"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Post Oscar Musings

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 47 seconds

The Oscars are over and it was a bit of a surprising night. Yes, Green Book won in an upset and Olivia Colman shocked the world by beating out Glenn Close for Best Actress, but the biggest shock of the night was that my Oscar picks were so dreadful (15 out of 24). But in a striking sign that this years award’s were so incoherent was that even with my awful picks I still won my Oscar pool…again…which in the big picture is really all that matters.

In terms of the Oscar show, I have to say the lack of a host was perfectly fine with me. Not having to suffer through some hackneyed bit or contrived comedy made the evening much more bearable. Some of the presenters were mildly amusing, some were not. Some of the winners had decent speeches, some of them not. Melissa McCarthy was funny, Awkwafina was not. Mahershala Ali’s speech was good, Spike Lee’s was not.

The trio who won Best Hair and Makeup and tried to choreograph their shared speech were an embarrassment to humanity. This speech made me want to have a new rule at Oscars going forward…whoever gives the worst speech of the night is executed live on stage at the end of the show. This would accomplish two things, first it would make people really prepare a speech and practice it so they don’t mess it up, and secondly the ratings for the show would go through the roof because America likes nothing more than competition and violence.

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I dvr’d the show and watched it later sans commercials and it still felt oppressively long. My solution to the Oscar show problem is to declare that there is no problem. The show is once a year and if it runs long who cares? Also, the Academy is concerned about dropping ratings, well, tough luck, ratings across the board are down. People simply don’t watch anything for more than 30 minute intervals at the most anymore.

That said, if you want to cut time off the show you could drop the short film categories and put them at the technical Oscar awards that are held at another time. I think the show should focus more on the craft of filmmaking and less on celebrity, which puts me in a very miniscule minority, so I don’t want the show to jettison the technical and behind the camera awards like editing or cinematography or even hair and makeup. But not televising the short film awards seems alright even to a cinephile like me.

Another thing would be to cut the musical numbers…or at least some of them. I know some dopes loved the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper song last night, but good lord I thought it was just awful. And I did not need to see Jennifer Hudson and Bette Midler of all people sing totally forgettable songs. If you cut the song performances down to two you cut approximately 15 minutes off the show. Non-problem problem solved.

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As for the actual awards, the thing that sticks out to me is that Green Book winning Best Picture is a perfect encapsulation of the shit show that is our culture. Green Book is a good movie, it isn’t a great movie, but that said there was only one great movie nominated this year and that was Roma. Green Book is better than Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Black Panther but it definitely wasn’t better than Roma (or The Favourite). Green Book is a finely crafted, well acted and well-made film, it just isn’t an artistically made film. Roma is both an exceedingly well made film and an artistic vision made manifest.

Roma is a complicated potential Best Picture winner though because it is a Foreign Film, which have never won Best Picture, it is a black and white film, and it is a Netflix film, which makes it controversial in the movie industry that hasn’t quite come to grips with Netflix. For these reasons, Roma losing is at least understandable according to industry logic. I loved Roma with a passion, but I don’t think that the voters who chose Green Book over Roma did so because they hate Mexicans…I think they have their reasons that makes sense even if I disagree with them.

Unlike me, the elite pundit class is less nuanced in their feelings about Green Book’s win. The LA Times declared in its headline this morning that Green Book is the worst Best Picture winner of the last decade…and equal in its awfulness to Crash, which is the meanest thing you can say to a Best Picture winner.

The other and more insidious talking point making the rounds is that Green Book won because older White male voters in the Academy are racist. The reasoning behind this is that Green Book, because it is a story about racism told from a White man’s perspective and allegedly propagates the “White savior complex”, is “regressive” on race issues and anyone who likes it is racist. Therefore, Green Book winning Best Picture means that the Academy is racist.

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Of course, what this talking point fails to take into account is that the same allegedly racist Academy nominated BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther for Best Picture (and gave Best Picture to Moonlight 3 years ago), gave awards to people of color in 3 of the 4 acting awards, and gave awards to minorities in Adapted Screenplay, Director and Cinematography. The “Oscars Are Racist” people seem to think that these “good” outcomes only happened because of the non-old White Male voters and that the “bad” outcome of Green Book winning happened only because of the old White male voters.

