Under Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a perfect stylistic match for David Fincher’s brand of filmmaking, probably too perfect in fact. The risk with Fincher’s filmmaking, as always, is with storytelling. Fincher doesn’t write his own scripts, so the question is whether the plot moves along with the same crispness as his striking visuals. When the details marry what the camera captures, the result can be nothing short of entrancing and creepy—see 2007’s masterful Zodiac (still Fincher’s best, for my money). Too often Gone Girl falls flat in ways comedic and dramatic, laying duds in several attempts at humor early on and dallying before introducing some truly engaging characters and storylines that could have deepened the material or made it more sickly. Based on the 2011 novel of the same name and adapted by its author Gillian Flynn (I haven’t read the book), I came away with the feeling that Flynn’s script was missing more than just a missing wife. I encountered most of my problems with Gone Girl in the film’s first half.

I’ll try avoiding major plot points, but suffice it to say that the film hinges on a major twist occurring halfway through. For me, given the film’s focus during its first hour, I would’ve preferred resolving the mystery clarified by the twist much sooner, mostly because I was annoyed that the film cared little if you bought into the mystery. You’re probably aware that the film involves a sort of he-said-she-said accounts of a marriage before a wife’s disappearance (he and she being Ben Affleck’s Nick and Rosamund Pike’s Amy, respectively).

The film is less cryptic about who is behind Amy’s disappearance than whether Nick killed her, and while I’m not sure if this was a poor choice, I’m absolutely positive that the film was incredibly unpersuasive in selling this enigma. Plausible alternative suspects are either discovered too late or revealed as innocent too soon. Key facts that would throw your guess into doubt are withheld until you’ve already made up your mind, and one of the pair’s narrations “comes perilously close to tipping the film’s hand,” as Genevieve Koski wrote. Too often, especially in this first hour, I was rolling my eyes (at least once my girlfriend and I could finish a joke before a character could) or antsy and frustrated, just waiting until the central mystery would give way to something more interesting.

It didn’t help that insights into Amy’s past where unhelpful, both to the police investigating her disappearance and to the story at large. One in particular, that a thinly veiled version of Amy was the subject of a book series, felt like a rip off of a similarly infuriating storyline on Six Feet Under. In another flashback, of Amy’s description of the first time she met Nick, the film (as indicated by Amy’s enthusiastic voice-over) is keen on depicting the spark of romance, but that first encounter is utterly ridiculous and felt devoid of chemistry, not least when she tells Nick that her job is to write personality quizzes in tabloid dreck. This isn’t to say that Affleck and Pike are out of their element. Quite the contrary obviously—I think what are otherwise solid and interesting performances are undone by the fact that their characters are almost acting in two separate movies. Amy, for example comes across frequently as a robot, and the film could’ve used a buffer between her and the other characters.

Luckily, after the twist some of these bothersome early scenes begin to make much more sense from the characters’ perspectives, but if I saw Gone Girl again I’d still be agitated to sit through that first hour. Much better is its second act, where some characters start to appear and fill the chasm (emotional and story-wise) between Nick and Amy—the most welcome addition, surprisingly but wonderfully cast, is Tyler Perry as Nick’s celebrity criminal lawyer. It took a while, but it was mostly after Perry’s arrival that I finally cared about the film’s outcome.

From a filmic perspective, Fincher is also more comfortable in the second hour, not shockingly when blood is shed. A late murder is staged with the classic, clinical coldness for which Fincher is justly famous, bloody crimson staining the film’s eerie yellow glow. Another encounter with some Missouri hillbillies is unsettling. These scenes were too brief, however, and if the story could’ve headed sooner in this direction we could’ve spent more time with them, perhaps discovering a hidden layer of horror beneath. The film needed a splash more color—Fincher doesn’t shoot (what’s supposed to be) Missouri with the same affection as his native San Francisco (see Zodiac and The Game) and some eccentricity would have livened the proceedings. A good example of this I think is Neil Patrick Harris’ character—Harris is splendidly cast but his character’s presence is barely hinted at until he finally shows up, and it’s too little, too late. I had a similar criticism for True Detective; like that series I felt the film edged close to genuine creepiness and backed away before it could provide any.

Also only hinted at is any semblance of social commentary. Lots of reviews have described that Gone Girl is a portrait of a marriage, which misses the fact that there is almost nothing naturalistic or reminiscent of truths about relationships in Gone Girl. Though the film is set in post-recession America and Nick and Amy (and other Missourians, presumably) are struggling to find work, the film discusses this unpleasantness only on a surface level, and again it doesn’t help that I was supposed to think Amy wrote relationship quizzes. More cloying still is the film’s view of broadcast media, channeled repeatedly, ad nauseam through a Nancy Grace impersonator. If your idea of media criticism amounts to “Nancy Grace is crazy,” that’s not much more profound than a fourth grader could come up with after watching Nancy Grace breathe air for thirty seconds. Gone Girl is better described as a noir, but it’s sadly a rather shallow attempt at noir, lending me less engrossment than boredom.

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Some Thoughts on Boyhood

The summer has been a busy one for me—largely busy with soulcrushingly monotonous tasks. Instead of writing 2000-word blog posts, I spent May writing a couple 10,000-plus-word papers. Instead of going to the movies every few days, I spent June and July watching bar exam lectures. Instead of finishing the third volume of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, I am pleased to report that I thoroughly studied and then immediately forgot on July 31 the minutiae of New York domestic relations law. But the bar is over, as is my post-bar trip to Peru, and I’m back to my normal routine. I shouldn’t complain too much, however, as the summer’s true hero is my cousin Nate, who has bravely soldiered on despite my inability (and despite his requests) to provide fifteen minutes’ worth of extra reading material to help his work day pass a little less slowly. I hope this review finds him well. My Spanish has improved (an incredibly high bar to clear), my film analysis likely hasn’t, but I finally got around to seeing Boyhood (timeliness is still my forte) with my girlfriend Taylor about a week ago.

