Pop Art Podcast

My online blogging colleague Howard Casner started a Podcast recently with a great conceit. His guest will choose a popular picture and he will match it with a counterpart that may be more obscure, artsy or off center. I was honored to be the second guest on his show and we had a fun time talking about spies. Have a listen.

 

Laser Wall Update

Well we’ve all been locked out of theaters for a while, so clearly there will be time to make a few adjustments at home. This week I took all the Laserdiscs off my Walls and out of the 2×4 Kallax shelves in my office and relocated them to the vacant 5×5 Kallax unit in my daughters former room.

Originally I’d planned on rotating the discs on the walls and doing themes from time to time, but because everything was so tightly packed and close to the floor, I only managed once or twice to move things around since I first put up the system for displaying them.

The original films on the wall sometimes were subsequently covered up by Big Sleeve Editions on contemporary films or newly acquired discs without much of a plan.

 

 

I’m going to try to keep the look less clustered but my first new theme did use all three walls. You should be able to tell where this is going.

So there you are, a virtual tour of the display in my office. When I get tired of this theme, I’ll try something else. Feel free to leave some suggestions.

King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World

Do you ever sit down for a movie with a rush of excitement pumping through your chest? Have you ever broken your face from grinning from ear to ear? Have you ever been so happy that you gasp at, laugh at and cheer lines from the movie you are watching? If you have done none of these things I can confidently say you have not seen King Kong on the big screen. Another Fathom Event presented by TCM got me out of the house during this time of “Social Distancing” and although I am a little lightheaded, it’s not due to exposure to COVID-19, rather it is a result of being contaminated by this 87 year old treasure.

“King Kong” is a cultural touchstone for cinema fans. The groundbreaking special effects laid the groundwork for the kinds of fantasy films that we see today. The mix of animated articulated models, stop motion photography and rear projection. made it possible for the world to imagine the impossible and we have done so ever since. Kong continues to be a character in films but even more importantly, the concept of bringing our imagination to life has accelerated every decade, exponentially, ever since. Young audiences need to forget their prejudices about B&W films, old style acting and antique special effects. It is the heart of this movie that matters and the energy it imbues in a viewer should always be inspiring.

I get as caught up in the excitement of the film as Carl Denham does when he tries to convince Ann Darrow to join his expedition.  He is the antithesis of Ian Malcolm. The devil with the natural world, he is going to subjugate it and exploit it and do so unashamedly.  John Hammond is Carl Denham on tranquilizers. As the film moves along you can quickly understand why. We are in awe of the towering gate that the natives of Skull Island hide behind. We are amazed at the animals from the “dinosaur” family that we encounter, and we are terrified but also thrilled at the appearance of the majestic alpha of the island. Denham want to photograph the native ceremony, put Ann in a scene with Kong himself, and finally he gets the idea of capturing the beast and bringing him back to civilization.

The opening of the film in New York during the Great Depression is haunting with it’s sadness and desperation. It is also a nice time machine to let us see the world of that era. The electric lights that make up the ads around Time Square are dazzling today, much less 87 years ago. The women lining up at the shelter are haunting but not in the way that today’s homeless population is. The sexism of Jack Driscoll would have him tarred and feathered today, but even in 1933 it seems quaintly romantic. It’s not toxic masculinity, he has old fashioned thoughts but mostly in a desire to protect the female of the species. He is not a bad guy, just a product of his times.

“Kong” is of course the real star, and the combination of special effects and story make him a compelling character, even though he is a monster. You may sympathize with him occasionally, but then you watch him stomp on a native villager, or bite one of the sailors into pieces. Remember, he not only derails and crushes a carload of people on an elevated train, he grabs a sleeping women out of her bed in a high rise, and when he sees that she is not Ann, he simply tosses her away, twenty stories to the ground and death.

The music from Max Steiner innovativly creates suspense and character. It is not simply filler or background music, it is part of how the story is being told. The Overture goes for five minutes before the film starts and it gets you worked up for what is coming very effectively. This was a TCM Event so Ben Mankiewicz hosted and provided a nice into and brief exit for the film. The reason to go however id that you get to see The Eighth Wonder of the World in his natural habitat, a movie theater.

