Author Archives: Jackrabbit Slim

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

Opening in Las Vegas, April 7, 2017

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Crap at the multiplexes, but in the art houses some interesting stuff. It can’t be a bad week when a new Werner Herzog movie comes out.

That film is Queen of the Desert (39), which unfortunately is getting bad reviews. It stars Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, who was the female Lawrence of Arabia. Herzog has been mostly in the documentary field for quite a few years, and may have lost his touch on narrative filmmaking, but I would like to see this, perhaps on DVD.

The other interesting film that I would like to see someday is Your Name (79), an anime feature that has two high schoolers exchanging bodies. It’s not a Studio Ghibli film, but was a huge hit in Japan, becoming the fourth-highest grossing film in that country’s history.

Now for the crap. Of all the movies to remake, why Going in Style, a 1979 film starring George Burns. I suppose every thirty or forty years this film will be remade with a trio of codgers. This version (50) stars Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, directed by Zach Braff. It seems to have standard old people humor, like the hilarity of an elderly person trying pot.

And for the kids and the parents who must suffer for them, there’s Smurfs: The Lost Village (40). Nothing more needs to be said.

Review: Personal Shopper

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For his last film, Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas cast Kristen Stewart as a personal assistant, and at the time I wrote about what a strange job that must be. Essentially, you’re an extension of someone, but you do the less glamorous things. You’re around someone rich and glamorous, but only get to orbit in their world, not take part in it.

In his follow-up film, the even better Personal Shopper, he again has Stewart in a job that destroys the identity, that of the title. She is a moorless American living in Paris and working for a socialite, going to fancy stores and picking clothing and accessories for her. It’s not a hard job, but it certainly isn’t rewarding in a sense of personal satisfaction.

The film is also a ghost story. Stewart had a twin brother who died of a congenital heart defect, one that she shares but is under close supervision for. Before her sister-in-law sells the house, Stewart attempts to see, or feel, if her brother is still there.

This makes for some creepy viewing, as Stewart seems to attract ghosts wherever she goes. She also gets involved in a murder (I won’t say of who) and a mysterious person who texts her as she goes to London and back. This scene is both fraught with suspense and a gamble–in this day and age, texts are a common form of communication, but if you would told me watching someone text for ten minutes would be exciting I would have been dubious.

Stewart is Assayas’ muse. You get the feeling he wrote the film for her. She is a big star, and did the star routine backwards–she started with the mega-hit and then went to independent films. She has made many small and interesting films, and the more I see of her the more I realize how talented she is. If you judge her talent by the Twilight films you’re making a mistake, even though she does seem to take roles that are sullen and emotionally locked people. But in Personal Shopper Assayas brings more out of her than any director I’ve seen. She is a sad person, yes. Maybe she should do a screwball comedy.

As with all of Assayas’ films (and I’ve seen seven of them, I think) they are not always easily deciphered. In Clouds of Sils Maria Stewart’s character disappears and is not seen again with no explanation. In Personal Shopper, there is a scene late in the film when she meets someone in a hotel. We don’t know what happens, though it would seem to be a key scene. It’s almost like someone cut the scene out and forgot to put it back in. You never leave an Assayas film with all the answers.

Personal Shopper, I think, is ultimately about identity. A twin has lost her other half, and is the eyes of another person though she can never wear her clothes (or her skin). She frequently says she wants to be someone else, and there is an electrifying though quiet moment when she tries on her boss’s clothes (which is forbidden, which makes it even more exciting for her). Does she envy her boss being rich and famous? Not really, I think she just envies that she is someone else.

 

Opening in Las Vegas, March 31, 2017

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Interesting mix of movies this weekend.

The likely box office champ, if it can knock off Beauty and the Beast, is Ghost in the Shell (53), based on a popular manga (I’ve never read a manga in my life) starring Scarlett Johansson in a tight body suit. There’s flak that the part is not played by an Asian actress. Getting lackluster reviews. I’m on the fence about seeing it in a theater, but seeing Scarlett kick butt in spandex is good for a rental.

The other major release this week is Baby Boss (50), with the voice of Alec Baldwin as an infant born that can talk and hold meetings. Sounds like a cute idea for a short, but I would be loathe to see a feature-length film of this. I believe Baldwin does get a chance to say “Always be closing.”

