

In conclusion, Birdman is a very good film that I really enjoyed watching, with solid and sometimes spectacular performances by the entire cast, but it misses out on being a great film by not getting the oh-so-critical ending right, and that is a terrible shame. As I said, I did enjoy the film, but I do wonder if 'normal' people, in other words, 'non-actors' or 'non-entertainment industry' people will enjoy it quite as much as I did. But with all that said I recommend you go see it, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse into the madness of the life of being an actor, or even worse...a successful actor.

© 2014

FOR REVIEWS OF OTHER FILMS RELEASED DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON, PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING , WHIPLASH , FOXCATCHER , WILD , AMERICAN SNIPER , THE IMITATION GAME , A MOST VIOLENT YEAR , NIGHTCRAWLER , STILL ALICE , INHERENT VICE , SELMA , MR. TURNER , CAKE .