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Relationships Ground ‘Days of Future Past’

What differentiates First Class, and by extension Days of Future Past, from the other five X-Men films is the emphasis on relationships. Of course, other films (especially The Wolverine) focus on specific relationships. But First Class examines a myriad of relationships that seamlessly power the story it wants to tell. Days of Future Past eloquently builds off of the primary relationships that defined First Class: Raven/Charles and Charles/Erik. By extension, we also have cursory follow-ups to Raven/Erik, Raven/Hank, and Wolverine/Charles, among others. We also have the relationships between younger mutants in the future (which carries over from The Last Stand), unspoken relationships (Erik/Quicksilver), and relationships that will occur in the future but haven’t yet in the past (Stryker/Wolverine, Wolverine/Jean). The sequel, by nature of its narrative conceit, also allows the viewer to examine the relationship between past and future iterations of the same character and how these might differ given a change in circumstance.

X-Men hinges (and wants to hinge) on the relationship between Charles and Erik. Their friendship, while often extremely estranged, is an emotional counterweight to the drama they face in the main story of any given film. They must continually navigate how to maintain a relationship with no trust but complete understanding of each other’s motivations. The future indicates that these men, despite these differences, find a way to come together and regain a complete friendship. Another core relationship, that First Class fostered and Days of Future Past capitalized on, is that of Raven and Charles. Their bond is showcased in First Class, but under the new influence of Erik, Raven leaves Charles to pursue the more radical side of mutant advocacy. Ten years later, they are out of touch. Raven is radicalized, even by Erik’s estimation, and Charles is desperate to rekindle their lost connection. After repeatedly appealing to her throughout the film, the ending rewards both Charles and the audience by his words finally reaching through to Raven. It’s a powerful moment and the film earns it by crafting the building blocks throughout the story. Days of Future Past ends with little clues on how these events affected future Charles/Erik and Charles/Raven, but I imagine it will be an important component of the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse.

Other things I enjoyed about Days of Future Past:

A heavy reliance on First Class plot lines and characters, primarily because it is obviously the future of the franchise. It is the gateway between the camp of the original trilogy and the kind of comic book films being made today. As the relationships deepen, so too does actual plot from First Class: Raven’s blood is integral to both stories. In First Class, her blood is the key to suppressing obvious mutant traits (or at least that is what Hank deduces before injecting himself and completing the transition to Beast) and in Days of Future Past, her blood is the key to the destruction that the Sentinels will eventually unleash on mutants and humans alike.

Subversion of genre tropes: A downside to being any kind of genre buff is the recognition of the reliance on certain tropes. Some tropes define genres and are necessary as well as expected. (Why else do you think we still learn about the hero’s journey in English class?) The dominance of good and bad comic book movies prepare us for the typical narrative arc we are likely to encounter: origin, transformation, conflict/challenge/threat, resolution. The cleverer scripts will tweak various stages of the formula to offer up a fresh, compelling take on a familiar story. While it is impossible to shake off the skeleton of a coherent narrative (unless you are aiming for confusion), I prefer for films to allow for dynamism. Multiple times during Days of Future Past I found myself assuming where the story was going to go (and was proved wrong) and by the end, I wasn’t sure how it was going to wrap up. That’s exciting and rare for today’s Hollywood climate. For instance, while we can expect Erik to double-cross and/or use his reunion with Charles to his own ends, it happens very quickly — he attempts to kill Raven to “secure the future.” This seems destined to set up a Raven vs. Erik dynamic for the rest of the film, but only a few scenes pass before their first confrontation and it ends more “amicably” than I would ever expect. The overall plot moves with rational purpose but leaves the viewer unclear of what, where, and how the climax of the film will occur.

Parallel storytelling:  Whenever you have stories taking place in different time periods or locations, you have an opportunity to use the difference in space to examine and mirror the same themes in both narratives. It can be underutilized or a crutch, but Days of Future Past finds a nice balance that doesn’t draw too much attention to this device. In fact, I wish they would have used it a bit more. There are parallels in action: the Sentinels go on the attack in both 1973 and in the future, at the same time; Wolverine’s consciousness momentarily jumps back to the future at a time of heightened activity in both times. There are relationship parallels: an examination of Erik and Charles’ relationship in 1973 and in the future, as well as Charles’ relationship to his older self.