Onward

The strength of Pixar films has always been the way they manage to take an original idea and flesh it out into something the audience can relate to. Some of the concepts have been straightforward; a family of superheros, the secret life of toys, cars as people. Other concepts have been downright strange; a rat who cooks, a lonely robot, a princess who turns her mother into a bear. Regardless of the oddity of the conceit, the Pixar crew has managed to make these movies work to a large degree. Our current example is one of the weird ones. In a fantasy world that has forgotten magic, two elves must finish a spell to bring their dead father back for just one day.

I think the reason that the films of Pixar succeed for the most part is the way the creators wholeheartedly embrace their idea and run with it. Director Dan Scanlon and his collaborators Jason Headley and Keith Bunin have grabbed their idea and run with it. They commit to the universe they are creating and try to play with it as much as possible. There may be occasional inconsistencies, but they hardly matter as we plunge quickly into the story and become familiar with the characters.  The plot is a basic mash up of a high school coming of age story and a fantasy quest. The fact that these ideas are familiar to us may explain why we don’t worry too much about the characters we encounter. We will just go with the flow if we can have some characters to relate to.

“Onward” gives us two characters that we will understand immediately but also come to care for by the end of the film. Tom Holland is not really stretching much by playing an awkward teen with unforeseen powers.  We’ve seen the Spider-Man movies. Here the character is animated but it continues to be Holland’s slightly nasally voice and young sounding pitch that sells the character to us. Ian Lightfoot is turning sixteen and it makes him nervous. In fact everything makes him nervous, partially because he missed ever meeting his father who died before he was born. Lack of confidence is not the weakness of his older brother “Barley” however,  he dives in head first with enthusiasm to most things. The bravado of the character is also perfectly realized by the voice talents of Holland;s Avengers co-star Chris Pratt. The two of them together are a mismatched pair of brothers out on a road trip. The scenario creates plenty of opportunities for humor but you know that a Pixar film is not going to forgo the sentiment. There is an interesting switch in the purpose of their quest, which manages to make the movie more poignant at the end. It is another example of the writers taking a concept and finding ways to work it that are not obvious from the start. Maybe the quest is predictable, but the emotions are not.

As always with these computer generated dreams (or nightmares if you remember Cars 2), there is a fantastic look to the production. The characters are realized in ways that give us shorthand on their archetypes,  but they still look original. The two brothers are Elfish but in very distinctive ways. Their Mom’s boyfriend is the nice guy cop, who maybe is a little bit of a nebbish despite being a centaur. The path that the kids take is fraught with adventure, but the biggest fright is simply being a new driver trying to merge onto the freeway. I loved the way they played with unicorns in the story, they are essentially the scavengers of this world, and like our own scavengers, they can look benign like a raccoon, but they can be pretty nasty as well. Spites turn into bikers and dragons are made of rubble, and it works because the creatives found ways for us to relate to those images.

The secondary characters fill in some space and provide a little more opportunity to play with the fantasy world, but the focus is correctly placed on the two brothers. As usual, the music cues us in on emotional moments, but like many contemporary films, it relies on our knowledge to find the right feeling. You will hear some passages that sound like they are out of a spaghetti western, and some motifs that belong in a fantasy film. There are clear action beats as the Indiana Jones moments are playing out as well. I don’t know how well the Disney team has marketed the film. I did not have a high degree of anticipation for it, but having seen it, I now know they have a solid film. I hope it lands with audiences the way it did with me.

 

Best Picture Showcase Day Two

BPS2a

Four films are on tap today, including the one I have not yet seen, Parasite. I’ll have comments about all/of the films as we go along, but I will try to have more in depth commentary on Parasite when we get to it. I sat in the same seat that I had last week and again visited with Gary and his son Bradley.  They had remembered taking with Amanda a couple of years ago and they recognized me as one of the frequent trivia winners.  So although I was without my usual crew, I did have fans to talk with about the films.