In the art houses are a couple of worthy films. Personal Shopper (77) is the latest from the intriguing if enigmatic Oliver Assayas, and stars Kristen Stewart. For fun, check out the comments on the review in the New York Times, and see the extremes on Stewart–some proclaim her the worst actress in the world, others the greatest. I still haven’t made up my mind. They used to say to judge an actor watch them all play Hamlet, I suppose for women it would be Cleopatra or Lady Macbeth.

Also out this weekend is one of the nominees for the Foreign Language Oscar, Land of Mine (75), a Danish World War II film. It’s about German POWs sent to Denmark to clear land mines, so the title is apparently a pun, but maybe that’s just the English title. Getting a job clearing land mines can not be a good thing.

Review: Get Out

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On the surface, Get Out is a basic horror film, largely structured around The Stepford Wives (the original, not the horrible remake). If every character had been white, or race had not been commented on, it would have been a solid thriller. But write and director Jordan Peele added another level, which makes Get Out a great conversation piece. It’s a metaphor for our so-called post-racial society.

Peele is one half of Key & Peele, the great comedy duo, and I’ve seen this film described as a comedy, but I wasn’t doing a lot of laughing, as it’s as creepy as hell. I don’t want to give too much away, as I had no idea what was coming, but a young black man (Daniel Kaluuya) is visiting his white girlfriend’s (Allison Williams) family for the first time. He’s worried, of course, as he’s from the city and the parents are both doctors and live in the leafy suburbs. Williams assures him they are not racist.

When he gets there, though, something is odd. They treat him politely, almost too much so. And what’s with the servants, two black people who act as if they are lobotomized? It becomes even more odd when a party is thrown, and all the white guests patronize him, like making sure they let him know that they know Tiger Woods or asking him about the “American black experience.” When the one black guest, who also seems somewhat vacant, has a moment of lucidity, he tells Kaluuya to “Get out!”

What we have is a genuinely scary horror film combined with a racial commentary. This is nothing new–over forty years there was Blacula–but Peele makes some interesting commentaries on the persistence of black stereotypes–one woman at the party feels his bicep, as if he were on a slave auction block. The home of Williams’ parents (played eerily by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) has an almost plantation vibe, though you can’t quite put your finger on why.

Peele show great promise as a filmmaker. The direction is basic, as he doesn’t employ too many tricks and lets the story breathe.  Sometimes the foreshadowing is a bit oversold–early in the film Williams and Kaluuya hit a deer on the road. Later we see a closeup of a deer’s head trophy on the wall. It’s not hard to figure out what will happen to that trophy.

Opening in Las Vegas, March 24, 2017

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Looks like an exceptionally crappy weekend for new releases.

The most high-profile is Power Rangers (44). Do kids even know Power Rangers anymore? When they were around I was too old for them, so will today’s adults drag their kids on a nostaglia trip. Supposed to be bad, anyway. At least they have a gay character, which is progress considering an actor on the TV show was fired for being gay.

Another odd bit of nostalgia is Chips, (29) a TV show that no one I knew watched. Apparently the small group of die-hard fans are even angry at this film, which somehow misrepresents the integrity of the show or some such nonsense. Is Dax Shepard in anything good?

Life (55), not named for the game or the cereal, is about a space mission that finds life but it turns oh so wrong. Sounds like an Alien rip-off. With Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds. Note in the trailer that it looks the black guy is the one who gets attacked first. Nice to see racist tropes are still alive.

Woody Harrelson plays a lovable misanthrope in Wilson (50). There was another film called Wilson, back in 1944, about Woodrow Wilson. And Harrelson’s first name is Woodrow. Coincidence?

Finally, and appropriately, is The Last Word (40), about Shirley Maclaine trying to craft her own obituary, and hires Amanda Seyfried to write it. Of course they bond after initially hating each other. So original.