Time travel conundrums: No time travel movie is complete without addressing the consequences of time travel. This can come in many flavors: what happens when you change something in the past? Can you change the past or will the universe course correct? What happens if you die/get injured/kill someone else who wasn’t supposed to die? Every story approaches these ideas differently and more often than not, the principles of time travel often contradict, even in the same narrative. Days of Future Past keeps it simple and only briefly touches on the idea that you cannot change the past. The public spectacle that Raven, Erik, and Hank put on in Paris ramps up the demand for Sentinels and exposes the “mutant threat” decades before it happened in the original timeline. This leads Hank to question whether they can actually prevent the future. Of course, they can change it — leaving that time travel potential a mere thought experiment. Even Wolverine seems to be confused about the consequences of his own mission: when trying to convince Charles to join him, he focuses on what Charles will tell him in the future (when Charles says he’s never told anyone about his childhood fears, Wolverine replies, “You will.”). He fails to consider that if he fails in the past, that might not happen in the new timeline.

The Star Trek approach: The resolution effectively erases the arc of the original X-Men trilogy, allowing future films to tell the stories of Erik, Charles, Raven and other X-Men however the new writers wish. They are no longer constrained by what those films depict as the future for these characters. Just as J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek creates an alternate timeline to seal off the original series and give itself narrative space to tell new stories, Days of Future Past changes the timeline. Of course, in this case, the alteration to the main timeline indicates that every event in the original X-Men trilogy is now erased. (Not that it seems like many people will complain about this revision.)

These are the aspects that I keep coming back to when I examine the merits of Days of Future Past. As my title indicates, I find the relationships to be the essential part of the story. The actors (namely James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence) all elevate the material by their heartfelt performances. As I rematch these films, and look toward Apocalypse, the relationships between these three characters remain the biggest draw for me. Mutant or superhero, when you acknowledge your powerful characters are emotional as any human, you strike gold.

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‘The Winter Soldier’: Cap’s in Charge

Some quick, rambling thoughts on why I’m STILL thinking about The Winter Solider:

I finally understand why Captain America is the natural leader of The Avengers.

Cap can lead The Avengers because he embodies the integration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his films. The first Captain America introduces the cosmic cube — which factors directly into The Avengers, after being “rediscovered” by Howard Stark. It also factors into a long form narrative the MCU is interested in telling, that of Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet (or at least they want us to deduce as much). It also introduces us to HYDRA, which prominently figures into The Winter Soldier and as a major development with SHIELD. Similarly in The Avengers, Cap arguably has little to distract him from the mission, unlike the other Avengers. (Side note: IN FACT, he goes off book to investigate what SHIELD is up to, now obvious foreshadowing for The Winter Soldier.) Tony Stark is caught up in his individualistic tendencies, not being on board with the Avengers Initiative, and Pepper. Bruce Banner must be wary at all times of his capabilities as The Hulk and is used by SHIELD and Loki under false pretenses. Thor is enmeshed in the mission as well as dealing with his brother’s involvement.

When we get to The Winter Soldier, yet again, it moves the most plot –overall–of any of the films that came before it. It’s interesting how each individual superhero arc is used in the MCU. Either they are contained by their own storyline or they have a flexible structure that can take on the big overarching narrative. A successful Marvel film, at this point in the game, is to advance character and/or to advance plot. In theory, a film should do both but you can see different preferences throughout the MCU. Obviously, some stories aren’t shaped by preference but by accessibility; it is hard to take on the grand MCU narrative in a Thor film, where so much of the action is contained in Asgard and other realms. Iron Man 3 focuses on the advancement of Tony Stark as a character and succeeds at delivering that as well as a carefully crafted, contained narrative. The Winter Soldier focuses on tearing down the governmental world the MCU has been building since Iron Man. The film strengthens and deepens Cap’s character by forcing him to confront his past via a myriad of ways, but this is the character development, cherry on top of the complete dismantling of SHIELD.