All of the films in this years showcase are pretty heavy in some emotional way. While there are comedic moments in most of them, there is not one film nominated who has as it’s principle focus, making us laugh. The closest we get to that was the first film of this Saturday’

JoJo Rabbit

There is a lot to laugh at in this fantasy film about the waning days of World War Two. It is told from the perspective of a ten year old boy who has made Adolph Hitler his imaginary friend. The film mocks the notion of radical nationalism and it shows fanaticism in some pretty silly ways. The preposterous claims about Jews made by the Nazis come in for some pretty funny exaggeration, and the hopelessness of the war is told through the story of two kids, a teenager and a mother who struggles to be supportive to her child while remaining true to her ethics. The movie takes a pretty dramatic turn and I could hear the whole audience respond to it as we were watching in the dark. This provides another reason to enjoy theatrical exhibition of movies where the collective experience adds to the power of the film.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

This has been my go to film this last year. I’ve seen it twice on the big screen in it’s summer release, I watched it on a plane and once on home video, so today marks the fifth time I saw the film since it came out last July. I was hot on the film before it opened, warm after the first viewing, but heated up substantially with each subsequent visit. Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead, nominated for Best Actor, but the movie belongs to the guy carrying his load, Brad Pitt as stuntman/gofer Cliff Booth. Pitt gets three big fight scenes and excels in all of them. He makes Cliff a laconic throwback to old school Hollywood stuntmen and at the same time a transition to the new Hollywood. Leo’s Rick Dalton will have a harder time adjusting to the new ways but the film gives them both a little hope at the conclusion. The revisionist history of this film is the most compelling thing about it. If you don’t stick around for the last fifteen minutes, you are missing one of the most violent and joyful conclusions of a fairy tale ever told.

Parasite

This is the one that I had not yet seen and about which there has been so much talk. Director Bong Joon Ho is the toast of the film world and the movie won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It is the top rated film of 2019 on the LAMB, and I saw several on-line rankings that said it was the best film of the decade. Okay, here is the thing, it is great, extremely well written and acted, it however is being overcooked and it will be endangered of having a backlash if people keep pushing the greatest ever narrative.

Somehow, this became a film that is about income inequity, and I think a lot of social warriors want to jump on that to do a little virtue signalling.  That seems like a bad idea to me because the have nots appear to not have from bad choices. They all have talents but in a cliche worthy of a superhero movie, “if only they used their talent for good rather than evil”. The Kims ingratiate themselves into the Park household by being the kinds of employees that you would want. Mr. Kim knows the roads and learns a Mercedes well enough to be a good driver, his wife is the kind of housekeeper for the Parks that she never is at home. The daughter may be faking the art therapy thing, but she is having a positive effect on the Parks son. Ki-Woo, the son,  is a capable tutor but his lack of University status might hold him back. It’s not really clear why the two offspring who are so gifted are not at university. This may be a place where the implication is poverty, but that is subtle at best.

What is clear is that the Kims delight in taking advantage of the Parks. They maneuver two people out of jobs in devious ways and they congratulate themselves for doing so. The only fault that the Parks seem to have that might justify the audience sympathy for the Kims, is a not very realistic olfactory failing. The Kims smell like poverty. When that becomes the trigger for an unfortunate event later in the film, it certainly seems to be overblown.

The movie reminded me of a cross between “The Sting” and “Fargo”. There is a confidence game being played that runs out of control by unanticipated events. Those surprises are the kinds of things that provoked the violence in the Coen Brothers movie. From the beginning however, in Fargo we have two low lifes that we know are killers, so the explosions of violence seem reasonable to the characters. The twist in this film turns people who were not particularly nice but who were not killers, into potentially violent actors. The sort of stuff that we might have laughed at as innocuous petty crime becomes something very dark, very quickly. A new layer of social class is being brought in and it is even more inequitable. So the metaphor begins again. The metaphor even becomes a theme in the story and that is a little obvious as well.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the film. There may be something wrong with the folks who are over analyzing it as social commentary, and that is something that put me off a bit. I’m reacting to the reaction rather than the movie.

1917

This continued to be my favorite film of the year, even after viewing all the others. Several people in the audience as I was walking out at the end of a long day were overheard saying “well, they saved the best for last”. I think that was true.   The gimmick of the film, being shot as if one continuous take, is a technical marvel but it also works for dramatic purposes. This was an intensely dangerous and stress filled day in the lives of two ordinary soldiers. When we see that they are part of a large army and we get hints about the equally dangerous days that each of those other soldiers that we see our two leads passing are having, it is even more compelling.

If Roger Deakins doesn’t win for cinematography, something is just wrong. The complexity of the shots is hard to believe given how smoothly the images float in front of us. The expertise required to handle the night time scenes is also worthy of an award all on it’s own. The composition and lighting of those sequences are both beautiful and nightmarish.

