by Jay Bobbin
(NOTICE: Ratings for each film begin with a 'star' rating
by Jay Bobbin
(NOTICE: Ratings for each film begin with a 'star' rating
by Jase Howell
The Academy Awards for 2013 had the grand task of grabbing viewers after an incredibly dismal 2012 class.
How dismal? "The Artist," a foreign, silent film and late entry into the running that virtually no one in the states had seen, walked away with Best Picture. Results like that do not exactly keep your average Joe or Jane interested in what is more or less the entertainment industry's equivalent to the Super Bowl.
This year was a different story with a ceremony as crisp, star-studded, and entertaining as one could have hoped for in a rebound. The collection of films nominated this year was one of the finest in at least a decade, and provided a little bit of diversity to give almost any film fan something to love. If that wasn't enough, the producers of the Academy Awards had interest already installed for them from controversies surrounding certain films — some of them self-created. How did Ben Affleck not get a Best Director nomination for "Argo," and would he get the last laugh? How much of the torture tactics and the usage of them figured to effect "Zero Dark Thirty"? Had Quentin Tarantino dropped the n-word one too many times in his spaghetti-western, "Django Unchained"? Would age play a factor in the acting categories with both the youngest and oldest actress nominees competing (Quvenzhane Wallis for "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and Emmanuelle Riva for "Amour")?
The broadcast brought us a first-time host in the revolving doors of hosts. This time it was Seth MacFarlane, the creator of such animated TV shows as "The Family Guy" and "American Dad" as well as the feature film "Ted." Believe it or not, the talking (and drinking, pot-smoking, cocaine-snorting) Teddy bear flick is pretty funny. Certainly, given MacFarlane's skewed sense of humor, the Oscar producers were going out on a limb a bit; but, really, after last year's debacle it was doubtful they could do worse. So let's recap some of the highs and lows of the evening that was surprisingly fresh and filled with energy.
This was the theme for the night, with the integral role of songs and scores that enhance films. Adele was solid in her "Skyfall" performance, and the entire Bond-themed music worked to great effect. One of the highlights of the night was the entire cast of "Les Miserables" coming out in loud fashion for their film, even though they most likely knew it didn't have a chance at Best Picture.
Not all of it worked. Carting out Barbra Streisand for a rendition of "The Way We Were" was a little tacky, and it wasn't easy to see Adele, Norah Jones and the cast of "Les Mis" perform live while also-rans in the category were relegated to short film montages.
By now, everyone knows the winners, but part of the fun is in watching how they handle it. There were some memorable ones to watch. Ben Affleck accepted without resentment for his snub in the Best Director category, and gave a rather moving speech on persevering in the eye of adversity. Jennifer Lawrence, who was due a couple of years ago for "Winter's Bone," certainly made the highlight reel when she accepted her best actress award for "Silver Linings Playbook." Slipping on her way up the stairs to the stage, she shyly mused to the standing ovation that the only reason for the attention was that everyone felt bad for her less-than-graceful walk.
This isn't necessarily new, every year we find some presenters that should not be operating a vehicle, nor standing in front of a billion people reading from a teleprompter. This year's "winners" were John Travolta and Kristen Stewart. Travolta actually managed to mess up the pronunciation of "Les Miserables" while also mangling the names of nearly half the stars he was introducing. Yes, he is a scientologist and apparently from the planet Voltan so I guess we have to cut him some slack.
Stewart, meanwhile, just looked as if she was auditioning for the roll of Courtney Love in a bio-pic. I don't know for sure what she was doing back stage, but I don't think it was legal unless she had a prescription or had just flown in minutes before from Colorado or Washington.
A gutsy choice from the beginning, but he paid dividends for this broadcast. Several of his jokes cut a bit deep for some of the audience, but for the most part he straddled the line pretty well being original yet not too offensive. Most of all, it was clear from the outset MacFarlane was not about to copy any of the old ghosts that had graced the stage, and he brought a breath of fresh air to the awards. It was wholly needed.
The 'Jaws' Theme
Yeah, I know we all get a little tired of meandering thank you speeches, but the rather crude "Jaws" themed used as a hook to pull recipients off the stage was a bit crass, in my opinion, especially considering its usage in certain categories. I can hear them saying, "Mr. Short Documentary Winner, we're sicing the shark on you while you 're thanking your mother. Daniel Day- Lewis, feel free to give the Emancipation Proclamation.