This sort of twisted illogic, which is simply a short cut to thinking, is similar to the politics of declaring America a racist cesspool after electing a Black man as president in two straight elections. After Obama’s eight years in office, the cries of racism following Trump’s win were still deafening, with many saying bluntly that anyone who voted for Trump was a deplorable racist, even those who had voted for Obama in the previous two elections. This goalpost moving by the super woke in our culture does little more than lead people to throw up their hands and tune out any discussion related to race in America.

The New York Times ran an op-ed by philosopher Crispin Sartwell on Monday titled, “The Oscars and the Illusion of Perfect Representation” that made similar arguments to what I have been writing for the last few years, and that is using awards shows as a referendum on racial equality is a fool’s errand that actually undermines the genuine struggle for racial equality in America.

Mr. Sartwell makes the case that the issue of “representation” in films is a band-aid on a bullet wound that is little more than a distraction.

“Whatever the Grammys or Oscars looks like in the long run will have little actual impact on social justice. Perhaps, over all, the emphasis on what sort of person is on television has been a distraction from much more urgent matters. Imagine an America that gets the awards shows exactly right but in which, for example, mass incarceration or the internment of asylum seekers just ticks right along, or in which income inequality grows or residential segregation remains unchanged. It’s easy if you try: That’s liable to be the reality of 2020. And 2030, and beyond.”

As I have written in the past, my addition to Mr. Sartwell’s criticism is that not only are the award show representation battles a distraction but they actively undermine legitimate issues because award show “under-representation” is a myth that is provably false. When liberals decide to die on the hill of awards show representation they are not only striking a blow against their cause elsewhere but also fighting for an observable lie, thus decimating their credibility on other more important issues.

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I find these race based awards arguments to be so frivolous as to be absurd but I readily admit this sort of nonsense is going to get much much worse before it ever gets better, if it ever gets better. Major awards shows like the Grammys and Oscars have already been reduced to mostly affirmative action/quota competitions that have very little at all to do with merit and everything to do with virtue signaling.

As for as Green Book being a racist film, this carries with it a very uncomfortable side effect, namely that those calling Green Book racist are in essence calling the Black people associated with the film, like its star, Mahershela Ali (who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar last night), its producer, Octavia Spencer, and Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis, who passionately introduced and advocated for the film, Uncle Toms.

This is the problem that arises in woke culture, no one is ever pure enough, and the White people who are calling Green Book racist are actually calling the Black people associated with the film self-loathing racists as well.

Green Book is considered racist mostly because it is a story about racism told from the perspective of a White man. I also find this argument specious at best, for as Hall of Fame basketball player and extremely insightful cultural critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so astutely noted in his defense of the film in the Hollywood Reporter,

“The film is much more effective from Tony’s point of view because the audience that might be most changed by watching it is the White audience.”

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To Green Book’s credit, it at the very least attempts to try and grapple with racism, and yet just by taking on that issue from a White perspective is declared “not woke enough” by the woke gatekeepers who then quickly label anyone who likes it irredeemably racist. What woke culture tends to forget is the obvious, that America is a majority White country, and if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, connecting to that White majority through perspective is a rational maneuver for a film maker.

There is some talk that Green Book’s win is a result of a backlash against the backlash to the film. This makes total sense to me. Green Book was singled out as this “unwoke” abomination and I think voters who liked it simply kept their feelings to themselves and may have ended up voting for it out of spite just as a way to tell the politically correct brigade to fuck off. I understand the sentiments.

As I am fond of saying, “wokeness kills art”, and eventually it will kill commerce too, which is when Hollywood will really see a backlash to the backlash. In our current “woke” moment no one is ever woke enough, and so minorities winning 3 of the 4 acting awards and a plethora of the other prestigious awards is not enough, and Green Book winning is an apostasy because it doesn’t fit entirely into current rigid racial orthodoxy and sensitivities.

In my review for Green Book I said that if it came out twenty years ago it was a shoe in for Best Picture, but that it stood no chance nowadays. Obviously I was wrong, and in my defense the reason I was wrong is that I constantly under estimate my fellow man and woman. In the case of Green Book winning over Roma, I was wrong in thinking that Green Book had no chance, but right in underestimating the people in the Academy, who failed to give Roma Best Picture, not because they are racists, but because they have simple tastes.