Review: Beauty and the Beast

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It is certainly not unreasonable to see Disney remaking many of their classic animated films as live-action as cynical cash grab. The question of “Why remake a great film,” especially only 25 years later, is usually answered simply with, “to make money.” But while watching Bill Condon’s version of Beauty and the Beast, the cynicism washes away almost immediately, from the use of the Beast’s castle taking the place of Sleeping Beauty’s castle in the logo opening. This Beauty and the Beast is not just a remake of the original, it’s a tribute to the movie-making process.

I haven’t seen the first Disney Beauty and the Beast in many years (for that matter, I haven’t seen the Jean Cocteau version) so I don’t know what if anything is different. It seems the same. Belle (Emma Watson) is a bibliophile in a provincial French town. She is pursued by a callow egomaniac, Gaston (Luke Evans) who is determined to marry her, despite not having a thing in common with her.

Meanwhile, an equally callow prince, after turning away an old woman from his castle, gets a curse put on him, turning him into something that mostly looks a mountain goat with sharp teeth. His staff are turned into objects, though they can talk and move. The old woman, who turns out to be an enchantress (not a witch, thank you) gives him the time it takes for a rose to lose all its petals. He must fall in love, and get someone to fall in love with him, or be stuck forever. But he isn’t optimistic–“Who would love a beast?” He must not know about furry conventions.

Through the actions of Belle’s father, a kindly artist (Kevin Kline), she gets herself imprisoned by the Beast (Dan Stevens, motion-captured). The staff, led by Lumiere, a candlestick, and Cogsworth, a clock, try to push the two together. Here is where there is some present-day discomfort: is this the Stockholm Syndrome? Does this give hope to every guy who would love to kidnap Emma Watson and make her love them? It’s a touchy area, but the script walks a fine line–they fall in love because they find things in common. Luckily there is not Trump/Clinton disagreement to break the deal.

The film is absolutely sumptuous. Count on Oscar nominations for costume and production design. The overall look is classic fairy tale, though there are real things mentioned, like Shakespeare and the Champs-Elysee. But there is also a contemporary feel to it. It moves quickly, and there is a meta nature to it, particularly from Josh Gad as Gaston’s companion. There was big brouhaha among the religious right about Gad playing a gay character, with august figures like Franklin Graham calling for a boycott. Gad is playing a gay character, no doubt about it, and there are also three swordsman who are put into women’s dresses who seem to be very happy about it. I also appreciated the stage-like casting, with a lot of diversity. There are interracial relationships, and it made me all warm and gooey inside.

The cast acquits itself. Everyone wondered about Watson’s singing ability, and while I wouldn’t advise a recording career, she was fine. It’s tough when you put great singers like Audra McDonald in the cast to compare. Emma Thompson is Mrs. Potts, Ewan McGregor is Lumiere, and Ian McKellen is Cogsworth. McKellen, after a long and largely obscure (at least in America) classical-stage career, has now been in numerous box office hits. He also has the funniest line of the film at the end, which I won’t spoil.

The film is getting good but not strong reviews, and it seems most of them have to do with the business aspects. But one can only review the film before you, not the reasons for its existence. On that level, I had a fine time with Beauty and the Beast. It’s a magical two hours.

Opening in Las Vegas, March 17

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The big opening is Beauty and the Beast (65), which may become the biggest film to ever open in March. I saw it today in a theater where it occupied about eight screens and still had to sit in the second row (but they were reclining seats, so it was all good). This is the next Disney wave–making live action remakes of their animated hits. I will have a review up soon.

The Belko Experiment (43) seems like a good rental for a rainy Saturday afternoon, and the fulfillment of a fantasy of many an office worker–killing off all your co-workers, especially the one that steals food out of the break room frig.

Finally, The Sense of an Ending (62), which was a fine novel by Julian Barnes about an older man who discovers something abouty his past from an old diary. Again, probably a rental, but I can’t see paying $10 to see it. With Jim Broadbent.

Review: Kong: Skull Island

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Here’s a rarity–a blockbuster, tent-pole picture that doesn’t play dumb and is satisfying on almost every level. It also has a King Kong that doesn’t have a thing for white women, removing the racist stigma of three previous American Kong films.

Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island is sort of a mash-up between Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and Apocalypse Now (lest we miss that connection, there is a character named Conrad, after the author of Heart of Darkness, and another named Marlow, who was the protagonist of that novel). John Goodman plays a scientist who works for a government agency that searches for monsters, which is a stretch of the imagination, and he has satellite photos of an uncharted island. Along with a few other scientists, he is able to wrangle an Army escort.