It met expectations.

What isn’t shown. I’m guessing most reviews of the film* have discussed that Boyhood skips some of the usual beats you’d expect a coming of age movie to hit. At over two and a half hours, Boyhood sure doesn’t lack in scope, which perhaps makes its avoidance of some hackneyed clichés that much more admirable, or at least surprising. Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), the titular boy whose ‘hood is on display, isn’t shown losing his virginity, getting drunk for the first time, hitting a game-winning homer in Little League, or other milestones a typical bildungsroman following a kid from ages six to eighteen (as Boyhood roughly does) would probably cover. 

*I haven’t read any reviews of the film but the Slate Spoiler Special on Boyhood did discuss this stuff.

The story choices hinted at above were clearly the conscious decision of the film’s director, Richard Linklater. On several occasions, Linklater uses suspense briefly but heartstoppingly, flirting with some clichés before letting a scene play itself out or inserting a punchline. At one point, a young Mason scores an invite to hang out and drink in an unfinished basement with some “cool” high school seniors (they aren’t that “cool,” as one of the younger invitees notes, because they’re hanging out with eighth-grade or freshman-age guys), and the attendees start karate-chopping wood and throwing blades around. Taylor and I heard virtually every cotheatergoer of ours hold their breath for a second or two, surely this sequence of events would lead to a trip to the hospital, which would lead to a nice opportunity to impart an explicit life lesson. Not so. The scene ends naturally, or at least we’re given no evidence of someone bleeding from his carotid artery. A later scene had a similar effect—Mason’s sister Sam (Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter), now a college student, conspicuously announces that she’s sick, but thankfully she’s not pregnant, just really hungover.

Avoiding these clichés, playing with the audience’s expectations—Taylor and I decided Linklater has made something like an anti-coming-of-age film.

What is kinda shown. The title might imply that we approach Boyhood solely through Mason’s eyes, but conceptually boyhood isn’t limited to boys. Boyhood instead is symbiotic with sisterhood and parenthood (and grandparenthood, and we could keep going), too, depending of course on your unique situation. Linklater acknowledges this truth by subtly staging the film’s point of view. Yes, it is largely seen from Mason’s perspective, but it is rarely first-person, a choice which allows us to empathize with Samantha’s thoughts and feelings, as well as with their divorced parents’ (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke). Because know neither Mason nor Samantha as adults, much is left to the audience to intuit using our own experiences. Consider an early shot from the kids’ bedroom window of Mom and Dad yelling, where we don’t hear a word (nor do Mason or Sam) but understand that Mom doesn’t trust Dad with the kids. Or another where a garage door is open before the kids just enough to show Arquette’s character prostrate on the floor and her alcoholic second husband’s feet. The man’s voice is crystal clear, and we can only guess that Arquette’s character was the victim of abuse, even if the kids can’t perfectly translate this image for themselves. When the film shifts perspective to one of the parents, Linklater with only one or two exceptions late in the film includes one or both of the children in the scene. To wit—a shot from the mom’s POV is of her kids greeting her at the front door.

What is shown. What we’re left with is a series of short scenes that by themselves communicate very little but taken together document the growth (physical, philosophical, etc.) of a boy and the family around him.

While the film’s subject is ostensibly universal, I am very thankful that the film allowed Mason to develop and mature in his own particular and peculiar way. Again, Boyhood is a rather long film, even though it goes by quickly, and frankly, had Mason become an open book of a person you could See Yourself As or Identify With, the film would’ve been a let down. Certainly I share some of Mason’s thoughts about the NSA and Facebook, and as the film closed I recognized a college freshman’s smugness and righteousness, not much changed from a twenty-five year old’s. But my youth only barely paralleled Mason’s, and I’m glad Linklater allowed the audience to reflect on childhood and parenthood through the lens of one specific family rather than insisted that the audience think about those topics as if Mason’s family were some universal stand-in. Linklater focuses on idiosyncrasies, whatever overarching thematic flourishes you believe Boyhood conveys are actually your own as much as, if not more than, the film’s.

This strength of Boyhood‘s could’ve suffered if the film came across as a gimmick, but Linklater managed to avoid this in spite of the film’s premise. Surely he was aided in this by omitting several clichés, because the effect is to watch Mason develop gradually rather than in a manner punctuated by Big Moments. The film thankfully lacks title cards—Linklater uses thirty-second bumper music, including some funny inclusions thanks to time’s passage like Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”—further emphasizing gradual (natural) change over the usual way Hollywood condenses adolescence, to the point where it’s often not entirely obvious if another year has passed, unless Mason’s hair is different. Linklater’s visual style has never been showy, and though Boyhood has some stunning shots of Big Bend at twilight, that’s about as close (not very) to Terrence Malick as Linklater’s ever liable to come. But crucially, Linklater’s setup never distracts from character development, which, with Linklater’s more talky movies, basically substitutes for plot. His scenes are extremely well-choreographed—Boyhood contains not a couple lengthy one-shot conversations, similar to his Before series—and have a smoothness that balances nicely with his dialogues and monologues.

