Sunday, September 23, 2012

Emmys 2012: Winners

Comedy Categories

Best Series: Modern Family 
Best Actor: Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men
Best Actress: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Best Supporting Actor: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Best Supporting Actress: Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Best Directing: Steve Levitan, Modern Family
Best Writing: Louis C.K., Louie

Drama Categories

Best Series: Homeland
Best Actor: Damian Lewis, Homeland
Best Actress: Claire Danes, Homeland
Best Supporting Actor: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Best Supporting Actress: Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Best Directing: Tim van Patten, Boardwalk Empire
Best Writing: Homeland

Miniseries/TV Movie Categories:

Best Series/Movie: Game Change
Best Actor: Kevin Costner, Hatfields & McCoys
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Game Change
Best Supporting Actor: Tom Berenger, Hatfields & McCoys
Best Supporting Actress: Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Best Directing: Jay Roach, Game Change
Best Writing: Game Change

Best Variety Series: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Best Variety Special Program: Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon Theatre
Best Directing for a Special: Tony Awards
Best Reality Competition Program: The Amazing Race
Best Reality Show Host: Tom Bergeron, Dancing With the Stars

The Five-peat Cometh: 2012 Emmy predictions

I'm always terrible at predicting the Emmys, so have fun at seeing how many I miss, rather than how many I get right.

Best Comedy Series

The Big Bang Theory
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Modern Family
30 Rock
Will Win: Girls
Maybe Will Win: Modern Family
Should Win: 30 Rock
The Storyline: Modern Family has won this award the last two years, and while the Emmys love to repeat, but Family doesn't have the force it had those first two years. It's interesting that six nominations are split over HBO and three different networks, suggesting the Emmy voters really connected with what HBO was offering this year. Girls was a hot enough topic last year despite the polarity to bolster it here, even though I think you'd have to be a fool to not recognize how brilliant the past season of 30 Rock was.

Friday, September 21, 2012

On thinning paint - Deeper into 'The Master'

Note: This is not a review of The Master, which can be found below. Rather, it explores several motifs and ideas I find worth talking about after a first viewing. These comments are surely not 100% accurate -- I am working solely off memory -- and I invite continued discussion in the comments section. If you have not seen the film and would like to map out your own interpretation, I would caution against reading this piece.

We've all heard of drinking the Kool-Aid. Fruity, sugary, a product of a culture driven by artificiality, where a colored powder transforms before our eyes into something palatable, consumable--if not necessarily nutritious.

But we probably haven't heard of drinking the Paint Thinner. To do so would be ludicrous. It is poisonous -- on a literal level -- but it's also something that, in its very nature, strips. It removes facades and constructions, whereas Kool-Aid is itself a facade, a drink of fake fruit flavors.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Erratic behavior - 'The Master' review

You can say this of Paul Thomas Anderson: He goes big or goes home. All of his movies are about big ideas, historical explorations, allegorical cautionary tales about our morals and our psyches. Be it in the unlikely connections of the disaffected in Magnolia or the epic showdown of capitalism and religion in There Will Be Blood, Anderson has employed a variety of filmmaking strategies with formal precision and a nod toward unconventional narrative experiments. Maybe that's why, despite just having made a handful of movies, us self-declared cinephiles seem to salivate over everything he does.

With The Master, Anderson moves to the years immediately following World War II. It's a time of immense social change, a reconstitution of suburban organization and an economic boom. But as movies like The Best Years of Our Lives tell us, it's also a moment of having to come to terms with the physical and psychological scars of WWII. The Master is the emotional antithesis of Wyler's film -- instead of melodrama, there's a near-absence of emotion. Everything is intellectualized.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'Compliance' and Condescension

Note: There are spoilers in this review. Because Compliance is based on a true story with plenty of news coverage (and a Law & Order) episode, I assume you already know the gist of it.