I did mention the two leads in my previous review but I’m not sure I gave them as much credit as they deserve. Dean-Charles Chapman as the determined younger brother who is given this mission because he will be motivated to carry it out, is a stand in for all of us who are naive enough to think that mere will alone is enough to accomplish a task. He of course does show that he has more than will, but his naivete is frustrating to us emotionally and another victim of the horrors that war is. George MacKay as the slightly more weary companion, imbues the film with the valor that an ignoble soldier finds in trying to do right by his commanders and friends. Either of them would have been valid choices for awards consideration despite their lack of star status.

The Lamb Devours the Oscars [Best Supporting Actor]

brad and company

We here at the LAMB love Oscar talk, not so much because the Awards are so meaningful, they often are not, but because they focus our attention on all kinds of details. We get five or more nominees in twenty four categories, many of which would not normally be the subject of our usual discussions. This category is one of the big eight so you might have had a little discussion on these choices, so get prepared for a little more.

 

This year, in this group, there are no first time nominees. In fact, everyone in this classification already had an Academy Award. They all have multiple nominations in the past, and two of the nominees have multiple awards for acting. So this is old hands time and not really a place to make up for a past injustice. Only Brad Pitt has not won an acting award from the Academy, but he has the comfort of a Best Picture Oscar as a producer on “12 Years a Slave”.

The range of characters represented here is impressive. A Union boss, a gangster, a TV Icon, a Pope and a down at the heals Stuntman. All of these characters come alive in a variety of ways and probably deserve the nominations they received. Looking around, I don’t see any significant Snubs in this division. So let’s celebrate each of the nominated performances with some gusto.

 

Anthony Hopkins-The Two Popes/Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Anthony

It’s been 22 years since Sir Anthony Hopkins was a nominee, which seems hard to believe. His performance as Benedict is quiet and confounding at times. We are never quite clear on what motivates this man of high intellect and deeply held religious convictions to surrender his papacy, especially to a man with whom he has significant doctrinal disagreements. We can however see the humanity in the man and his desire to advance the church in troubling times. His nomination may in part be a reflection of mastering Latin and a little bit of German. At the end of his trail, is a warm relationship with his successor and a sense of relief on his mind which we can see in the actors face. Hopkins does indulge in what I have always seen as his most obvious acting tic frequently. He has a particular way of saying the word “Yes” that he falls back on three or four times in this film.

 

Joe Pesci-The Irishman/Russell Bufalino

Gangster Pesci

Mr. Pesci is batting .500 in this classification up to this point. His previous nominations came in Martin Scorsese projects, and surprise, he gets a third nomination after coming out of retirement for another Scorsese film. Again he is a gangster, but this time a more mellow and thoughtful hood than the volatile Tommy DeVito of Goodfellas. This role is not particularity showy and in fact, I thought it could have been played by a number of other actors. What he brings is the gravitas of his past performances to pump up a character who is largely peripheral to the main plot. He does have some nice scenes with DeNiro as he nudges the Irish thug into his crime family so there is something here, I would be surprised if this was his second win.

 

Tom Hanks- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood/Fred Rogers

Mr. Hanks Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers was such a culturally recognized figure that it takes a pretty delicate performance to avoid doing an impression that would end up as a parody. There have been plenty of those over the years. Tom Hanks uses his quiet distinctive voice very effectively in bringing Rogers into the story. His deliberate pacing and even modulation are pitch perfect. It helps that the lines are also so well written. The most brilliant aspect of the performance is the recognition that Fred Rogers is not really the protagonist in the story, he is a critical secondary character.  Rogers was known for being famously kind and polite, so it made perfect sense to have the man that many would say is the nicest guy in Hollywood portray him. Hanks is not a doppelganger for Rogers, but hair, makeup and costumes also go a long way in making this a truly credible performance.