It’s no surprise that Linklater is an actor’s director, and finally I’d point out that Boyhood encapsulates his capacities in that facet of filmmaking. He’s always shown a deftness for directing kids (School of Rock), and this latest effort permitted him to work in depth with two actors when they were both precocious youngsters and on-edge teenagers (to the point where his daughter rather regretted chaining a part of her childhood to her dad’s ambition, a feeling which was all too palpable when watching), which must’ve required some outstanding patience and curiosity. It’s no surprise, either, that Arquette manages to show desperation and determination without ever resorting to hysteria, despite what turn out to be poor choices in men. It might come as a surprise that Taylor and I were most captivated by Hawke, an actor I confess to have had little patience for on screen except when working for Linklater (most prominently in the Before series). Linklater manages to let Hawke’s characters ramble but simultaneously not take those ramblings too seriously, which affords Hawke a lightness and likability that is strongly appealing. Mason is on the receiving end of a few lectures from adult figures in his life, his dad not excepted, but Hawke’s character doesn’t hector so much as joke around, and he’s the only male figure who really takes the time to ask his kids what they’re up to, even if he doesn’t remember all the details.

Then again, remembering all the details and moments isn’t as imperative as you might imagine. Spend a little time watching somebody experience a part of life’s journey, and you might find an actual character rather than a Hollywood paper cutout. 


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Under Review: Noah

Three days ago marked the one-year anniversary of Roger Ebert’s death, and in thinking of how I’d write my review of Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, I keep returning to how I’d think Ebert would review it. I’d wager he’d have loved it, and possibly given it a four-star review. For one, it touches directly on subjects that he discussed over and over again, especially in his final years and mortality was on his mind; perhaps Ebert would’ve found some common cause with Noah’s willingness to face death, even if Ebert wouldn’t have shared Noah’s (Russell Crowe) bleak opinions of humanity. For another, Noah is a a religious film that focuses less on faith than it does on doubt; one can read Ebert’s glowing reviews of Terrence Malick’s two most recent efforts, The Tree of Life and To the Wonder, for a possible template gauging his opinions towards works of great scope undergirded by faith but that raise more questions than they do answers. Best as I can tell, Ebert was an agnostic who never fully shed his Catholic upbringing, and these stories seemed to fascinate him throughout his career.

I’m an agnostic, too, and though I wouldn’t identify as a Christian though I was raised one, I think religion is a natural evolutionary tool (humans’ way of explaining the unexplainable) worthy of study and consideration. And I’m still someone who dwells quite frequently (and too heavily) on religion and bigger-picture (and open-ended issues) like existence, life and death, our place in the universe, and all that jazz. Because I can’t—and won’t be able to—tell you whether God exists, much less the form God would take whether God can communicate with us or whether we fit into some divine plan, I admire Noah‘s ambiguity on such inquiries. The film itself features fallen angels banished from heaven, left to roam Earth’s purgatory as rock monsters still inclined to protect “the Creation”; by contrast, the film depicts Noah kneeling in knowing acceptance of his Creator’s plan for him (and for all living creatures), though the God who has supposedly just confirmed Noah’s interpretation is shown to be a silent, ordinarily gray sky, the sun (and perhaps any divine edict, if there is one) clouded from view. And what Noah assumes are visions might just be dreams, their coming to pass either a ridiculous coincidence or a coincidence so beyond ridiculous as to be a communiqué from the Creator in whom Noah has placed all of his faith. This uncertain secularity elevates Noah above cloying fable, and its humanism is ironic because its title character believes his mission to be securing the death of humanity in the flood—his own family will have the added benefit of passing the storm in an ark they’ve built, but in Noah’s contemplation the species will die out with them, to beget no more. Even if Noah deciphers God’s message as one of preserving an idyllic state for innocent animals, “animalism” seems too cheeky a term to invent here.

I’d argue Noah nails down two main theses. The first is that our planet, though the product of an imperfect experiment, deserves conservation. Let me skip ahead through all the haughty global warming deniers’ whining to note that Aronofsky makes this point only tangentially and to remind you that whether you trust science or are ignorant, we share the world with a lot of other things that live and breathe but amount to shit on the living-being power structure. If you’ve read the New Testament, you’d recall that Jesus championed care for those marginalized by such power structures. It’s a small logical step from there to the recognition that we should protect that which was left to us, whether it’s our fellow women and men or the flora and fauna we like to gawk at on nature hikes. I use “left to” considering that even if there is a God in charge of all this, the dude checks in pretty rarely, and if so it’s usually to admonish the hell out of us, knowing we can’t retreat from our sinful ways. God gave us a shot, and like any good scientist didn’t destroy the evidence of nor tamper with the experiment. It’s just a stretch to say that Earth was “entrusted” to us—there’s not much to trust in Man’s duplicity.

The second is what comes after the flood, that even if humanity should survive and attempt an accounting of its imperfections, there’s not much hope that we can transcend our foundational sin. It’s quite an interesting point of study, I think, but while I like where Aronofsky is headed I’m a little befuddled at some of the story choices he uses to bring this argument to life. For one thing, I think this dilemma that Noah faces—he loves his family and thinks they’re better behaved than the rest, but understands God’s plan for Man’s death as encompassing even them—would carry more dramatic heft if some key plot points wherein Noah confronts what it means for his family to keep on living, like one involving Emma Watson’s character or another in which Noah’s son threatens to cash in on some antipathy for his father, had occurred after landfall rather than in the ark. It doesn’t help that the only truly riveting character to watch is Noah, once he becomes committed carrying the Creator’s plan out to extreme ends. (The other interesting character being God or, simultaneously, God’s absence.) Crowe is well cast, certainly, but the ark as locus for a lot of Noah’s hyperbole and violence adds the wrong kind of intimacy, hurrying up the conflict to a time that makes little sense in service of Aronofsky’s point, and leaving Jennifer Connelly (as Noah’s wife) and Watson (as his adopted daughter and love interest to one of his sons) with little to do but dart their eyes worrisomely.