©2019

The Shape of Water: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.65 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT IN THEATRE

The Shape of Water, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, tells the tale of Elisa, a mute janitor, and her relationship with a mysterious humanoid-amphibian creature being held in a secret government facility in Baltimore in 1962. The film stars Sally Hawkins and boasts supporting performances from Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlberg. 

I had zero expectation when I went to see The Shape of Water. I really enjoyed director Guillermo del Toro's earlier film Pan's Labyrinth, which was a dark and hypnotic fever dream of a film, but had not ventured to see his more Hollywood friendly, commercial films like Hellboy or Pacific Rim, as they held no interest for me. All I knew of The Shape of Water was what I had seen in the trailer, which was that it was some weird inter-species romance movie. Having seen the film, I can attest that it is that…but it is also so much more. 

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The Shape of Water is a glorious film and is easily one of the best movies of the year. Director Guillermo del Toro has created a truly original and unique piece of cinematic art that drips with rich religious, political and mythological symbolism. Del Toro masterfully delivers a deliciously subversive take on an unconventional love story by paying homage to the storytelling conventions of Old Hollywood by turning them on their ear.

Del Toro is well-known as a visual virtuoso and The Shape of Water is no exception. His collaboration with Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen results in a cinematic symphony where nearly every shot could be hung in an art museum. Del Toro and Laustsen's delicate use of color and shadow create a lush texture for the film that is palpable. Laustsen's brilliant use of varying shades of green and a sparing but vibrant red do not just create a visual feast but also convey the deeper psychological and political sub-text of the film.

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Del Toro also coaxes outstanding performances from his noteworthy cast. Sally Hawkins gives an exquisitely sublime and bravura performance as del Toro's mute leading lady. While Ms. Hawkins character Elisa never utters a single line of dialogue, she speaks volumes with her entire being, never wasting a single moment of screen time. Ms. Hawkins uses specificity and intentionality to imbue Elisa with a tangible yearning that is breathtaking in its earnestness and tenderness. To Hawkins (and del Toro's) great credit, Elisa is never reduced to a child-like state of innocence where the audience would pity her, but instead she is a capable and sexually aware full-fledged woman struggling to find her voice, which makes the film very topical if not downright prescient.  

Richard Jenkins gives an absolutely magnificent performance as Giles, Elisa's friend and next door neighbor. Giles is at once both pathetic and defiant, ferocious and forlorn. Jenkins is a consistently fantastic actor and his work as Giles is a testament to his extraordinary talent, skill and commitment to craft. 

The rest of the cast, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlberg and Michael Shannon all do exceptional work in their supporting roles. It is difficult to single one of them out above the others, but if forced to I would only mention that Michael Stuhlberg's work as Dr. Hoffstetler is a complex and subtle piece of genius that is a pleasure to behold. Stuhlberg is an often overlooked actor but he is devastatingly good.

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Ms. Spencer and Mr. Shannon are two great actors as well and their work in The Shape of Water is, as always, stellar. Ms. Spencer is such a master craftswoman that her acting always feels like it is entirely effortless and so it is with her portrayal of Elisa's friend Zelda. And Michael Shannon, who plays Colonel Strickland, is like a volcano on screen, even when he is dormant, he emanates a dynamic combustibility that is unnerving. It was a true pleasure to watch such a superior ensemble work their magic in The Shape of Water.

The Shape of Water isn't just an entertaining and moving film, it also surreptitiously and masterfully comments on American capitalism, empire, Russo-phobia, McCarthyism, the feminine, love, psychological and spiritual evolution and the human urge to know God and thyself. (see Addendum below - warning it has spoilers in it). Del Toro and his superb cast are all able to tell multiple layers of the same story without ever being obvious or preachy. Watching the myriad of themes and layers of the film be expertly woven together is a joy to behold and makes for a  compelling and magnetic movie going experience. 