 

Al Pacino-The Irishman/Jimmy Hoffa

Hoffa

I grew up in a world where Jimmy Hoffa was as famous a public figure as any President or Senator or Governor. He was a powerful man who had a loyal union and he was not shy about battling the government over his authority. Al Pacino has been frequently bellicose in his performances since winning the Best Actor Oscar for being just that in “Scent of a Woman” in 1992. This is his first nomination since then, maybe it is a sign that he needs to adjust his style, because when he did so in “The Irishman”, he was so much more effective. He still plays a tough guy but he is disarmingly quiet in many of the big moments in the film. The way he seems to connect with the main characters daughter, effortlessly is a good example of that. Pacino conveys the pig headed nature of the Union Boss, and the obtuse way in which he responds to the gangster partners he has made is demonstrated in many scenes in the film.  He is the standout in this his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese.

 

Brad Pitt-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood/Cliff Booth

brad

This character is one of the most appealing features in a film stacked with actors doing great work and Tarantino moments that will stick with us for a lifetime. Pitt takes this detached, knockabout companion of TV star Rick Dalton, and turns him into a charming, sharp and ultimately lethal character.  It is never clear to me, how the line between Leading Actor and Supporting Actor is drawn. Pitt uses his magnetic smile and aw shucks demeanor to great effect when he faces down Bruce Lee, the Manson Family and his own dog. Cliff holds his posture in a manner that suggests he is casual, but in any situation we can see he is really the alpha, even if he is willing to pretend otherwise. He takes many of the essential qualities of Kurt Russell, and underplays them, especially in his few scenes with Kurt himself. The clincher of Pitt’s performance however is the stop at the Spahn Ranch where he deals with those damn hippies. This is my pick for the winner in this group.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

If ever a film announced itself as a feminist battle cry for comic book respect, “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” is the title they would probably choose. The idea here is to liberate not only Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, but every woman in the world from the patriarchal culture that they are being choked to death in. I think it’s great that there is a comic book figure that is empowering to women, I just am a little concerned that they have to be murdering sociopaths. “Deadpool” seems like a caricature of super heroes, with his nihilistic humor and snarky social commentary. “Harley Quinn” is supposed to be taken differently, but I’m not sure how, and we may have skipped the part that is being parodied.

I thought the quick telling of her backstory and the break up with her relationship to the Joker was clever. There is a combination of flashbacks, cartoons and first person narration that gets us through this relatively quickly and with some efficiency. The same efficiency does not apply to the secondary women in the story who need to be liberated as well. Detective Montoya gets ignored by the idiot men around her, multiple times, and it is only when she is egregiously second-guessed and suspended, in the mode of every movie cop trope you can find except the partner who dies, that she sees the need for some liberation. “The Huntress” is an assassin with a mission, who is saved as a child by a bad man who deposits her with other bad men to make her badass, but those men  disappear twenty seconds after her story is recounted. She has always been alone except for the gangster father she wants to avenge. So I guess what she needs to be liberated from is the family stricture that requires her to operate on a blood debt. “Black Canary” need to be liberated from the clutches of a man who sees her as a possession and doesn’t recognize her worth. He treats her as a slave and she acts the part really well.

The other female character in the story is a neighborhood girl who has parents that argue while she hones her skills as a thief and pick-pocket. She is already liberated from any sense of right or wrong, so I guess she is supposed to be a role model for the suppressed women in the story and a chip off of the Harley Block. The reality is that the film stacks up so many straw men [that is an intentional double meaning] that the films sense of justice feels manufactured and that undermines the main point. I’m probably taking this too seriously, some of you are muttering to yourselves right now “it’s just a comic book movie”. It is just a comic book movie which is why all the other stuff is standing in the way.

Margot Robbie made this character her own in “Suicide Squad” back in 2016, and it is no surprise here that she is the main draw. The problem is that a little of the character goes a long way, but we get a lot of the character and it makes her distinctiveness feel littler. From an action point of view, the fight scenes and shootouts are staged in a visually arresting manner but sometimes there is a little too much layered on top, For instance, every scene depicting women kicking men’s asses, is accompanied by an empowering hard rock song about the power of bad ass women. It underlines, puts it in bold and points at it in such an obvious way that the action sometimes feels less organic to the events in the story and simply one more place to pump up the girl power.

In addition to overselling Harley, the make her antagonist feckless. He is a villain who is so narcissistic, that much like Kylo Ren, he has a superfluous mask simply to draw attention to himself. It literally serves no other function, since everyone including the police know that he is “Black Mask”. Ewan McGregor squawks and screams through the role as if he is Al Pacino playing the Joker. His only super power appears to be reckless inflated opinion of himself. What value is there in a heroine who takes down this pile of nothingness?