Unfortunately, I spent too little time with Noah after the flood, and though the seeds for Noah’s radicalism were planted before the rains came, it was reductive of Aronofsky to permit his movie to devolve into a second-rate, Lord of the Rings-perverting orc orgyThe rock monsters I mentioned earlier are superfluous non-biblical inventions, really just plot devices for the building of the ark (which Aronofsky could care less about, frankly) and the fight sequence to come, as barbaric hordes descend on the ark’s door. Moreover, their rendering in CGI is not fearsome and in contrast with the rest of the effects’ commitment to naturalism—none of the animals look like creatures you couldn’t find at the zoo. Their presence also inhibits the film’s agnosticism. As intimated above, I found the film more powerful when, ironically, Aronofsky’s omniscience couldn’t confirm whether the God in which Noah believed existed, though maybe this quibble is more reflective of my own belief system than detrimental to the film’s ambiguity on this score. Still, if we’re not meant to know the true source of Noah’s visions, I’d posit that Noah would benefit from jettisoning the rock monsters.

I’d also posit that the film would benefit from using that void to shift focus onto other humans’ perceptions of Noah, which Aronofsky confusingly neglects. Those related to Noah evince no befuddlement at why he would embark on such a massive, crazy project. Okay, you might say, they’re his family, and the times would dictate obedience to their patriarch. But what of Noah’s friends and neighbors? In the movie, every non-family member is someone lower than the dregs of society, seemingly engaged in rape and violence all day and all night. More troublingly, I think, is that even all these barbarians believe Noah is right and that they must get on the ark. That strikes the wrong chord—remember the protagonist’s acquaintances in Field of Dreams or Take Shelter, who think the guy building the baseball diamond or the tornado shelter is a fucking NUTJOB. They’d view Noah, like many marginalized biblical heroes, the same way. I’d think Noah was crazy, too, because the ark is an absurd undertaking, and the grandfather he visits for advice (played by Anthony Hopkins) is a senile old man who hilariously just rambles on about berries in all his scenes. (NOTE: Anthony Hopkins’ scenes are not played for comedy.)

It’s probably saying something that Noah is probably not Aronofsky’s most grandiose or operatic movie. He is, after all, the director of Requiem for a Dream (a film I thought was awesome and DEEP when I was sixteen and find overwrought and pretentious now), The Fountain (I haven’t seen it, but it follows a couple in three completely different time periods), and Black Swan (like Noah, fascinatingly shot and with pangs of great feeling but, in my opinion, a lack of follow-through on its central conceit). My favorite film of his is The Wrestler, possibly because it’s his most private, preventing any larger distractions from lessening the film’s final heartbreak. (I also love Mickey Rourke.) I don’t want to say, though, that Aronofsky should stay away from existentialism or the unanswerable, because I think Noah indicates that his head is asking some beguiling and alluring questions, nor would greater minimalism be commensurate with his filmmaking scale. But I would caution him to take a lesson from his dramatization of Noah. People might think he’d be crazy for not leaning on fantasy and CGI, but I’d rather see a clearer and more confident articulation of the consequences of such destruction, shown or not shown, on the more intimate, individual level.

Posted in 2014 Movies, Movies, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Live Oscar Blog 2014

12:05 Buckeye: Looking forward to next year when PT Anderson’s new movie won’t win anything! Thanks for reading and indulging—despite what we’ve said tonight it was a great movie year.

12:02 kyra: Pretty much no surprises. Happy to see Spike Jonze sneak in the upset. It’s been long, but fun. Good night everybody!

12:00 Buckeye: Steve McQueen not as good a speaker as Lupita. Lot of shockers tonight!

11:57 Buckeye: God didn’t fare well, kyra

Also to shamelessly retweet another of yours, you are right to raise this:

11:54 kyra: Hey Rovell, how was God’s brand affected by that speech?

11:52 Buckeye: I love McConaughey, but you’re telling me this wasn’t the performance of the Best Actor in a Leading Role?

11:49 Buckeye: Pretty sure there isn’t anything Cate Blanchett doesn’t do well

11:48 kyra: Cate Blanchett mentioned Woody by name. SO BRAZEN

11:44 Buckeye: My problems with Gravity mainly involved George Clooney and also this

11:41 kyra: Personally, I didn’t like Gravity. Thought it was boring and predictable. Having said that, it was visually stunning. Easily the coolest 3D IMAX movie since Avatar, so Best Director is fitting.

11:35 Buckeye: We’re doing Director before the lead acting stuff now? That’s really my only comment. Gravity is awesome and I hope it’s saying something that it’s only my third favorite film by Cuarón. Y tu mamá también and Children of Men are classics. And the dude also hired El Chivo

11:33 kyra:  

11:32 kyra: Her?

11:29 Buckeye: Spike Jonze baby! Cared most about this category since it was the one where my rooting interest wasn’t a runaway favorite with the best chance. If Before Midnight isn’t gonna be in this category, this is so, so fucking deserved.

Like kyra, I’m really glad we got to rehash The Avengers earlier so that we couldn’t hear/see what made some of these screenplays so great.