Finally, how could you not watch this without thinking about “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” (unless, of course, you don’t watch it)? The filmmakers and show runners made it clear that the series has knowingly built towards the events of the film all season. So the series was effectively spinning its wheels all season, waiting for The Winter Soldier to change the game. In hindsight this all seems so risky. Marvel masterminded a continuation of the MCU onto the smaller screen, and wanted the show to be shaken up by The Winter Soldier by the end. While this might sound good in the writer’s room, they must have overestimated how interested fans would be during the wheel spinning phase. The series is now poised to embrace the shake-up caused by The Winter Soldier, but will viewers come back or will “Agents of SHIELD” be the first casualty in Marvel’s fast growing, far reaching universe?

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

“Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is arguably one of the most anticipated shows of the new fall season. And with Joss Whedon as executive producer and co-creator (along with Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen, experienced Whedonites), it comes supported with the combined fandoms of Whedon and Marvel comics. Before I get down to the praising, here’s my tiny criticism: this pilot is jam-packed. And because of that, the first half moves at a break-neck speed that leaves it feeling rushed. It’s The Avengers in micro but with the added problem of needing to introduce the majority of the characters and deploy them as a team in 30 minutes. Once the team comes together, the pilot actually catches its breath and settles into the final action sequence. And from there, I was hooked.

Whedon fans, rejoice!

Whedon vehicles seldom come without a familiar face or two, and in “S.H.I.E.L.D.” we get J. August Richards from “Angel” and Ron Glass (Shepherd Book) from “Firefly.” And even though this show seems like a meta-pop culture reference just by existing, we still get a barrage of other references, with my favorites being Terminator‘s T-1000, cosplay, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

If that’s not enough, perhaps the strongest indication that we’ve got the Whedon persuasion going on is the subversion of genre norms. The introduction to J. August Richard’s Michael Peterson character initially plays out like an early episode of “Heroes.” By the second half, instead of rising to embrace his abilities for the common good, he does a good job of demonstrating how power corrupts (“it’s an origin story,” he explains about his actions). Similarly, his act of heroism is tainted by the revelation that the woman he rescued at the outset is connected to his tech (she’s his doctor).

Whedon fans, take heed!

Yes, Joss Whedon’s name is splashed in all the right places, but the show still lacks a certain, obvious Whedon-y stamp. Not that it’s a problem, but initially the pilot plays as a really good impression of Joss Whedon writing; I found that distracting, especially all of the humorous bits. The lines had the same rhythm of a typical Whedon quip, but it lacked his voice. In other words, (and this might sound harsher than I intend it to come across) it sounds like Buffy fan-fiction I wrote in middle school. It’s striving for Whedon but failing, especially if you are experienced with the real deal.

Tie-ins from the Marvel Universe

I think I’ve seen all the Marvel Phase One movies and as a result have working knowledge of the callbacks to those plotlines in the pilot. Honestly, the baseline for what to watch prior to getting into the show is The Avengers. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are even more references that went straight over my head. But that’s okay, because I may have missed them but I didn’t feel like I was missing them, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think any of the Marvel Easter eggs in the pilot would significantly hurt a blank slate fan from tuning in, which is very good. However, knowing the references definitely enriches the viewing experience. Some of those things:

  • The attack on New York from The Avengers. The world has now seen superheroes and aliens. It’s a brave new world where these figures are revered like the fictional heroes that they are: just like in our reality, you can own your very own Hulk figurine, but in Marvel’s world you get to worry about meeting him in person. (Sort of like, “So They Say” from Joss’  Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog…am I right?). Their exposure is a direct link to the mission statement of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. team and the show itself.
  • Maria Hill. Further linking us to The Avengers film, Cobie Smulders reprises her role as Maria Hill, who along with Agent Phil Coulson, provides a direct link to the movie universe. With “How I Met Your Mother” ending, it’s possible that Cobie will make herself available to “S.H.I.E.L.D.” in subsequent seasons. Right now I feel optimistic in predicting another season since the premiere drew in the largest audience for a network drama debut in four years.
  • Speaking of Agent Coulson, he is indeed back. While we initially get a lame explanation about how Nick Fury faked Coulson’s death to rally the Avengers and a running joke on Tahiti, something else is up. (“He really doesn’t know, does he?”). The guess on everyone’s mind seems to be: Life Model Decoy.
  • Chitauri. The opening action sequence in Paris finds agent Grant Ward on the hunt for a piece of Chitauri tech, the alien race that invades New York in The Avengers.
  • Best nickname for/allusion to Loki?: “Asgardian Mussolini.”
  • Dr. Erskine. The doctor who perfected the super soldier serum used by Captain America in World War II is name dropped when the team attempts to figure out the tech on Michael Peterson.
  • Extremis. As part of his transformation, Michael Peterson is revealed to be suffering the effects of “Extremis,” the tech developed by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) in Iron Man 3. The explosion that kicks off the pilot is also revealed to be caused by another test subject under the effects of Extremis.