This brings Samuel L. Jackson into the picture, as a the colonel of a helicopter squad just about ready to go home after the peace treaty (when you’re in a movie, never do anything dangerous when you’re about to retire or be sent home). Jackson, with his dead-eyed stare, is very good, less of the parody of himself that he has become (he doesn’t say motherfucker, but he does emit a “Bitch, please!” Also on the ride are a professional tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a photojournalist (Brie Larson).

What’s unique about Kong: Skull Island is there is no teasing. In many monster movies, such as the first King Kong, which is a great picture, you don’t see the creature until well into the movie. That is not true here. As the helicopters fly in, Kong is there, swatting them out of the sky. Since the soundtrack is a boomer playlist, instead of Wagner playing as the copters go in, it’s Black Sabbath.

Many men of his men are killed and Jackson wants revenge. But, as the party is split into two, the civilians (Hiddleston, Larson, and Goodman et. al.) discover an inhabitant on the island, John C. Reilly, who crash-landed during World War II. He’s the Colonel Kurtz of the story (though he is named Marlow), who lives with an indigenous tribe and tells them all about Kong. “He’s like a God here,” he says, and the protector of the tribe from underground dwelling lizard-like creatures.

That’s a lot stuff, but it keeps things moving. There are some great action scenes. Kong will, of course, eventually tee off against the “big one,” and it’s a great fight. A few characters are surprisingly killed off, and there is a real sense of danger.

But what I most appreciated was Larson was not set up as the Fay Wray/Jessica Lange/Naomi Watts character. She’s a woman in man’s field, no nonsense about her job. Kong does not become enamored with her (Hiddleston does, sort of), so we lose the fear-of-miscegenation angle that the previous films have unfortunately displayed (see the scene in Inglorious Basterds where the original King Kong is discussed as a metaphor for American slaves).

The film was directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose only previous feature was a Sundance film, The Kings of Summer. Unlike some indie directors, like Josh Trank, Vogt-Roberts seems right at home in big-budget land. I also liked the cinematography of Larry Fong, who gives Skull Island unearthly light that makes a viewer feel just a bit uncomfortable. Fong has shot many of Zack Snyder’s films, that you can hardly see at all, so it’s nice to see Fong out from under Snyder’s untalented thumb.

Kong will be back, and if you stick through the credits you’ll see the connection to Godzilla. I already feel like that the climactic fight in Kong: Skull Island was a fight with a giant lizard, so the upcoming film may be overkill. But I’ll buy a ticket.

Opening in Las Vegas, March 10, 2017

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Only one film opening this weekend, Kong: Skull Island (63), which is the umpteenth resurrection of the big ape. This seems interesting enough that I want to see it–I’m kind of intrigued by the allusions to Apocalypse Now (and by extension, Heart of Darkness). It’s setting up for a King Kong vs. Godzilla movie, but don’t you know that there already was one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Kong_vs._Godzilla. I have a pleasant memory of watching this film in my local library when I was about six or seven. If I remember correctly, it was a draw.

Review: Logan

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Logan is getting some great reviews, I think partially because though it’s a Marvel property it doesn’t seem like one. No cities are destroyed, there’s no Spandex, and it’s far more character-driven that most comic-book films.

However, though I liked Logan for the most part, let’s not go overboard. This, the swan song of Hugh Jackman playing the role of Logan/Wolverine, has some effective moments and good performances, as well as some savage action scenes (no cities may be destroyed, but more than one person loses their head) there is not a lot of originality to the script, by director James Mangold. While I was watching I thought of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and also Stranger Things (which, granted, came out after Logan was written). A writer on the Cracked website compares it point by point to Children of Men, and it’s very convincing.

The year is 2029. and Logan is working as a limo driver. Mutants have ceased being born (I may have missed something in the canon, otherwise I don’t know why this is). He drinks a lot and is starting to feel the effects of age (he is over two-hundred years old). His healing properties are far slower, and he walks with a limp.