11:25 kyra: Really disappointed they aren’t reading lines from scenes while they show it on the screen. That’s the coolest part of these categories. Anyways, chalk continues to roll.

11:22 Buckeye: We need to do everything in our power to get Trey and Matt an EGOT

I also think Adele Hazeem is due for one

11:19 Buckeye: Youngest EGOT ever!

11:18 kyra: WOW! An EGOT! That’s rare company

11:14 kyra: LOL nice one Jamie!

11:12 kyra: Please welcome two time male masseuse handjob recipient John Travolta!

11:11 Buckeye: Is there a person alive more difficult to take seriously than John Travolta? I like how Ellen had to say the Frozen singer’s name twice after Travolta butchered it

11:10 Buckeye: If Jason Alexander had run over Bette Midler on stage that would’ve done PSH justice

11:05 kyra:

11:03 Buckeye: I have to say if you were offended that Bette Midler came on to sing that cheesy song I can’t blame you. LOOK AT THOSE NAMES. We couldn’t have seen some PSH clips, or Siskel & Ebert arguing, or Fast 6? Come on. At least Bill Murray got his Ramis shoutout in.

11:00 kyra: Hahaha so true. This is a stellar lineup, you didn’t even mention Elmore Leonard, Harold Ramis who just snuck in, Paul Walker, and obviously PSH.

10:58 Buckeye: Honestly the ’27 Yankees of death montage honorees this year. They LED OFF with Gandolfini and threw Roger Ebert and Peter O’Toole in the middle of the pack.

10:53 Buckeye: Since Glenn Close is wearing black this is definitely the death montage right? Hero night continues! #heroes

10:50 kyra: Pepsi really on top of their pop culture with Cuba Gooding Jr. and a “show me the mini” joke

10:49 Buckeye: Definitely the right call to highlight Man of Steel in the superhero montage instead of Superman

10:47 kyra: “the forgettable er I mean talented Chris Evans”

10:45 Buckeye: If you needed any reminder that The Great Gatsby sucked, I refer you to Leo’s complete indifference to its second win tonight

10:38 Buckeye: On a personal note, this Robin Williams-narrated commercial features prominently The Best Damn Band in the Land:


10:33 kyra: where’s the fast forward button?

10:33 Buckeye: What I meant to say was: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Emanuel Lubezki, #heroes

10:32 kyra:

10:28 Buckeye: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Emanuel Lubezki. Three outstanding and incredibly talented men.

10:25 Buckeye: MEET YOU AT THE MOVIEDONG IN 2017!

10:23 kyra: Missing a golden opportunity here to order a big sausage pizza

10:18 Buckeye: No way an American could be that eloquent.

10:16 kyra: girls with eating disorders everywhere are running to the bathroom after looking at Lupita for a few minutes

10:11 Buckeye: Just in time for Twitter crashing a big fucking award. Go Lupita.

Huge upset in that the “science oven” scene was not used for JLaw, and the Julia Roberts clip made me REALLY happy I didn’t see August: Osage County

10:10 kyra: Who’s hotter, Theron or Hemsworth?

10:07 kyra:

10:06 kyra: Kristin Be-el. Wait what?

10:02 Buckeye:

Glad “Steve McQueen” found a second job. Those glasses aren’t fooling anybody:


9:59 Buckeye: I just confirmed what I thought I heard, which is that The Great Beauty director thanked Diego Maradona right after he thanked Fellini. Incredible

9:57 kyra: Bono clocking in at a healthy 80 Courics tonight.

9:55 Buckeye: //U2 announced //bathroom break

9:51 Buckeye: I will add that at the first bunga bunga party in The Great Beauty (and at several successive such parties), the main character played by Toni Servillo hangs out with a dwarf who happens to be his boss. A later scene features the dwarf and Toni Servillo trying to talk to a 90-year old nun who basically just drools all over the place. The Great Beauty could not have been more Italian.


9:43 Buckeye: You know what this ceremony could’ve also used right about now is actually giving Steve Martin his award in person so I could hear someone funny (h/t Mark Harris on this score)

9:41 Buckeye: I am sure 20 Feet from Stardom is an awesome movie. I mean the “RAPE…MURDER” part of “Gimme Shelter” might be the greatest 20 seconds in rock history. But we’re here to honor movie history, and I swear to you The Act of Killing is one of the most brilliant and horrifying movies of recent years.

9:36 Buckeye: Ellen didn’t go back to a Jonah Hill dick joke right there? Biggest upset of the night so far

9:35 Buckeye: Dana Stevens of Slate saw this winner for Documentary Short about the 100+ year old Holocaust survivor who played the piano every day and swore it was not depressing

9:31 kyra: I’m really proud of us for stepping us our Seinfeld game this year Buckeye. In other news, I did not see the live action short films this year, but heard they were all terrible.

9:27 Buckeye: Dude learned from the best:


9:25 kyra: GREAT hustle in the pleated pants game by the Vampire Weekend guy, except that pleated pants went out of fashion like 50 years ago

9:23 Buckeye: 

I will bother commenting on the technical awards when something other than Gravity wins. I have tongued Alfonso Cuarón’s balls enough in my life already.

9:21 kyra: All that montage did was remind me that Colin Firth hasn’t done anything in the past 3 years.

9:19 Buckeye: And Maya from Zero Dark Thirty is a “hero”? Maybe to Bill Kristol, I mean people saw that movie, right?

9:18 Buckeye: Jackie Robinson, Gandhi, and Lincoln count as “ordinary” heroes? Who is extraordinary then, just Jesus?