Character Notes

It’s no surprise that “S.H.I.E.L.D.” gifts us with a diverse, compelling ensemble. Along with Coulson, we meet: Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), an agent who can obviously kick-ass but was perfectly riding a desk job for unknown reasons; Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), another agent with an implied troubled past; Skye (Chloe Bennet), a blogger who (again, for reasons unknown) wiped her identity clean; and Leo Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) as the geniuses in charge of all things science and technology. I am particularly excited to see what the show does with Iain De Caestecker, if only because I really miss “The Fades” and I’m excited for this to be his new gig.

I’m incredibly excited to see what this season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has in store and personally have high hopes for its trajectory and longevity.

(The) Evil Dead

As a devout horror fan, the trend of updated remakes is often more disheartening than refreshing. I especially despair over the idea that for some people, the remake is their first, and only, exposure to the content. The bar I set for remakes is not very high; if you have something new to say or examine, while also taking the time to adapt the movie to contemporary time, go for it. Otherwise, you lose the charm, the heart, and the spirit of the original film. Instead, the idea is to add gore, add an expendable cast, and convert it to 3D. Few and far between, there are some remakes that pass the litmus test. Off hand, the best recent horror remake I can name (in my opinion) is Fright Night. Obviously, my next example is the new Evil Dead, that along with the rubber stamp of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, manages to build upon the narrative devices of the original.

So what does Evil Dead (2013) update to distinguish itself from its predecessor while also subtly remaining an homage?

Changes to how relationships are emphasized

In the original, Ash’s sister Cheryl, is arguably the most annoying person you are like to encounter anywhere. She whines, she serves as a Debbie Downer from scene one, and is a general buzzkill. She gets possessed first and it actually serves to improve her personality. Ash’s relationship with his girlfriend Linda is a far more integral to the plot. She’s the one that gets the necklace from Ash early on, she’s the one that gets put in the pretty burial dress and lovingly laid to rest. His sister becomes the primary antagonist but his girlfriend retains a victim-like quality throughout the film, ’til Ash decapitates her.

The remake doesn’t try to hide that fact that it is far more interested in the dynamic between the brother (David) and sister (Mia) of the group. So much so that they seem to integrate Ash’s character arc into both David and Mia’s storyline. Mia receives the necklace, gets changed into a burial dress and subsequently buried. And yet, it retains the Cheryl plot for the better part of the film. She’s the first to be possessed, she tries to flee and gets raped in the woods. What the remake does very effectively is base her craziness (and the desire to keep her there) in reality. She’s a heroin addict who is one OD away from death. The whole weekend actually serves as a last ditch effort to get her clean, as opposed to a generic spring break trip. Unlike the original, Mia’s attitude makes perfect sense. The best evidence of the change in dynamic? In the original, Linda wears the Michigan State sweater. In the remake, Mia is seen wearing it.

This also marginalizes the girlfriend character completely (Natalie). In fact, while not the first to become possessed, she is still the least developed character. Intentional or not, this is another example of the change in relationship focus. The movie almost goes out of its way to leave her a blank slate.

The Back Story

In the original, the group finds the Necronomicon, and a record, that explains what happened to the previous inhabitants of the cabin. The incantations on the record bring about the demons’ release. Meanwhile, in the remake, we get an intro that depicts what happened at the cabin prior to the main events. Then, we have Eric become obsessed with the Necronomicon, secretly. While it goes a little unexplained, how the remake depicts this obsession (which leads to all the hell that breaks loose) and the fact he never reveals it or gets called out on it, is kind of disturbing. I’m still thinking about it.

