Talking movies with Chai and Mariah | The Moviegoer

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Talking movies with Chai and Mariah

Posted By on Sun, Feb 25, 2007 at 1:45 PM

To:  Chai, Mariah From: Blake Date: 2.24.07, 9:35AM Re: Movies 2006 Chai and Mariah,   Tomorrow the Academy Awards will be shown on ABC at 7:30, which serves as natural end to the 2006 cinematic calendar.  There's still much I have yet to see, notably "The Lives of Others," "Little Children" and three of the five nominated documentaries.  I'm not as impressed with field of nominees generally, but overall I thought it was fine year in film.  For the purposes of our chat, I want to start out with four topics.  Please feel free to elaborate on whichever you want or change the discussion all together.    The first is the cinematic achievement of Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima."  Taken together, I think these two films comprise the year's finest moviemaking.  "Flags" standing on its own, was a mediocre film to me.  But "Iwo Jima" was extraordinary and I believe Eastwood is deserving of praise for making them, even if he and Warner Bros. marketed the films all wrong.    The second is Scorsese.  I was blown away by "The Departed."  I saw it for the third time last week and still, when it was over, I remarked, "Wow, what a film."  I was unimpressed with "The Aviator" and with "Gangs of New York."  Losing there did not surprise me, but looking back, I simply cannot comprehend how he lost for "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas."  Someone tell me how Kevin Costner and Robert Redford's films, "Dances with Wolves" and "Ordinary People," were better directing achievements (I hate to throw out Redford because I think his work is quite fine)?  And is "Mean Streets" his finest film?   Third, will one of you please explain to me the hype over "Little Miss Sunshine"?  I don't get it.  It's a fine, cute little film with a crazy family and comedic highlights.  But for Best Picture?  I know the Academy's made some mistakes over the years ("The Greatest Show on Earth" and "Around the World in 80 Days"), but it seems that even a film like "The Queen," which I found to be a perfect film, should be getting BP consideration to a greater degree than "Sunshine."    Finally, what so you of Peter O'Toole?  I just watched "My Favorite Year," another one of his unrewarded and fine performances.  Would you give him the award?   Peace,   BR ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ To: Mariah, Blake From: Chai Date: 2.24.07, 12:35PM Re: Movies 2006 Artistically, "Little Miss Sunshine" is best summed up by David Denby,
who called the film "slight but charming" and "a modest winner."
However, the popularity of this film, both with the Academy and
general populace points to a more troubling fact - the indie boom that
revitalized American film in the 90's is now definitely over. Ten
years ago, independent film was Pulp Fiction, Leaving Las Vegas, and
the Piano. Now it's "Little Miss Sunshine", which is basically a
studio comedy that studios simply don't make anymore, mainly because
it doesn't have any SNL alumni (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn aren't
from SNL, but that's a distinction without a difference). The fact
that the film relies on quirkiness and not gross out humour while
making shallow references to Proust and Nietzsche now establishes it
as entertainment for a tiny band of urban elite and suitable for
acknowledgment by the Academy, while the hordes of teens crowding
suburban multiplexes will have to make do with movies by the Wayans
Bros., which is suitable only for acknowledgment by the box office.

In moaning the decline of independent film, I feel like those old men
I grew up reading who bemoaned the decline of the French film or
Italian film or the director driven films of the late 60's and early
70's. So much of film culture is seemingly caught up in a sense of
perpetual decline and complaining about Hollywood, one forgets how
much great filmmaking we see on a regular basis. Clint Eastwood is
very much at his height, and I agree that his "Iwo Jima Saga" is this
year's best work. Almodovar has fully regained his form after some
less than stellar films in the mid-90's and Volver is probably the
best structured film he has ever made. The Mexican triumvirate of
Curon, Iñárritu, and Del Toro have taken the aesthetic of Nuevo Cine
Mexicano global, and United 93 is perhaps the greatest movie ever shot
in "real time." So it wasn't all that bad.

Which brings us to Scorsese, some of whose recent work was very bad.
The Departed is his best film in over a decade, and it's interesting
that he will probably win an Oscar for a film set in Boston as opposed
to New York, and for a remake of a Hong Kong action film - a genre
that owes no small amount of it's aesthetic to Scorsese. The fact the
lost for his finest work isn't surprising - the Oscars never gave a
statue to Alfred Hitchcock, who is perhaps the greatest Hollywood
director of all time. The Academy isn't composed of film scholars, but
graying actors and actresses who tend to have rather bourgeois tastes.
So the brilliance of Raging Bull, which I think is Scorsese's best
work, flew right by them.