9:16 kyra: Kim Novak is so old she’s dead.

9:15 Buckeye: Did everybody get their #truedetectiveseason2 jokes out of their system? Just checking because 10 showed up on my Twitter feed just now.

9:12 kyra: I saw the animated shorts again this year, and they were all terrible. Mr Hublot, which won, was one of the two least terrible I guess.

9:11 Buckeye: This woman has “no experience” with animation? Look at that face

9:09 Buckeye: All these Mercedes commercials only reinforce my impression that Jon Hamm should be the Oscars announcer

9:06 kyra: Can we take a moment to think about the casting of Rob Reiner as Leo’s dad in Wolf. On what planet does Leo escape the genes from Rob’s ugly mug? AND he’s supposed to be a Jew! #suspendeddisbelief

9:04 kyra:

9:03 Buckeye: The theme of Harrison Ford’s speech, and of his earring, is BLOOD, and also struggling to read good

9:01 Buckeye: Another one of my sentimental picks this year was for Bad Grandpa. That movie absolutely had the best makeup of those three, but the old people didn’t vote for it simply because it’s a Jackass movie. And that’s bullshit, which is to say that’s the Oscars for you.

And how completely NOT shocking was it to learn the costume lady was married to Baz Luhrmann? I think she literally walked off The Great Gatsby set yesterday.

8:58 kyra: Naomi Watts is FIREFLAMESSMOKEMACHINE

8:57 kyra: Oh great, Ellen’s already going back to the well on the dick jokes.

8:54 Buckeye: HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT!! Pharell might be a god.

In case you were wondering why there are only four nominated songs this year, there were five! But the fifth was from a legit Jesus freak movie that only played like the Christian festival circuit and then was un-nominated because of some improper influence by the guy who wrote it. Fun Fact #1!

8:52 kyra: this is as good a time as ever to remind everyone that Pharrell is 40 years old.

8:51 Buckeye: #happy #blessed #hat

8:49 Buckeye: A quick search on the google alerts me to the fact that one of Jim Carrey’s go-to impressions is Bruce Dern? Another example of Jim Carrey being capable of catering only to the under-10 and over-70 demographic.

8:47 kyra: #blessed #humbeled

8:44 Buckeye: Boy, nothing says “Thank you, Mom” or “I support freedom in the Ukraine” quite like plugging the next 30 Seconds to Mars album.

8:40 Buckeye: kyra she needed to repeat it for June Squibb. Did you get that joke too?


8:36 Buckeye:

8:33 Buckeye: Thank you for that, kyra. Which low-talker paid Ellen to wear this?

8:31 kyra: Ellen Degeneres or this?

8:30 Buckeye: I’d make a joke that you couldn’t pay me to watch Revenge, but I am also watching the Oscars for free. SHOW’S STARTING!

8:28 kyra: 

8:25 kyra: Two observations from the last commercial break. Some show “all of Twitter agrees” is great. No one on Twitter agrees about a fucking thing. Secondly, Revenge is back at a new time, and it’s “bigger, sexier, and revengier!” Kill me now.

8:23 Buckeye: I, too, despise Will Smith. But I forgot about all of that once I caught a glimpse of Roland Martin proudly displaying that beautiful ascot.

8:20 kyra: Love the ascot, but it’s offset by how phony Smith’s general enthusiasm is. Also, we all know that Roland Martin has a monopoly on black guys wearing ascots:

8:15 Buckeye: kyra what are your thoughts on Will Smith’s ascot?

8:13 kyra: It’s a red, strapless little number. Don’t worry you’ll see it plenty I’m sure.

8:09 Buckeye: I still haven’t seen what JLaw is wearing. Please show. Not Jimmy Kimmel

8:04 kyra: Hey Barkhad, you’re nominated for a fucking Oscar I think it’s time to get the teeth fixed. You look like they legitimately took you off a Somalian pirate ship and threw a tux your way.

8:02 kyra: Who’s taller: Jonah Hill or Adam Schefter?

7:57 Buckeye: I see that Tyson Beckford is commenting generically on fashion for ABC this year. So generically that he forgot Julia Roberts’ name. I assume that Tyson Beckford’s qualifications for this role stem not from his career as a male model but prior work in the film industry:


7:53 kyra: I am making the objective move to switch to ABC, which is having live interviews with nominees and other stuff. Meanwhile on E the girls are all fumbling over each other to make the next dull point while they can’t stop talking about Jennifer Lawrence falling AGAIN.

7:51 Buckeye: I would like to note that the theme of tonight’s show is “HEROES,” which kyra and I clearly are for watching the red carpet venality. And if you thought that Heroes was a shitty theme, please remember that last year the theme was Musicals.

7:45 kyra: “Paul Rudd is in the house! Also, Adam Scott. It’s a mixed bag.” Ouch, stick to the Emmy’s Adam.

7:38 Buckeye: I also realized why Kristin Cavallari is on, and that’s because it’s time to switch to ABC. Though can we discuss whose brilliant idea it was for the Oscars to begin at 8:30 ET? Who fucking thought people on the East Coast would wanna be watching the Oscars past midnight?

7:37 Buckeye:

7:35 Buckeye: YES

7:31 Buckeye: Jesus Christ Jay Cutler’s Laguna Beach wife is a correspondent? I will open my first beer now. And I don’t wanna see JLaw fall down again. I saw that last year. I wanna see if she looks as great as always.

