Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Ben and Rhona's Craptacular Academy Awards Low-Down! - Part 1

oscar, academy awards
So much letter-glisten...
That week is upon us once again, ladies and gents, when we as a global community gather together to watch lots of rich people in fancy suits gawk at each other for a grand total of five minutes before we get bored of vapid Hollywood navel gazing and go find something else to do. Possibly procure a farmyard animal to sodomise or whatever it is we non-rich-white-Americans do instead of shoving gold statues into each other's rectums while telling each other how important we are.

banjo, deliverance
Hollywood's idea of the average viewer.
But it's not about the red carpet parade, it's about the movies; I love movies. I also love tactless derision and ruining things for other people so, in that spirit, my good friend Rhona and I have gathered together to make fun of what we love for your enjoyment. And what better a time is there to cast our mocking gaze over the wonderful world of cinema like a sarky Eye of Sauron than the week of the Academy Awards? Of course, it would be boring to just review the films in the running like normal people so instead we have decided to look at each of the nine candidates for Best Picture this year and explain why you should definitely not go to see these films, finishing with our choice for the 86th Academy Awards Worst Best Picture, because no-one is ever allowed to have nice things.

We've divvied up the nominees (as shown by our initial at the start of each review) and collectively sat through nearly 19 hours of cinema to bring you this: our Two-Part Craptacular Academy Awards Low-Down. Before we begin, Rhona, you have the floor.


Thanks Ben! I thought I’d introduce myself a little bit before we begin as Ben’s vast fanbase might not know me or have only heard slanderous lies from Ben’s filthy mouth. Me and Ben go way back, our friendship dating back many a-year and many a-distance, since he had to up sticks and run off to a university that wasn't my university and study a course which isn't my course. We bonded over film and I guess it’s about time that we collaborated on a film review post at some point. I'm studying film at university, so clearly my opinion is better than yours. Now don’t get me wrong, much like Ben said, I love films. But I'm also a sarcastic bitch, therefore I like to make fun of stuff and it’s always fun to make fun of the stuff you love.
First up we have:

American Hustle (B)

american hustle
In a Sentence: A chubby, bald Christian Bale argues with Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper for two hours.

I was quite surprised how easy this one was to find fault, where do I start? 

The story almost makes sense, but if you're expecting crime caper levels of trickery and deceit then you're in for disappointment; it's boring as fuck. Most of the film is spent watching Bale argue with Cooper, then Cooper argue with Adams, then Bale argue with Lawrence, all over nothing much at all. It's a movie of people with silly 70s hair bickering constantly. 

That's about as much as the acting amounts to: shouting. The fact that they have to focus a little too much on Christian Bale's belly pretty much sums up how engaging the cast is. I mean I guess it counts as good acting when you despise every character due to their horrific personalities, but please at least give us some reasoning behind why they all make terrible, terrible decisions, like not thinking ahead in your plan or accounting for any of the really obvious circumstances that might arise. You're meant to be professional conmen and police officers for god's sake!

american hustle, christian bale
Body modification, like going gay, is a fast-track to Oscar nomination.
One said circumstance is a scene in the film where it turns out one of the people they're trying to trick can speak Arabic, which blows a hole in their plan to use some Mexican dude to pretend to be a rich Sheik. Does that situation sound at all familiar? Maybe replace the characters with Jewish soldiers and an SS officer? Most of the film feels like a mix between a cheap Scorsese knock-off (lots of voice overs and freeze shots) and scenes stolen from Tarantino's back catalogue. Poor show.

Aside from shallow acting, poor plot and blatant plagiarism, American Hustle is also a prime example of the endemic problem with female roles in Hollywood cinema. I'm don't call myself a Feminist but when your two principal female characters actually manage to ruin the plan for everyone else entirely as a result of their competition for one man, this shit has to stop. Get a grip, guys.

Dallas Buyers Club (B)

dallas buyers club
In a Sentence: Matthew McConaughey gets AIDs but refuses to die.

Good things: Matthew McConaughey's acting and getting to watch Jared Leto dress up as a woman and slowly die from AIDs.

Now that they're out of the way, how about the bad stuff? Firstly, the representation of the medical profession is once again just...totally wrong. I don't know how cruel people were back in the mid 80s, but what kind of doctor would give you an AIDs diagnosis all casual like in the middle of a ward, hand you some leaflets and leave? That said, not getting doctors right is nothing new, and at least they're not portrayed as cartoonishly badly as the blood-sucking pharma reps trying to shill a dangerous drug to desperate people, so things could be worse.

dallas buyers club
The least 80s looking shot in the whole movie.
Although McConaughey and Leto are solid acting-wise, the supporting cast don't fare quite as well in comparison. Jennifer Garner plays, well, Jennifer Garner (plenty frowning) and the rest sort of just dissolve into the background. The sets are hilariously 80s and although we can't really blame the movie for that, we're going to because I'm having the darndest time finding serious faults with this film. Fucks sake, I thought this was going to be easy. Oh, yes! Visual effects! There are a couple of occasions in the film where they've chosen to use a greenscreen to shoot some short scenes of McConaughey travelling around the world. I get why they did it to save money, but I've not seen such terrible effects in a big movie since that bit in Inception where they walk up the vertical street. It's jarring, albeit short-lived.

So yeah, aside from some two-dimensional supporting characters, bad effects and inaccurate portrayal of medical professionals, I guess it's actually quite good. Well, apart from all the gay people. Yes, I've resorted to homophobia just to fill space until I can move onto the next film. I'm clutching at straws here. Oh, would you look at the time! 

Gravity (R)

In a sentence: Sandra Bullock says “no, no, no, no” a bunch of times whilst ominous music plays.