However, the Oscars could be worse - they could be the Grammy's which
simply hands out awards to best selling albums of the year, and is an
award that serious fans of pop music pay little to no attention to
(the classical Grammy's are a bizarrely good and serious award, but
now I am getting way off topic). The fact that millions of people
around the world will watch Scorsese win an Oscar and then may be
interested enough to check out some of his many great films, the
Departed included, is one of the few small blessings the Oscars tend
to give us from time to time.

To: Mariah, Chai

From: Blake

Date: 2.24.07, 2:37PM

Re: Movies 2006

Mariah will chime in tomorrow, and I hope she weighs in on Eastwood, Scorsese and "Little Miss Sunshine."  The emergence, if it's even fair to say that, of Cuaron, Inarritu and del Toro was one of the true pleasantries of 2006.  Cuaron wowed me with "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and manged to make one of the Harry Potter films as dark as J.K. Rowling probably imagined in her head.  Still, "Children of Men" was a soaring accomplishment.  Inarritu is no stranger to film enthusiasts.  "Amores Perros" and "21 Grams" were both accomplishments and I'd venture to argue that "Babel" is less coherent than either of those films, which is not to say that it is a bad film.  As for del Toro, he's the one most deserving of a Best Director nod.  The beauty and horror of "Pan's Labyrinth" kept me thinking for days after.  I am glad to see that each of these filmmakers associates their craft with good writing.  Inarritu's the only one of the three not personally involved in the writing of his film.  del Toro and Cuaron are both nominated for screenplay awards and Guillermo Arriaga is up for "Babel."
You mentioned Almodovar and I hope you caught Daniel Mendelsohn's piece in the New York Review of Books this past week.  I was thoroughly impressed with "Volver" and stunned that the Academy shunned him for what I agree is it better structured than some of his recent work, including "Bad Education" which missed on all points with me.  Which leads me to what is the most interesting aspect of "Volver" which is Almodovar's quick dispension of the masculine.  This is a a very feminine film and dominated by fine female performances.  Mendelsohn notes, "It must be said that this newly exclusive focus on deep emotions among fairly ordinary people is a bit disconcerting for many who have come to enjoy the cinematic brand that "Almodovar film" has long represented."  Have we, in fact, seen a change in Almodovar?
To: Mariah, Blake
From: Chai
Date: 2.24.07, 3:14PM
Re: Movies 2006
Much of Almodovar's work has focused on the new Spain that was
emerging all around him after Franco's death. Post-fascist,
post-Catholic, and post-patriarchal, Almodovar's films have tended to
focus on precisely what Franco's Throne and Alter conception of
society repressed - women, gays, misfits, and sexuality in all its'
complexity. Mendelsohn make much of Almodovar's own homosexuality,
which was highly illegal in the Spain he grew up in.

Now Spain is one of a handful of countries to legalize gay marriage,
and the country is one of the richest, most cosmopolitan, and liberal
countries in the world. With the transformation of the country
seemingly complete, what interested me in Volver was the fact
Almodovar seemed to return to Spain of his youth, to the village and
"ordinary people" of his youth, and to La Mancha, home of the most
famous nostalgia buff of all time. And in some sense Almodovar seems
plagued with same question that plagued Cervantes as the Middle Ages
ended and the modern era began - have we really progressed for the
better? Has anything really changed? The cyclical torment of women at
the hands of men, the attempt to repeat the crime of incest upon a
child of incest seems to point to an newly discovered ambivalence
about the new Spain by one of its' most famous abd celebrated
To: Chai, Blake
From: Mariah
Date: 2.25.07, 11:57AM
Re: Movies 2006

Back from a day at the races, I've almost recovered.  Before I tackle your questions and reflect on your thoughts, I want to thank you both for giving me images of Gael Garcia Bernal.  As Chai knows, he is "my boyfriend" and even his despicable character in " Babel " made me love him more.  I am hoping to watch the Science of Sleep before the festivities begin this afternoon - I am eschewing attending mass for watching the red carpet pre-shows.  So much for Lenten resolutions.


My observations will be a little more visceral and much less academic or intellectual than either of yours. 


I've missed a number of the nominated films this season due to a lost year on a political campaign but I've caught up on most of them over the last few months including the "Last King of Scotland" and "Venus".  Forest Whitaker and Peter O’Toole are definitely at the top of this year’s Leading Actor class.  Saying the Last King was enjoyable is a bit of a stretch - a young child ran up and down the movie theater's aisle during some of the torture scenes adding to the anxiety of the viewing experience...but Whitaker's performance was amazing.  I have to confess an odd obsession with Idi Amin as my mother used to threaten me and my brothers (her creative albeit tasteless threats were well-deserved) that Idi Amin would eat us if we didn't behave.  Whitaker really made the madman a human, even likable and pitiful at the same time. 