I like the production design when the characters are on the streets battling it out, and there is a funky set that is the location for the climax confrontation which was fun. I probably sound silly complaining about the cartoonish characters when we are talking about a movie that is a cartoon, but there was never a time I thought the women leads were in jeopardy. Harley by herself repeatedly takes out squads of hulking henchmen, so why would we worry about the outcome when she has four backup players to fight a small army?

Truth be told, I found the movie entertaining on a simplistic level. If we have to choose between the sets of characters on the screen, of course we are going to root for the women. It just lacks the kind of balance that would make the film feel substantive, and you can tell that it wears its ideology on it’s sleeve. That detracts a little from the fun, but it also makes the value of that ideology feel cheap.

2020 Oscar Nominated Shorts Live Action/Animation

The Documentary shorts were not playing at my theater so I will have to look for them, but here are just some brief comments on the two sets of Oscar Nominated Shorts that I did get a chance to see.

A Sister

This was a dramatic short based on a call to emergency services by a woman who is being sexually assaulted by an acquaintance and is being driven around by her assailant.  She has to make the call seem as if it is innocuous because she is in danger. It was quite taught and we never see anyone except the Emergency Services dispatcher clearly. It was quite tense.

Brotherhood

I can’t say it is an apology for the ISIS fighters in Syria but it is a different perspective which is certainly it’s intent. The lives of a family in Tunisia are affected by the choices made by one of the sons. The narrative takes a couple of twists that would be more meaningful to someone with knowledge of the internal legal system of that Middle Eastern nation. The whole experience has got to be miserable, lucky us we get to share it.

The Neighbors Window

This one starts off slightly salacious and then it’s tone shifts. The perspective we see for most of the story is  not the only one and that is the point. In the end it was quite moving. As a story it is very clever and the lead Actress was very effective, especially at the end.

Saria

Maybe the most depressing of the short films on the program. Particularly since it based on rel world events. An orphanage in Guatemala is more prison camp than home for teen girls. The young actresses are solid with very little backstory to inform their characters. You will be infuriated at the end of the movie, it is an advocacy docudrama that is only barely a fictional narrative.

Nefta Football Club

There is an element of danger is this second short film set in the Middle East.  In the end however it turns out to be the most comedic of the films and the one that you can enjoy on a pure entertainment level.

Instead of posting the individual Trailers, let me direct you to the site where you can see all of those trailers and find information about where they are screening near your location. Click Here.

Animated Shorts

This program included the five nominated films plus four or five others that I neglected to write down so my memory will be hit or miss on those.

Daughter

 

This was done in an interesting medium but not necessarily one that is attractive. The abstract nature of the story makes it somewhat hard to relate to despite the universal themes that it appears to be drawing on. Obviously done with meticulous care because each frame looks like stop motion although I can’t say for sure that it is not a combination of computer and hand drawn work.

 

 

Hair Love

This was a Kickstarter funded project and the animation looks very traditional. There is a twist at the end that will tug on the heartstrings a bit, and it ends up being one of the least depressing of the animated shorts on the program. There is a good chance this will be the winner because of it’s take on the complicated relationship of those with African heritage and their hair in Western Culture.

Kitbull

This was my personal favorite although it is unlikely to win. This was done by some of the folks at Pixar and it is as usual, a perfect blend of sentiment and art told without words. I am a sucker for animal stories and this features two animals that I found charming and well personified by the artists.

Mémorable

This French entry may be the most depressing animated film I have seen in a long time. It is a Twelve minute mediation on the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, told using a form of claymation. It looks odd at times but it is very effective at conveying the confusion and desperation of those suffering from the disease and those who love them. It is sad to think about the number of people who will experience some of the things depicted here.

Sister

This one was the most surprising of the animated shorts. It comes from China and there is a reason that is the source of the story. The animation is stop motion with fuzz covered figures that look like stuffed versions of people. The relationship of a brother to his sister in this ultimately sad story is explored with some humor but a lot of pathos.

Recommended

Henrietta Bulkowski

A young woman with a severe back deformity, which forces her to always look down, seeks to become a pilot, even if she has to build her own plane. It features a vocal performance by Actor Chris Cooper. The animation is odd, it looks like stop motion using dolls. I’m not sure why it would not have made the cut against some of the other films that were included.