All in all it was a great year for films, and the Oscars did a splendid job in showcasing it. Let's hope this year is as good.
(NOTICE: Ratings for each film begin with a ‘star’ rating — one star meaning ‘poor,’ four meaning ‘excellent’ — followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
STARTING THIS WEEK: “WRECK-IT RALPH”: A video-game villain (voice of John C. Reilly) escapes from the contest to prove he’s not such a bad guy — and unwittingly sets loose a much greater danger, which he then has to recapture — in this fanciful, animated Disney fantasy. There are plenty of fun nods to classic characters as Ralph attempts to show he’s not just the nemesis of the more-embraced Fix-It Felix (voice of Jack McBrayer, “30 Rock”). Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Ed O’Neill (“Modern Family”), Dennis Haysbert and Mindy Kaling also are heard. DVD extras: “making-of’’ documentary; deleted and alternate scenes; “Paperman” short subject; video-game commercials. *** (PG: V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
“RED DAWN”: Foreign invaders turn young Americans into freedom fighters in this less-effective remake of the 1984 adventure, delayed from release long enough by MGM’s financial troubles for stars Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson to have had respective successes with “Thor” and “The Hunger Games” first (though they made this before those). Interestingly, the nationality of the enemies was altered digitally after filming, so as not to upset some overseas exhibitors. Josh Peck, Isabel Lucas, Adrianne Palicki (“Friday Night Lights”), Connor Cruise (adopted son of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan also star in the tale directed by Dan Bradley, stunt coordinator for most of the “Bourne” movies. ** (PG-13: P, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
“THE INTOUCHABLES”: Based on a true story, this seriocomic French film by writer-directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano earned international raves for its two stars ... veteran actor Francois Cluzet as a rich aristocrat suddenly incapacitated while paragliding, and Omar Sy (who won the Cesar, France’s equivalent of the Oscar, as best actor for this) as the much younger and more street-wise fellow hired to care for him. Though others are in the cast, the picture very much belongs to those actors, and their unlikely yet fabulous teamwork justifies it. DVD extras: deleted scenes. *** (R: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
“PLAYING FOR KEEPS”: Gerard Butler’s charisma does much — if ultimately not enough overall — for this comedy-drama, as he plays a former soccer star whose personal and professional lives have taken downturns. He tries to put both back on track as he attempts to win back his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) while becoming the coach of his son’s sports team. In the latter role, he catches the eyes of several soccer moms (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Judy Greer). Dennis Quaid also appears. DVD extras: two “making-of” documentaries; deleted scenes. ** (PG-13: AS, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
“LAY THE FAVORITE”: He’s back on “Die Hard” territory these days, but Bruce Willis has been doing lots of other work lately, an example being this comedy casting him as a veteran gambler who gets an unlikely “business” partner. She’s a former stripper played by Rebecca Hall (“The Town”), and her expertise at predicting sports winners bodes well for them both. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson, Vince Vaughn and Laura Prepon also appear for director Stephen Frears (“The Queen”). *** (R: AS, N, P) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
“A DARK TRUTH”: In one of her first major roles since the end of “Desperate Housewives,” Eva Longoria is teamed with Oscar winner Forest Whitaker as married environmental activists in this drama. They get into big trouble while trying to prove a powerful corporation is linked to a devastating massacre in Ecuador, prompting an ex-CIA man (Andy Garcia) to accept the mission to rescue them. Kim Coates and Deborah Kara Unger also appear. DVD extra: “making-of” documentary. *** (R: AS, V)
COMING SOON: “HITCHCOCK” (March 12): Anthony Hopkins portrays the iconic filmmaker as he struggles to get his thriller “Psycho” made. Helen Mirren also stars. (PG-13: AS, P, V)
“LIFE OF PI” (March 12): Survivors of a shipwreck, a young man (Suraj Sharma) and a tiger become wary lifeboat mates in director Ang Lee’s visually stunning adventure. (PG: AS, V)
“RISE OF THE GUARDIANS” (March 12): Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny and other legends band together to save Earth. The animated fantasy’s voice cast includes Hugh Jackman, Jude Law and Alec Baldwin. (PG: AS)
“SMASHED” (March 12): Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul (“Breaking Bad”) play a couple whose drinking binges become dangerous. (R: AS, P, V)
“THE COLLECTION” (March 26): In this equally gruesome follow-up to “The Collector,” Josh Stewart reprises the role of a serial killer’s almost-victim enlisted to help save the felon’s latest captive. (R: AS, N, P, GV)
“PARENTAL GUIDANCE” (March 26): Billy Crystal and Bette Midler play a couple who get a firsthand education in modern generational differences by baby-sitting their grandchildren. (PG: AS)
FAMILY-VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violence.