Logan also cares for Professor Charles Xavier, who has a brain disorder–when he doesn’t take his medicine his mind can create an earthquake-like occurrence. He is being kept in a toppled water tank near the Mexican border.

Xavier has picked up the presence of another mutant, a girl called Laura. She is brought to Logan from Mexico City by a nurse who has witnessed a genetic experiment to create mutants by artificial means. Thus, Laura, who is largely mute through most of the film, bears an uncanny resemblance to Eleven from Stranger Things, except Laura’s power is to be a baby Wolverine, clawing and ripping at her foes.

Of course, the evil corporation that is conducting the experiments has people looking for her, especially Boyd Holbrook, as a man with a mechanical arm. Logan and Xavier set out taking her to a haven for mutants in North Dakota for crossing into Canada (the immigration aspects are interesting, given the times we live in).

The gruff hero helping a child (as it turns out, children) is as old as movies, it seems, and Logan doesn’t really further the genre. Jackman, who has played Wolverine in eight films now, still manages to make the character interesting, especially in his frailties (though he still can use those claws). Patrick Stewart, as Xavier, who is also likely done with the character, goes out on a high note, although some may consider his British stage acting a bit hammy. It occurred to me that this might be an opportunity for Stewart to get an Oscar nomination (he’s never had one), but at this time last year I was thinking about John Goodman for 10 Cloverfield Lane.

I dare not spoil what happens here, but it is poignant without being too awash in sentimentality. It’s a fitting end for both Logan and Xavier’s characters, but as a guy who wrote for Marvel Comics once told me, “No one stays dead except for Uncle Ben.”

Logan, at two hours and seventeen minutes, is a bit too long, and has too many cliches, but it’s okay and a must for X-Men fans.

Opening in Las Vegas, March 3, 2017

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The big opening this week is Hugh Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine in Logan (77), which is getting good enough reviews that I’ll go see it, even though I haven’t seen the other two Wolverine solo films. Jackman has now played the character eight times, and except for actors who appeared in the old serials I don’t know of one who has played a character so many times. No one has played James Bond that many times.  I guess Robert Downey Jr might be close with Iron Man (including his cameo in the second Hulk film). Anybody else have some suggestions?

Also new this week is the art-housey A United Kingdom (66), starring Rosamund Pike and David Oyelwo as a mixed-race marriage with the caveat being he is king of an African country. I’ve seen the trailer many times and it looks obvious and boring.

Anna Kendrick, who I found to be delightful, is in another romantic comedy, Table 19 (39), about a spurned bridesmaid. Though I like Kendrick, she makes movies that I don’t want to see. She should step out of her comfort zone more often.

I’m not quite sure what The Shack (31) is about, but it seems to be about faith and forgiveness, and a little too spiritual for my tastes. Sam Worthington, who you think would have been a bigger star after Avatar. The title sounds like a horror movie to me.

Finally there’s Before I Fall (58), based on a YA novel about a girl who must live the same day over and over again. I remember reading a story with that plot forty-some years ago. I’ll pass.

 

 

 

 

 

The 89th Oscars: The (Correct) Envelope, Please

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To get to the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the flub first. It will overshadow anything else from this Oscar ceremony, the 89th, and is right up there with Sacheen Littlefeather and Robert Opel, the streaker, in terms of Oscar moments of sheer nuttiness.

To recap, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bonnie and Clyde (both looking fresh from the plastic surgeon’s office), presented Best Picture. To that point, La La Land looked like the film to beat, picking up six awards (though it did not win near as many as some people thought it would). Beatty opened the envelope, and appeared to be vamping, checking to see if there was something else in the envelope, and looking like he was just teasing the nominees. Dunaway, taken aback, chided him, so Beatty handed her the envelope and she said, “La La Land.” General pandemonium, and two of the producers managed to give acceptance speeches. Beatty hung around, though, and the third producer said, “We lost.” The producer at the mic, Justin Horowitz, announced there had been a mistake, and that Moonlight had won Best Picture. To prove he was not joking, he held up the right card. Gasps, and the La La Land crowd exited the stage and was replaced by the Moonlight contingent.