My main issue with this film is that it employs pretty cheap narrative tactics to make me feel something for the characters really early on in the film. The disaster of the rubble from another spacecraft rockets through space and destroys the equipment that our main characters are working on, leaving them the only two survivors of the disaster. When we see the first body, we are then shown a picture he carried of himself, his wife and his child. Not to sound callous, but I don’t care. He had about five lines of dialogue and I don’t remember his name, I don’t care if he had a family back home, there is nothing in me that has attached me to this character.

gravity, sandra bullock
Feel bad for me; FEEL BAD.
Next, when they are inspecting the crash site, we are shown a loony tunes toy before being shown another two bodies. Oh no. I am distraught. Woman #1 and Man #2 were my favourite characters. Then we hear about Ryan (Bullock) talk about her dead daughter. It just kind of feels like the film is shaking me by the shoulders and shouting, “look at how sad this all is, look, look and feel bad for these characters, love them, love them!” before I had a chance to become attached to them in the slightest. Clooney’s character was pretty one dimensional as well, like, it was pretty flat development in that corner. 

I also knew that Bullock was the main shoulders on which this film relied on prior to viewing, so it kind of killed any tension when she was in danger because I knew she was going to be okay. I guess that wasn't really the films fault, like maybe I would have felt a real sense of danger if I went into this film having heard nothing about it. I've also seen some grumblings about how the science behind the film is wrong - I'm not going to pretend to know science type things or the logistics about space and the equipment used in space, but something about the film did feel undeniably wrong. A few moments left me staring at the screen - firmly at the back of my seat, there was no edge of my seat perching, let me assure you - thinking, really? Really? Like … really? That’s a thing that’s happening right now? Hm. (for further reading as to not make this review too long and for more eloquently put phrasing around science-y things, click - here.) Not to completely shit all over the film, I do want to push a little praise in Bullocks direction - it’s not easy trying to carry an entire film on your back, and I think she held up. Some of the point of view shots worked nicely, I felt the frustration that Ryan must have felt when she was unable to grab onto something wearing the big, clumsy astronaut suit. But all in all, I couldn't get past the feeling that character development was shunted in favour of spectacular visual effects. To conclude! Meh.

Nebraska (B)

In a Sentence: A son takes way too long to convince his elderly father that the million dollars he won is a scam.

Fun fact: Fiona glanced at the poster just to my left here and thought it was a picture of Rhona. That's right, you look like a demented old man who seriously needs a hair stylist; say thank you, Rhona.

If you ever saw Alexander Payne's About Schmidt you'll know what you're getting into with this one. Be prepared for long, awkwardly paced scenes where extremely unlikeable characters have odd, and predominantly pointless, conversations. While About Schmidt was at least quite funny and kept things interesting with it's character interactions, Nebraska does fuck all. The humour comes from such moments of comic genius as a character's elderly mother calling a dead woman a slut or the numerous protracted scenes where the son tries to explain to people that they haven't actually won any money to no avail. It's just not funny. Even if it's going for the awkward silence kind of funny it just comes across as the cinematic equivalent of pulling teeth; if the teeth were jokes and the patient hadn't been given anaesthetic.

Mesmerisingly dull is the only way to describe this film.
Acting wise there weren't many parts that I could compliment. The mother was annoyingly whiny yet spectacularly flat and the father came across less like a confused old man and more like he was just having trouble with the lines he'd tried to memorise ten minutes prior to shooting. The guy who played Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad makes an appearance as one of the old guy's sons and, yeah, the less we say about him the better methinks. And yet, despite all of it's flaws, the pacing, the sometimes juvenile humour, the mediocre acting, you still somehow grow fond of this cantankerous old fool and his misfit family.

Lastly, the cinematography at least makes it interesting to look at (black and white was a nice choice) but there doesn't feel like there's enough substance at all to the film as a whole. It's Coen brothers without the Coen. Or any White Russians.

Her (R)

In a sentence: White guy discovers himself through the aid of a manic pixie dream girl-bot.

Okay, so I know this is meant to be 'Ben and Rhona's Craptacular Academy Awards Low-Down!', but I've having trouble as to why this should be cast under the umbrella of Craptacular. There were moments that were meant to be funny and I laughed. There were moments that were meant to be sweet and I smiled. There were moments that were meant to be sad and I ... well I didn't cry, I'm not much of a crier at movies, but I certainly felt sympathy for the characters, unlike a previously mentioned film (*cough* Gravity *cough* I don't care about the characters *cough*). I can see why some people probably aren't going to like this film, but I personally rather enjoyed it. I thought it was an interesting character study which explored certain situations that aren't implausible.

her, moustache
All glory to the hypno-moustache.
 Okay, snarkiness, sarcasm, heartless bitchiness. Uh ... there's more than one person with a moustache in this film. The film doesn't give very much indication of how much time has passed, so not very long after Samantha has been introduced, it's suddenly jumped from "I'm a quirky operating system here to make your life easier" to "I'm a quirky operating system who wants to know everything about the world and also I love you". I just feel like there wasn't particularly smooth transitions between the idea that she is a machine to the idea that she wants to be human. There were a few conversations that felt a little forced and a little "look how poetic we are, relate to our pseudo-analysis of the human condition", but it didn't kill my enjoyment of the film. There are going to be people talking about how pretentious it is, but sometimes that's half the fun - sit back, enjoy the pulling in and out of focus of the camera, nod your head to the sweet, acoustic indie music they've chosen and let the trying a little too hard poetic dialogue wash over you.

And that's our first five contestants away! The last four, along with our choice for Worst Best Picture will be unleashed tomorrow; I can almost taste the tension. Nope, just blood, false alarm.

Have you seen any of the nominees for this year? What did you think of them? How much did you hate them for petty reasons? We want to know! Comment below with your own thoughts.

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