lead to kids
For those fretting about children being exposed to “The Following,” here’s a reassuring note: More than 99 percent of tykes under 12 managed to miss the U.S. premiere, which, undoubtedly, won’t end the debate or hand-wringing about the show.
There’s no denying the new Fox series — about an FBI agent summoned out of retirement to thwart a serial killer and his messianic followers — is grim, nasty stuff that most people would deem inappropriate for the “SpongeBob SquarePants” demo. The program has drawn condemnations from groups like the Parents Television Council and Movieguide — whose publisher, Ted Baehr, is chair of the Christian Film & Television Commission — which called the show “a new low for television.” Actually, such hyperbole merely suggests marginal familiarity with TV, which has limboed lower on plenty of occasions. But does the “What about the children?” argument hold any weight if kids by and large don’t watch?
A deeper dive into “The Following’s” ratings underscores why it’s so difficult to conduct an intelligent conversation about violence and media in this polarized, digitally distributed age. Now, the 0.9 percent of kids who viewed “The Following” in its first three days, per Nielsen research, accounted for a mere 2.5 percent of the more than 13 million people who sampled the program. That translates to 339,000 kids — a paltry number based on population but not a wholly insignificant one. Such are the problems with a great big country.
Those who chose to let kids watch (or didn’t supervise them well enough to prevent it) shouldn’t be eligible for any parenting awards. Yet assuming the vast majority of adults consumed the show responsibly - that is, without kids — should they or Fox be penalized because of the few who can’t read a viewer-discretion advisory? Too often, advocacy groups use children as a red herring, hiding behind small fry in an effort to curb material they find objectionable.
By contrast, the “I Like Shows with Serial Killers” lobby — while clearly quite large — isn’t organized, lacking its own letterhead and publicist. (Just wait till the scolds get a gander at an upcoming “Following” episode that involves — gasp — gay sex, which invariably tends to upset them far more than violence.) Still, broadcasting these shows doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Fox’s marketing campaign capitalized on the network’s NFL playoffs coverage, and while those spots certainly didn’t contain the toughest moments, they did convey the show’s dark tone and present it to an audience far larger than the one that ultimately tuned in.
The issue grows more complex when contemplating a more pressing aspect of the current violence equation: guns, and the harm alienated loners can cause with them. Setting kids aside, should we be concerned about alienated loners — especially men age 18 to 34 — watching “The Following” alone? Perhaps, but they don’t particularly scare me if armed with nothing more than a butter knife. And if seeking to curtail what adults watch sounds like the slipperiest of slopes, remember, gun-rights advocates employ similar logic to repel any attempt to rein in Second Amendment rights, insisting it’s only a disturbed few who abuse them.
Any discussion of these issues, ultimately, winds up frittering around the periphery. Viewed that way, it’s hard make a convincing case for infantilizing all of media because a tiny minority allows children to see questionable material. Our overheated, media-saturated times also make it easy to lose perspective. For example, friends recently mentioned their teenager is hooked on FX’s “American Horror Story.” This initially horrified me given the program’s nihilism and torture-porn riffs before realizing I doubtless watched much grislier stuff as a teen.
And my deepest psychopathology is an unhealthy knowledge of “Star Wars” trivia. The late comic George Carlin’s mock headlines routine included this gem: “A man has barricaded himself inside of his house; however, he is not armed, and nobody is paying any attention to him.” If the political goal is to garner attention, invoking children as a cudgel against pop culture makes perfect sense. But like that poor unarmed slob barricaded in his room, it’s not really news.