Host Jimmy Kimmel, at first blaming Steve Harvey (who famously mixed up the name of Miss Universe) found Beatty there to take his lumps. The star realized something was wrong, as he had the Best Actress envelope and card, but instead of pointing it out to someone who could so something about it, he simply handed the envelope to Dunaway, who read out the name of the film on the card.

PricewaterhouseCooper, the accounting firm that has had the Oscar account for 83 years, will now have some explaining to do, and there will doubtless be tense meetings between them and the Academy in the coming days. The best guess as to what happened: there are two envelopes for every award, one at each end of the stage, locked in cases. Each of the holders of those cases know every winner. In error, Beatty and Dunaway were handed the extra Best Actress envelope (as Emma Stone pointed out, she still had the original envelope in her hand while she was addressing the press). Beatty did not notice that the envelope said “Best Actress” on it (a close-up verifies this), and the confusion resulted.

So, why didn’t Beatty ask for help, and after Dunaway, really quite innocent in all this, read the wrong name, why didn’t the PwC person immediately come out? Two minutes went by, and it was a stagehand that pointed out to the La La Land producers that a mistake had been made. Methinks a head or two will roll at PwC, and the Academy may seriously question the continued connection.

There have been mix-ups before, but nothing on this scale. In 1933, Will Rogers presented Best Director and upon opening the envelope said, “Come on up and get it, Frank.” Frank Capra started for the stage, but unfortunately for him it was Frank Lloyd who won. In 1964, Sammy Davis Jr. was given the wrong envelope, but it was caught in time. Davis quipped, “Wait until the NAACP hears about this.”

This brouhaha overshadows what I consider the biggest upset in the Best Picture race since 1982, when Chariots of Fire bested Reds. So how did Moonlight do it? It was, adjusted for inflation, the lowest-budgeted film ever to take the top prize. It is the first film solely about black America (I don’t recall any white faces, maybe some teachers in the school), and it’s the first film with a gay protagonist to win (when Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash, it was thought the older voters couldn’t tolerate a gay-themed film. Finally times have changed). It is also a critic’s darling–it was second on both the Sight & Sound and Film Comment polls for best film of 2016 (La La Land was 16th on Sight & Sound’s poll, and didn’t even make Film Comment’s). To put it simply–it is the most indie-ish, to create a word, film to ever win Best Picture.

It has become almost routine for Best Picture and Best Director to be split. While it usually happened about once a decade from the mid-’20s to the mid-’90s, it has happened eight times in the last nineteen years, close to a fifty-percent rate (that’s even considering a stretch from 2006-2011 when they matched). Clearly, the younger voters have no problem splitting their ticket, as is usual at festivals like Cannes, when they never match. La La Land won some technical awards, some musical awards, Best Actress and Best Director, but was not judged Best Picture. Why?

Certainly there may have been some that simply thought Moonlight was better, and may have voted for director Barry Jenkins as well. But what about those who voted for Best Director winner Damien Chazelle (now the youngest director ever to win, breaking an 85-year-old record) but did not vote for La La Land? I am not in the industry and know zero Academy voters, but I can surmise that it was a market correction–after last year’s bad press over #Oscarssowhite, some voters were determined to make sure this Oscar ceremony showed diversity. There was a Black person nominated in each acting category (two of them won, for only the second time) and perhaps voters figured they’d honor La La Land’s artistry but show they aren’t prejudiced by voting for Moonlight. There may be also a bit of anti-Trump backlash, as well. The first Best Picture of his presidency is about gay black men.

I began to sense an upset early on, when La La Land lost both sound awards and then editing. But it began to pick up steam, and though it lost Original Screenplay, that was expected. Once Chazelle won I thought it was in the bag. I was wrong.

Other than that, the show was the usual bloated affair, clocking in as the longest in about ten years. Jimmy Kimmel was an affable host–he was not to blame for the snafu in any way, so I hope he is invited back. His only cringe-worthy moment was bringing in a bus-load of tourists into the theater. In what I’m sure was meant to be charming, the stunt came off as “Look, watch the great unwashed interact with their betters,” and went on too long. The parachuted candy worked much better. The Matt Damon trolling was brutal but, I admit, funny. He must be a damn good sport.