7:30 Buckeye: McConaughey is going to win Best Actor tonight but qualifies as Worst Actor Trying to Act Like He Knows What a Selfie Is

7:25 Buckeye: Great question:

7:23 Buckeye: Seacrest is speaking with Sarah Paulson and why wasn’t Sarah Paulson nominated for anything this year? Holy shit was she scary. She was the scariest person in that movie. There were not enough heads she could crush with decanters.

7:21 Buckeye:



7:09 Buckeye: Serious question, is this club music on in the background on E! something that Ryan Seacrest and the people he’s interviewing can hear, or am I just having my pulse constantly throttled until I convulse and die? I didn’t know I was supposed to be on ecstasy for the 2014 Oscars presented by Deadmau555555.

7:04 Buckeye: Ryan Seacrest is speaking with Naomi Watts, who looks fucking stunning, and all he wants to know is, and I quote, “Where is Ray Donovan?” And then he proceeds to ask how often Liev Schreiber works out.



6:58 Buckeye: I am really glad that Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Richard Linklater are present at the awards even though World War III will start before they win. Actually that’s not implausible. But they’re there, and they were in the best movie from last year, and they should be allowed to accept something and speak for 20 minutes. What they shouldn’t have to do is speak to Ryan Seacrest.

6:50 Buckeye: Settling in here and just want to, like kyra, say a sincere (rare for me) “Thank you” for reading the two of us over the past year. We’ll try to give you even more to think about in the coming months and are really appreciative that you’d even click on our posts, let alone read them—we do this for ourselves but also for anybody who has suggestions for us or thinks we’re moderately insightful or funny (like tonight! We’ll be snarky!).

I’ll begin the snark soon as I finish cooking my chili and try to find E!!!!!!!!!! on DirecTV.

6:27 kyra: The night is finally here! Tonight essentially marks the one year anniversary of Buckeye and myself writing Room Eleven. I’m sure Buckeye will have his own thoughts, but I want to say personally that I am truly humbled by the dedicated readership we have had over the past year. The fact that y’all care enough about our opinions to continue to read us on a weekly, monthly, or whatever basis makes me happier than you likely realize. Last year’s Oscars Blog still represents the high watermark of viewers we had in one day (801 views), so tell your friends, settle in, and let’s have some fun on Hollywood’s big night. Our predictions for the big categories are below.


kyra: I think that most of the major categories are gonna go with the favorites. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb saying both Best and Supporting Actor will go to the boys from Dallas Buyers Club, on the female side Cate Blanchett is a virtual lock, and I think Lupita Nyong’o takes home Supporting. For Screenplay, I’m going with American Hustle for Original and 12 Years A Slave for Adapted. Finally, I think that Director will go to Cuaron, with Best Picture being taken home by 12 Years A Slave.

As for who I think deserves to win, it’s a whole different story. I agree that both male acting awards should come from the same movie, but that movie is not Dallas Buyers Club. Rather, it’s The Wolf of Wall Street, where both Leo and Jonah Hill delivered excellent performances. On the other side, I would still vote for Cate Blanchett, who made Jasmine her own. They say Woody Allen has a certain magic ability to get something out of his actresses, and Blanchett fills the role of muse flawlessly. As for Supporting, I’m happy with Nyong’o getting the nod, although I thought Sally Hawkins was also very good. If you haven’t seen Blue Jasmine, I would highly recommend it–a very good watch at home movie. For Screenplays, I’m going to fudge the rules a bit. I would give The Wolf of Wall Street, which is adapted from the book of the same name, Best Adapted. The way I’m fudging is that I want to give Best Original to Before Midnight. The movie is actually nominated for Adapted because it’s a sequel, and according to Academy rules all sequels are adaptations from the original source material, which is really stupid. If I had to pick one of the actual nominees, I would go with Her, which is a thought provoking love story set in a modernesque digital age. For Directing, I would give the Oscar to Marty Scorsese, who directed the shit out of that film. Think about the wild party scenes, when Leo fake hits that baseball that the camera then travels with across the room, the quaaludes scenes, and plenty of other iconic moments. As for Best Picture, let me just say I really have a 3-way tie at the top with Wolf of Wall Street, Before Midnight, and Inside Llewyn Davis. Since only one of those is actually nominated, I will choose Wolf. The movie is a brilliant indictment of the Wall Street culture in the 1980’s shown through a biopic lens. It is scarily accurate, and I loved every minute of its 3 hour running time.

Buckeye: I am going to stay chalky with my picks as well, with one exception that’s purely heart-driven and bolded below:

Best Picture: 12 Years a Slave; Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón; Best Actor: LEO; Best Actress: Cate Blanchett; Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto; Best Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o; Best Original Screenplay: Her (note that I’m also predicting differently from kyra here); Best Adapted Screenplay: 12 Years a Slave.

If you put a gun to my head, do I think Leo would win? No, but you also don’t have a gun to my head, because this is the fucking Oscars, and there’s no bet I’d rather cash in than a victory for Leonardo DiCaprio after delivering the best performance of the year.