Peter O'Toole's performance in "Venus" seemed less of a performance and more of a natural extension of everything he is and every role he has played.  Although the depressing subject of aging and death wasn't light and happy, I found "Venus" one of the few nominated movies that were enjoyable and easy to watch this year.  So many of the great movies this season were like terrible and repulsive accidents that one can't keep her eyes off of even as her stomach turns.  I don't know if this was O'Toole's best works but it was solid and he does deserve a golden statue already!  Reality and patterns aside, I am personally against awards to an actor for his/her body of work and not the film at hand.


I’ve already mentioned my Latin love, Gael, now can we discuss what happened to my Asian love Ken Watanabe?  His performance in "Letters from Iwo Jima " was stunning.  A superior performance in a superior movie compared to that in “The Last Samurai”.  My Japanese father cringes when I even mention that Tom Cruise epic but I think he will now agree with me that Watanabe is one of the finest Japanese actors ever - even on the level of the late Toshio Mifune.


The Best Picture category is a tough one for me to predict.  ENOUGH with "Little Miss Sunshine"!  I enjoyed the film. Loved the cast.  Actually laughed so hard I cried (not teared up but really cried) for the first time in my life.  BUT this film should not be a Best Picture contender. 


I was blown away by “The Departed”.  I finally saw it last week on DVD and watched it three times (twice back-to-back) and was impressed each time.  I’m confused about Mark Wahlberg’s nomination not because of his performance but because of his performance in comparison to the other cast members.  In my humble opinion Leonardo should have received a nomination for “The Departed” and possibly not for “Blood Diamond”. 


“ Babel ” was another one of this year’s hard to watch films but it was quite an achievement.  The Tokyo scenes really captured the city I know and love.  The writing, acting, and visuals were very strong. 


Although I was truly impressed with “The Queen” my pick is “Letters from Iwo Jima ”.  I’ve already professed my affection for Watanabe-san. “ Iwo Jima ” was one of those stories that stick with you for a long time.  My grandfathers served on either side of WWII – my paternal grandfather was stationed in China with the Japanese army and my material grandfather was in New Zealand with the U.S. army.  This two movie series really addressed the issues of both sides and humanized the men who fought on either side.  We could digress into a full discussion on war and specifically the war in Iraq but I think the Eastwood duo really made some strong statements on war and the young people who end up fighting them.  I think those two films were the best war films I’ve seen.


To: Mariah, Chai

From: Blake

Date: 2.25.07, 1:44PM

Re: Movies 2006

The afternoon is slowly creeping upon us, which means that red carpet festivities will begin in a few hours.  Chai and I discussed the magnitude of Eastwood's films and I think we both agree that combined it is the best moviemaking of the year.  I too would give the Oscar to "Letters from Iwo Jima," but I fear that the marketing personality in me knows that Warner Bros.  straight up screwed that campaign.  I wonder how people would have reacted if  "Flags" and "Iwo Jima" were released at the same time and offered in a back-to-back format at movie houses?  Might it have made a bigger statement - one I'm certain Eastwood and Spielberg wanted to make.
Chai, I went back and watch "Raging Bull" this morning as my Oscar-day homage to Scorsese.  A brilliant film and one you believe to be Scorsese's finest.  You may be right, but "Mean Streets," "Goodfellas," "Taxi Driver," "The Color of Money" and even "The Departed" are right there.  Wow.  What a body of work.
Mariah, I too was surprised at the Wahlberg nomination and the Wantanabe omission.  "The Departed" was Leo's finer effort, but again, with such a range of performances, it's hard for the unsophisticated Academy voter to know what to do without those "For Your Consideration" ads.  As for Wantanabe, after I saw "Iwo Jima" I thought a nomination was assured.  I also feared that Eastwood would get the better for Marty for yet another time.  The two of you will know much more about Japanese cinema than and thus I cannot begin to evaluate his standing as an action in comparison to his countrymen.  But I can say that his performance, like the film, was a personal favorite and an accomplishment.
There are bigger themes of war and death that we should all talk about someday.  We also didn't get an opportunity to explore the themes of adultry, boredom and children that the films "Notes on a Scandal," and "Little Children" so poignantly appeared to capture, or the appearance of magic and what it does to our senses and sensibilities as described in Chris Nolan's "The Prestige" and  "The Illusionist."  Someday too you can both tell me whether "Dreamgirls" was robbed.  I'll make a mental note to circle back on these topics when we're all seated again at the same table.   
Until then, the last word is yours, Mariah.



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