The Sequence of Events

Surprisingly, the movie maintains the shell of the original, only diverging at the climax (and adding a dog, because, why not?). In the original, Scotty’s girlfriend Shelly is the second to get possessed; she attacks him, and he eventually dismembers her. Linda is the next to be possessed and at first is just a passive, creepy singer of a scary sounding song. Eventually, unable to dismember her, Ash opts for the burial option. She rises from the grave and Ash is forced to decapitate her. Ash goes back inside to battle with Cheryl and Scotty, both possessed. The sequence of Ash in the cellar with blood seeping out into everything is one of my favorites and I’m torn between being sad it’s left out of the remake and happy they didn’t try to touch the scene. The remake sort of addresses this with a blood rain.

Shelly’s analog in the remake, Olivia, is also the second to get possessed and attacks the Scotty analog, Eric. Instead of dismembering her, he bashes her brains in. Natalie is the next possessed, but unlike the original, is not passive. She attacks Eric and David with a nail gun. Here, Mia’s character temporarily takes over the arc of Ash’s girlfriend and gets the burial treatment. Mia awakens exorcised. David only has to deal with Eric, and his solution is to set the cabin on fire with both of them inside.

The Manifestations of the Demons

In the original, the demons are only seen through the possessed bodies of the characters or when the camera seems to become the eyes of a demon as it rushes from the forest. Without seeing it, I’ve always identified it as an invisible force in our world. In the remake, we have a startling different take on how the characters see the demons, including an ending that conjures up an “Abomination” from hell. I’ve been going back and forth on whether this entirely works for me (in some cases, it feels like just another opportunity to add shock factor) but it definitely offers up a departure from the original.

The Ending

In the lead-up to this movie, I could hardly avoid people referring to Jane Levy as the “female Ash.” Which I thought was cool. But it is hard to reconcile that with the first half of the film, where she appears to be playing the sister role from the original, albeit with more substance. However, the movie takes an abrupt turn in its climax. Eric successfully exorcises his sister, just in time for him to bite the dust and her to assume the role of heroine. Instead of continuing to fight her possessed friends like Ash, Mia must deal with the resurrection of the Abomination. She emerges triumphant and does not get possessed like Ash in the original. However, she does lose her hand in the battle, implying that like the Evil Dead musical, this was an attempt to consolidate the original Evil Dead with Evil Dead 2 (okay, they are the same movie, but not really…).

References to the Original

Fans of the original are not left to drift in the cold lonely waters of the remake, or subjected to obvious, groan-inducing callbacks. Here are some things I noticed, but this list is not exhaustive:

  • what looks to be the now dilapidated car from the original

  • the necklace looks similar but isn’t exactly the same as, the one Ash gives his girlfriend. And said necklace assumes the shape of a skull at one point when it is laying on the ground.
  • Jane Levy gets way more Ash-like after being exorcised, dusting off some one-liners and like I said, losing her hand. (“Feast on this, motherfucker!”)

  • They hail from Michigan, the same place as the original group. Also, Eric looks like he borrowed the shirt he is wearing from Scotty’s closet, amirite? (Compare to Eric above).

The Future

Now that the remake is making bank at the theaters, it is basically a done deal that we are getting an Evil Dead 2 from the same director. At the same time, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell are attempting to make Army of Darkness 2. As suggested by some people, the remake doesn’t preclude the idea that the events from the original happened in the same timeline. Therefore, as Raimi et al. have suggested, a seventh film could combine the two narratives of Ash and Mia, resulting in, you guessed it, pure awesomeness. While the current box office stats definitely raise expectations that this could happen, I don’t want to get my hopes too high. Does anyone else remember when, after the relative success of Freddy vs. Jason, some people were talking about getting Ash involved? I’m sure that had to do with rights, but that was such an exciting prospect I still feel sad over it not happening.

Zero Dark Thirty’s Awesome Ensemble Cast

You’d think the ensemble cast for Argo could not be challenged, but that would be a mistake. At every location, meeting, and level of government, Zero Dark Thirty is populated by familiar faces. And interestingly, many (not all) of these actors are prominently known for their television roles.

Jessica Chastain: She’s amazing. And while she is starring in basically every film that comes out these days, some people (like me!) might remember her role as Veronica Mars’s disappeared pregnant neighbor in the season one episode “The Girl Next Door.”

Jason Clarke: I associated Jason Clarke with his starring role on the defunct show, The Chicago Code. I championed that show until the bitter end, so I hope Jason Clarke at least gets a big film career as a consolation prize. Bonus!: I remember where I saw him most recently: in Texas Killing Fields being hunted by…Jessica Chastain.