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In the sea of cinematic brilliance that is The Shape of Water, what stood out to me the most though, is that this is a bit of a weird fantasy film, set in a different time period, and yet is pulsates with a genuine and tender humanity that is completely absent in other more contemporary and "reality-based" films like Three Billboards and Lady Bird. Those films are devoid of the true, genuine human experience that is the dramatic heart of The Shape of Water and that is a monument to the impeccable artistry of Guillermo del Toro and his superior cast.

In the final analysis, The Shape of Water is a lush and luscious film that is an artistic feast for the eyes and the psyche. This film speaks to both cinephiles and cine-peds (my new word for people with more pedestrian tastes in movies), I highly recommend you dive in deep into The Shape of Water and spend your hard earned money and invaluable free time to go see it in the theatre. 

©2017

 

ADDENDUM

****WARNING: THIS ADDENDUM CONTAINS SPOILERS!!****

The spoiler free review is above, but I had written a few thoughts in an earlier draft on the deeper meaning of the movie and realized they may constitute a violation of my claim that this was a spoiler free review, so I figured I would excise them from the review and haphazardly share them in an addendum for those who were interested. If you haven't seen the film yet, and want a "virgin" experience, then skip the following sections entirely. 

- The film's political and religious symbolism is there for those who wish to find it. The movie is again prescient in that it recalls the Russo-phobia of the early 1960's and the McCarthyist impulse which accompanies it and which is rearing its very ugly and dangerous head once again now. The film also subtly and gracefully reveals the moral rot at the core of American empire and American capitalism.

Del Toro masterfully exposes American capitalism as being a cancer on the soul of humanity (a great example is Colonel Strickland and his perfect yet loveless family and his new car which is green…with envy…and his hand which is gangrene…as he is, like America, rotting from within), and reveals the American dream to be the result of a fever that will eventually drown/suffocate us all. Like George Carlin says, "they call it the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe in it".  In the case of The Shape of Water, in order to awake from the nightmare of the American dream, one must evolve, or maybe the better word for it is…devolve…and return to the depths of our truer selves where we live from our heart and can become gods. 

- Not surprisingly due to the title of the film, the symbolism of water is throughout the movie. In a Jungian context, water is symbolic of the human psyche, and to dive into the deep waters is to explore our sub-concious. Keep this in mind whenever water is present in a scene in The Shape of Water. Understand that in order for the individual and the collective to evolve, dipping our toe into the pool of our minds is a must if we ever hope to dive into the depths of our deeper meaning and purpose. Integrating the knowledge found in the depths of our psyche occurs when we integrate with a creature from the depths. So in The Shape of Water, when Elisa is trying to understand the creature, she is really trying to understand herself. True integration…the melding together of the old knowledge with the new, occurs when Elisa and the creature have sex…in water. 

Also note that Elisa is only connected to her sexuality in water…her ritualistic bath and masturbation are her "dipping her toe" into the pool of her psyche. It is also, in a religious sense, like going to Mass. But Mass is only a simulation of the God experience, when Elisa is in the water with the creature and they have sex, that is the ultimate integration/God experience. Only with the God experience can humanity and/or Elisa's psyche develop. 

There are also obvious symbols of the creature being a Christ like figure. He has a wound on his side for example, and he is chained to a central spot, like a mandala, and is tortured and beaten by a guardian of the American/Roman Empire. The creature also has mysterious and miraculous healing powers for himself and others. 

The egg is also is a pretty interesting symbol in the film. Obviously the egg is a symbol of fertility and birth, and also of the universe. Elisa feeding the creature her egg is symbolic of her offering her feminine energy to him, he devours it and integrates it and thus is not just a male, but like a god is both male and female. This is also why the question of his genitals comes up and Elisa explains that it is contained within him but is revealed at the right moment, almost like his body is a tabernacle and his genitals the god housed within. 

If you look carefully throughout the film, you will see lots of religious Catholic symbolism. if you can, notice the shape and positions the characters are in when they are in water. There are mements when they look as if they are hung on a cross, or are in a Pieta pose. 

Alright…those are just some brief and scattered observations on the film. I really loved the movie and I wholly encourage you to see it, or to see it again. If you do see it again keep your eye out for the when, where and how del Toro uses the color red and the color green. And also take note of water!!

©2017