Some Oscar tidbits: Casey and Ben Affleck now become the 16th pair of siblings to win Oscars. Affleck had ceded favorite status when he lost SAG and his sexual assault charges hovered over him. But the SAG win was over-rated for Denzel Washington; he had never won one, but had won two Oscars.

Kevin O’Connell, a sound mixer, received his 21st nomination this year. Sounds great, and it is, but he had never won. He did this year, for Hacksaw Ridge. In his acceptance speech he looked like he would explode with relief. Greg P. Russell, who has 17 nominations without a win, was nominated for 13 Hours, but was removed when he got caught campaigning. It would have been a delicious irony if the film had won but he didn’t get a statuette.

Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim to win an Oscar. All told, I count five Black people who won Oscars, which I think must be a record. Coupling that with Moonlight’s win (although the three producers of that film are white) is really the story of the night–the Academy has tried to be more diverse, and it seems to have worked.

Review: Toni Erdmann

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Toni Erdmann, nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, was named best film of 2016 by Cahiers du Cinema, Sight & Sound, and Film Comment. Therefore, I couldn’t help but have my expectations too high. To be sure, Toni Erdmann has moments of brilliance, but over a two-hour-forty-minute running time they are spaced a bit too far apart. But I will say this–there are scenes that I won’t forget for a long time.

The film is about a retired music teacher (Peter Simonischek) who likes to pull people’s legs. At the very outset he pulls ours–he tells a package delivery man that his brother is just out of jail for mail bombs and is eating dog food. He comes back to the door as his brother, but it’s him, with fake teeth. It took me a moment or two to realize there was no brother.

Simoischek lives with a very old dog, and is barely in touch with his daughter Sandra Huller, who was a big-shot business consultant living in Bucharest. When his dog dies, he has nothing better to do than fly to Bucharest and surprise her. It will turn her life upside down.

He tags along at a reception at an American embassy and embarrasses her in front of a CEO whose business she’s trying to win (he tells the man he has hired a substitute daughter who will clip his toenails). After she think he’s gone, she goes out for dinner with friends and he shows up in a bad, long-haired wig, wearing those awful fake teeth, and claiming to be Toni Erdmann, who is friend of the Romanian tennis player Ion Tiriac, and is in town for Tiriac’s turtle’s funeral. Huller does not blow the whistle on him, and despite herself becomes enmeshed in his masquerade.

So what is writer-director Maren Ade trying to tell us? That “Toni Erdmann” is bringing happiness into the hum-drum, all-business life of his daughter? She is very uptight, but is also kinky. One scene I will never forget is when she makes her lover, a colleague, masturbate onto a pastry, which she then eats. If the dad is the free spirit who knows the secret to happiness, I’m not sure it’s posing as the German ambassador while your daughter watches her career go down the drain.

Ade could use a better editor. Some scenes go on way too long. I think of when father and daughter visit a local family’s house for Easter. He pushes her to sing “The Greatest Love of All,” all verses. It’s a naked moment for Huller, but it’s so cringe-worthy, even though she’s not a bad singer, that I wanted to crawl under the chair.

And speaking of naked moments–the scene everyone who has seen it will talk about is when Huller is giving a birthday brunch. She is so frustrated while getting dressed that she answers the door wearing only panties. It’s a female friend, so nothing is too shocking, but then she decides it’s going to be a naked party. She takes off the panties, and no one is allowed to stay who isn’t naked. This leads to some amusing scenes of full frontal nudity (there are two penises seen in this movie, so at least it’s fair). Then, if that weren’t enough, Simonischek shows up wearing a huge furry costume that is apparently a Bulgarian folk character that drives away evil spirits.

To me, Toni Erdmann’s particular moments don’t add up and instead it’s just a series of strange events. I’m not sure Huller learned anything, nor did Simonischek. I read one review that says it’s a long film but never self-indulgent; I think almost the whole movie is self-indulgent (there are also a lot of scenes about the oil business that are completely unnecessary).

German comedies are unusual–it is said to be one of the world’s shortest books (along with Italian war heroes or the Amish phone book)–and though Toni Erdmann is at times very funny, it fails when it tries to balance it with pathos. It’s a noble effort, and I’m glad I saw it, but best film of the year? No.