If I were Academy dictator, like kyra I’d choose Wolf for almost every category in which it’s nominated—in my Top 10 of the year I ranked it 3rd, one spot ahead of 12 Years and two ahead of Her. So I’d pick Scorsese for Director, though to be honest I’m totally cool with any non-David O. Russell director winning this year. I’d hand Jonah Hill an Oscar, too, for his bravery in jacking off at a packed pool party. THAT is true courage right there, not losing weight or playing “full retard” or a Holocaust victim. And I am grateful to kyra for shedding light on the arbitrary original/adapted screenplay distinction. Before Midnight, as my favorite film of 2013, obviously has my heart, and just as obviously has no place in Adapted Screenplay, but since it won’t win I’d definitely be thrilled for Terence Winter to take home the Oscar (barely any more likely than Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater doing so). The awards I really care about this evening are: Supporting Actor (God, he’s going to, but Jared Leto in NO WAY deserves this award, especially where Hill and Michael Fassbender are concerned); Original Screenplay (Her has a good shot at winning over American Hustle here, and that should happen because I’m 90% sure American Hustle didn’t even have a script); Documentary Feature (because The Act of Killing is a legitimately great movie, but it’s debatable whether enough voters could even stomach it).

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Five Years Later: The 81st Oscars Postmortem

I’ve read Bill Simmons a couple times suggesting that we should hand out Academy Awards at a later time—say, five years later—because the distance in time from the buzz surrounding initial release and in-season campaigning combined with the chance to reflect on a certain crop of movies would elicit a more objective opinion of that crop’s best movies and performances. I readily acknowledge that objectivity in evaluation of any art, including movies, is unattainable, but picking winners a few years down the road seems more reasonable to me than the undue influence accorded some elements of Oscar-season politicking and decisionmaking. For example, Jared Leto, who some think should be docked this Sunday because he wasn’t sufficiently respectful in his Golden Globes acceptance speech. If you wanted to dock Leto’s performance and the character he plays in Dallas Buyers Club for the borderline disrespectful perpetuating of drag queen stereotypes, then I’m all with you! He shouldn’t win! But sadly, half of the reasons Oscars are given out are based on how well people meet certain strictures of etiquette—the other half generously reserved for, you know, the quality of the movie and whether or not you’ve won before.

And the five-years idea would save us from the media being clueless as to how to cover another spectacle. Oscars coverage is the opposite of election coverage, where bullshit artists fall all over themselves to let us know the race for office is neck-and-neck even though their comments belie a complete misunderstanding of Nate Silver’s crazy probability machine. No, Oscars coverage actually stifles competition by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You’d think the media would want to try and provide the impression that any nominated movie has a shot at winning its category, but no! One dude says “I think it’s between American Hustle, Gravity, and 12 Years a Slave this year!” and then another due repeats it, and then I’m left to wonder why an awesome movie like Her was even nominated for Best Picture in the first place. To me, it’s counterintuitive, especially considering that in the grand scheme of things, the concept of the Oscars is pretty fucking stupid. We’re not determining the leader of the free world, so if a vote is a little less important than that, why not make it a little more exciting, and by doing so spread those self-fulfilling prophecies a little more broadly.

Of course, this is never going to change and that’s thanks to Hollywood’s business model, which incentivizes releasing awards bait as close as possible to the voting deadline. But I’m also going to do something I do increasingly infrequently, and that’s admit that Bill Simmons has a point. If the Oscars and the media think we have ADD, they’ve misdiagnosed us. We don’t talk about movies purely in a vacuum, and movies we liked or didn’t like when they came out can rise or fall in our estimation over time. Maybe five years is still too early to officially judge a movie, but you’ve gotta arbitrarily draw the line somewhere, and five is an easily multipliable number and also the number of years that baseball players have to wait before they can appear on the Hall of Fame ballot. Yes, the Baseball Hall of Fame process is horrible, too, but fuck it let’s just talk about the Academy’s favorite movies of 2008 (awarded in 2009). I’m going to offer my opinion on who I think should’ve won from the slate of nominees in the eight most prominent categories and offer a suggestion from outside the list of nominees as to who I think should’ve been included:

BEST PICTURE (winner in bold)

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button                                                                                             Frost/Nixon                                                                                                                                         Milk                                                                                                                                                       The Reader                                                                                                                                           Slumdog Millionaire

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The Americans S2E1: Comrades

kyra: Buckeye, I can’t tell you how excited I am to have a real show to talk about again. Sure True Detective has kept us up late on Sunday nights, but it just hasn’t sucked me all in. The Americans, on the other hand, had just as good a debut season as pretty much anything I’ve ever seen, coming in at #3 on my Best Of 2013. That being said, Homeland also had a great Season 1 only to drive straight into a tirefire when they ran out of story. And on that positive note, let’s talk about Comrades.

I must admit, I don’t think the ‘last season on The Americans‘ did a good enough job refreshing me on everything that went on. I supplemented it with the Wikipedia entry on the last episode, but even then I still don’t remember all the details with the Colonel and what not. There’s the guy with gambling debts, then there was a scientist they had turned–are those different people? I guess what I’m saying is they could’ve done a better job reminding me of what went down at the end of the Season 1. Aside from this complaint though, I thought Comrades did an excellent job diving back into the world, setting up some long-term plots, and hitting the ground running with a violent bang.

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Checking in on True Detective

I hesitate to write about True Detective at all until I see the finished product. As Wesley Morris opined, it’s like judging a book halfway through. Unlike the serial nature of TV drama, this is a miniseries. It is only 8 episodes, and I think it’s more appropriate to be judged as one project like a movie. That being said, I wanted to pen down some mid-season thoughts before the show finishes.

Let’s marvel at the highs and lows of a serial killer investigation…oh wait, it’s mostly lows. This show reminds me of a poker game: 99% biding your time for 1% action. That can be fine if the investigation is compelling, but through 5 episodes now it seems Nic Pizzolatto (the writer) does not care as much about the investigation as he does developing Martin Hart and Rust Cohle. By the 5th episode this has become redundant.

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