Hors Piste

The most clearly comic film included in the animated shorts. It is reminiscent of a Looney Tunes Roadrunner cartoon, with a series of unfortunate incidents befuddling a mountain rescue team. The computer animation is excellent, and you will cringe and laugh simultaneously.

Maestro

The shortest of the short films, it is basically a musical interlude performed by a number of critters that you might find in the backyard or nearby woods. The animation is very detailed computer work. I guess I’m just a sucker for the animal tales because I loved this one as well.

There was at least one other short that played in this mini-festival, but I can’t remember it at the moment. If it comes to me I will come back and share it.

I can include at least two of the animated films here for you to watch, as they are available on YouTube.

 

LAMB Devours the Oscars: Best Supporting Actor

brad and company

[This Post is Also Available at http://www.largeassmovieblogs.com/2020/02/the-lamb-devours-the-oscar-2020-best-actor-in-a-supporting-role.html ]

We here at the LAMB love Oscar talk, not so much because the Awards are so meaningful, they often are not, but because they focus our attention on all kinds of details. We get five or more nominees in twenty four categories, many of which would not normally be the subject of our usual discussions. This category is one of the big eight so you might have had a little discussion on these choices, so get prepared for a little more.

This year, in this group, there are no first time nominees. In fact, everyone in this classification already had an Academy Award. They all have multiple nominations in the past, and two of the nominees have multiple awards for acting. So this is old hands time and not really a place to make up for a past injustice. Only Brad Pitt has not won an acting award from the Academy, but he has the comfort of a Best Picture Oscar as a producer on “12 Years a Slave”.

The range of characters represented here is impressive. A Union boss, a gangster, a TV Icon, a Pope and a down at the heals Stuntman. All of these characters come alive in a variety of ways and probably deserve the nominations they received. Looking around, I don’t see any significant Snubs in this division. So let’s celebrate each of the nominated performances with some gusto.

Anthony Hopkins-The Two Popes/Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Anthony

It’s been 22 years since Sir Anthony Hopkins was a nominee, which seems hard to believe. His performance as Benedict is quiet and confounding at times. We are never quite clear on what motivates this man of high intellect and deeply held religious convictions to surrender his papacy, especially to a man with whom he has significant doctrinal disagreements. We can however see the humanity in the man and his desire to advance the church in troubling times. His nomination may in part be a reflection of mastering Latin and a little bit of German. At the end of his trail, is a warm relationship with his successor and a sense of relief on his mind which we can see in the actors face. Hopkins does indulge in what I have always seen as his most obvious acting tic frequently. He has a particular way of saying the word “Yes” that he falls back on three or four times in this film.

Joe Pesci-The Irishman/Russell Bufalino

Gangster Pesci

Mr. Pesci is batting .500 in this classification up to this point. His previous nominations came in Martin Scorsese projects, and surprise, he gets a third nomination after coming out of retirement for another Scorsese film. Again he is a gangster, but this time a more mellow and thoughtful hood than the volatile Tommy DeVito of Goodfellas. This role is not particularity showy and in fact, I thought it could have been played by a number of other actors. What he brings is the gravitas of his past performances to pump up a character who is largely peripheral to the main plot. He does have some nice scenes with DeNiro as he nudges the Irish thug into his crime family so there is something here, I would be surprised if this was his second win.

Tom Hanks- A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood/Fred Rogers

Mr. Hanks Neighborhood

Mr. Rogers was such a culturally recognized figure that it takes a pretty delicate performance to avoid doing an impression that would end up as a parody. There have been plenty of those over the years. Tom Hanks uses his quiet distinctive voice very effectively in bringing Rogers into the story. His deliberate pacing and even modulation are pitch perfect. It helps that the lines are also so well written. The most brilliant aspect of the performance is the recognition that Fred Rogers is not really the protagonist in the story, he is a critical secondary character.  Rogers was known for being famously kind and polite, so it made perfect sense to have the man that many would say is the nicest guy in Hollywood portray him. Hanks is not a doppelganger for Rogers, but hair, makeup and costumes also go a long way in making this a truly credible performance.