Sometimes, the discourse around a movie might be more important than the movie itself, or can help inform how to make heads or tails of whatever the movie might be trying to say. I'm all for scouring reviews on blogs and IMDb, trying to piece together a sense of coherence for how lots of different groups are talking about a text. With Compliance, Craig Zobel's sophomore feature, the discussion the movie wants you to have is more important than the movie itself. Adapting the true story of a fast-food manager who is sadistically prank-called and tricked into strip-searching and sexually humiliating a co-worker by a man pretending to be a police officer, it's one of those "I can't believe this happened!" kind of stories that, as you might've guessed, was a Law & Order: SVU episode.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

'Lawless' ain't flawless - review

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to see Lawless was solely for the setting and the period. I grew up mere miles down the road from Franklin County, VA. The legends of bootleggers and moonshine still ring through the Southwest Virginia valley, and Australian filmmaker John Hillcoat (The Proposition, The Road) was an ideal candidate to give full splendor and anthropological precision to the area, while drenching it in his unflinching violence.

In some ways, I got what I hoped for. Though shot in Georgia -- and any seasoned Son of the Commonwealth will probably notice some discrepancies in Hillcoat's beautiful nature shots, but that's almost beside the point -- Hillcoat and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme find numerously stunning ways to frame dirt roads, open fields, and misty mountains. While Hillcoat's gritty, uncompromising view of Australia in his breakout film The Proposition marked him as a filmmaker geared towards capturing the feel of places, his style there felt bred out of an affinity with that land -- here, he's very much an anthropologist. I'd venture there are more long shots in Lawless than any other non-Steven Soderbergh movie of the last two years. Many shots linger away from characters, look through windows, and ask us to soak in the details of this land. Franklin, VA is rendered simplistically but richly.

The first 30 or so minutes of Lawless are, for this reason, wonderful. I found myself chuckling over how right the geography felt. The slow pace, the establishment of the Bondurant brothers and their moonshine enterprise, the introduction of new law forces from Chicago to clamp down on Prohibition -- screenwriter Nick Cave built a strong first act that draws on traditional genre structures. Tom Hardy, as the lumbering man-of-few-words Forrest Bondurant, is best in show among the strong cast that also features Shia LeBeouf (who has matured remarkably; this is the first time I haven't been annoyed with him), Jessica Chastain, Guy Pierce (a snarling, rabid bit of scene-chewing), and Jason Clarke. In many ways, this cast assembles some of the best talent working today, and they're all top-notch. After seeing Hardy strut his stuff as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises earlier this summer, his turn here is almost more revelatory. He's able to carry his weight in his chest, totally nail the accent, and give Forrest a mythological soulfulness and terrifying brutality necessary for the weight the film wants to apply to him.

Everything that makes it onto the screen in Lawless varies from beautiful to riveting to serviceable. It's what gets left out that makes the movie so maddeningly uneven. At just under two hours, it feels remarkably incomplete. There is a kind of epic seed planted in the first 45 minutes that never gets played out. What starts out as slow starts to accelerate once violence comes into the picture. There are more montages, more jumps forward in time in ways that feel forced to just get us to the next important thing, and a build-up to a climactic shoot-out that's simply too fast. The climax, its resolution, and the subsequent denouement are robbed of resonance. Take, for example, Gary Oldman, who plays a Northern gangster setting up shop in Roanoke. He has two or three scenes, but has one hell of an introduction, and crackles in every second he's in. Then he disappears. It's an arc about the broader web of the bootlegging business that gets introduced but unexplored, a tangent that feels largely incidental and a total miss. This is worse for Jessica Chastain, who enters the film a world-weary soul running from some kind of mysterious past, and about halfway through becomes a sexual object designed solely to cater to and worry about her man -- it's a betrayal of an interesting character, and a pretty crappy representation of femininity.

I don't know the production history of the film enough to make assumptions, but I can imagine a bigger version of the screenplay -- or maybe of the film itself -- that built quietly, explored the Southern geography, and focused much more on the character relationships than this final version, which switches tempo between and among scenes at a confounding rate. Any "internal beats" to help connect thematic arcs disappear as a consequence, and make it feel splintered. I hope that somewhere there's a three hour version of this film, because I honestly believe Lawless could have been a great, masterful gangster movie. Maybe there was simply too much story; maybe it would have worked better as a miniseries.

With so much care obviously paid to designing the film and creating an accurate view of Southwest Virginia, it's a shame the film has to feel so slight. The violence is the most wrenching and riveting thing in the whole film, and Hillcoat never shies away from it. The beauty of the landscape and the ugliness of the fighting between the cops and moonshiners forms the central contrast of the film, and is certainly -- from a visual standpoint -- fantastic. But even for a genre film, Lawless's narrative is just too generic to cut it.