Al Pacino-The Irishman/Jimmy Hoffa

Hoffa

I grew up in a world where Jimmy Hoffa was as famous a public figure as any President or Senator or Governor. He was a powerful man who had a loyal union and he was not shy about battling the government over his authority. Al Pacino has been frequently bellicose in his performances since winning the Best Actor Oscar for being just that in “Scent of a Woman” in 1992. This is his first nomination since then, maybe it is a sign that he needs to adjust his style, because when he did so in “The Irishman”, he was so much more effective. He still plays a tough guy but he is disarmingly quiet in many of the big moments in the film. The way he seems to connect with the main characters daughter, effortlessly is a good example of that. Pacino conveys the pig headed nature of the Union Boss, and the obtuse way in which he responds to the gangster partners he has made is demonstrated in many scenes in the film.  He is the standout in this his first collaboration with Martin Scorsese.

Brad Pitt-Once Upon a Time in Hollywood/Cliff Booth

brad

This character is one of the most appealing features in a film stacked with actors doing great work and Tarantino moments that will stick with us for a lifetime. Pitt takes this detached, knockabout companion of TV star Rick Dalton, and turns him into a charming, sharp and ultimately lethal character.  It is never clear to me, how the line between Leading Actor and Supporting Actor is drawn. Pitt uses his magnetic smile and aw shucks demeanor to great effect when he faces down Bruce Lee, the Manson Family and his own dog. Cliff holds his posture in a manner that suggests he is casual, but in any situation we can see he is really the alpha, even if he is willing to pretend otherwise. He takes many of the essential qualities of Kurt Russell, and underplays them, especially in his few scenes with Kurt himself. The clincher of Pitt’s performance however is the stop at the Spahn Ranch where he deals with those damn hippies. This is my pick for the winner in this group.

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his Own Words

He is not known by a clever turn of an Acronym like “the Notorious RBG”, and it is unlikely that he will be a bobble-head available at Hot Topic or Spenser’s Gifts, but he certainly is a well know and controversial figure. I’d guess that he was one of the Justices that the average American would be able to name from the Supreme Court, and that may not always be for good reasons. Regardless of how you feel about his judicial perspective and role  on the court, I think you would find this film interesting in the way many biographical documentaries are. This one also has the benefit of his personal narration.

Maybe narration is the wrong term, exposition might be more appropriate. The sub-title of the film is incredibly accurate, this is Justice Thomas as he sees himself. The director and producer had thirty hours of first hand, single camera interviews with him and they have culled the story down to a manageable two hour narrative of the Justices life. It can basically be broken down into a three act structure, with a bit of an epilogue. He describes his childhood, being raised mostly by his grandfather up through the seminary school he dropped out of angry over the indifference of his class mates and the Catholic church to the assassination of Martin Luther King. The middle section describes his political evolution in college and then as a law student and young lawyer. He falls into public service with a Republican, which was the last thing he ever expected. Finally, there is the professional career that should be crowned by his appointment to the highest court in the land but was overshadowed by accusations of sexual harassment.

The first half of the story is told in much the same way that Ken Burns tells his stories. There are archival pictures and film clips used to create the exposition as Thomas speaks. In some places there are simple filmed segments of places that Thomas grew up in or simulations of the viewpoint he might have had. There are no actors in the film however so it never feels like a docudrama. There are some musical underscores but none of them has any heavy drama to them, this is not a film about recreating the emotional experiences that he went through.

The photographs and archival material gives way as Thomas becomes a public figure in the Reagan administration and there is video and film footage that can be plugged in to provide historical context. Of course the greatest amount of that material comes during the hearings on his nomination in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired at the time by Senator Joe Biden. The Vice President and now candidate for President, does not come off very well in the few minutes he is on screen. The rogue’s gallery of Senators in the hearing also seem slightly sinister, whether they were advocates or opponents of his nomination. The other narrator that we hear from extensively in this section is Mrs. Thomas, who aggressively defends her husband as he is being grilled by the panel and raked over the coals by the media.

Justice Thomas explains the basis of his judicial temperament and the originalism that drives that perspective. There is a bit of a coda that tells us a bit more about him as a person in this day. He is a Nebraska Cornhusker Fan, and an RV enthusiast who likes to travel the backroads of America. If you admire the Justice, you will certainly appreciate the film, but even if you are a critic and opponent of his views, I think you will find it an interesting and even handed telling of his story, and that story is important.