Kyle Chandler: He really wins this year because he is also in Argo. Of course, his prominent television role is Friday Night Lights (I know, I know, I need to watch) but I can’t help but constantly think of his stint on Grey’s Anatomy. Remember how that one time there was a bomb and Kyle Chandler needed to diffuse it?

Jennifer Ehle: I honestly can’t look at her without thinking about her role opposite Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice.

Harold Perrineau: Lost. Oz. Sons of Anarchy. The Unusuals. (And Wedding Band? Sorry, Wedding Band fans — it’s a goner.)

Mark Strong: You might know him from every film ever, but his role in Kick-Ass sticks out to me.

Jessica Collins: One of those, “don’t I know her from something?” The answer must be I know her from Rubicon. Yet another show I watched to the bitter end. It really just served to prove that AMC can and will ax shows.

Fredric Lehne: You may know him from every television show ever: American Horror Story: Asylum, Lost, Supernatural, etc. Seriously, he is the epitome of the character actor.

Mark Duplass: How can you not love him?? He’s making his mark on TV (The League, The Mindy Project) and in film (Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister’s Sister).

James Gandolfini: Tony Soprano himself!

Stephen Dillane: You may also know him from everything in the world but these days I tend to shout out (mentally) “Stannis!” whenever I see him. So, Game of Thrones but also Hunted, John Adams, etc.

John Barrowman: a.k.a. Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, as well as his recent gig on CW’s Arrow. Singer, actor, host and all-around constant personality…in Zero Dark Thirty. Randomly great.

Joel Edgerton: Discussion of all other roles must be preempted because I just discovered (remembered/had a flashback to) the fact he is “young” Uncle Owen in the Star Wars prequels. I instantly seized upon a mental image of the trading card I have (yes, I collected Star Wars cards but I was waaay more into my Lord of the Rings collection…) and knew this to be true. And then my mind exploded. I guess I should quit wondering where this Joel Edgerton guy came from if he has actually been on the fringes all these years.

Chris Pratt: Parks and Recreation! But before Parks and Rec, my thought would have been Everwood! Wow, that really takes me back…

Taylor Kinney: This guy pops up on The Vampire Diaries, then starts dating Lady GaGa, and now has a starring role in Chicago Fire. So I imagine he made some kind of deal with the devil.

Christopher Stanley: Honorable mention since whenever I see him I can only think of Mad Men; “Henry Francis.”

Mark Valley: Human Target, Fringe, Boston Legal, and Body of Proof apparently, etc. All I can think about for some reason when I see him is that he was married to Anna Torv. But not any longer…

Amy and Tina Host an Eventful 70th Globes

First, an Oscars analysis in light of Thursday’s nominations: The Golden Globes seem to indicate that Argo still has an edge over Lincoln but that Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain are still frontrunners in the acting category.  In the Comedy/Musical category, the competition was solely between Silver Linings Playbook and Les Misérables. Anne Hathaway is closer to a lock for Best Supporting Actress, but I think the momentum for the film itself and for Hugh Jackman, ends here. The real battle seems to be developing between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence…and I think Daniel Day-Lewis and Bradley Cooper.

This picture of Ben and Casey Affleck is just TOO CUTE.

Ben Affleck may win every directing nomination he’s received, and rightly so, which makes the Oscar snob all the more confusing. I get Oscar snubs are a necessary component of the process, and that this was a great year, but this is a head-scratcher. Nevertheless, he deserves the accolades. Go Ben! And Argo!

Love him. Mental note: what role has inspired this newly buzzed look?

Not quite sure who was favored for Supporting Actor (perhaps Alan Arkin or Tommy Lee Jones?) but I adore Christoph Waltz, so *I* favored him. Then again, he has to contend with Robert De Niro for the Oscar, and that’s a tough race. Great performances in both. If Christoph Waltz was a surprise, Quentin Tarantino for Best Screenplay was shocking. I also think he was most deserving; I mean this is an original screenplay in a mixed category of both original and adapted. Weird category that makes much more sense separated, like at the Oscars.

Jodie Foster

Glad that pan over the audience showed I wasn’t the only one crying as her speech kept hitting different emotional beats (here’s the transcript). I was just so unprepared! Most of these achievement awards are, lets be honest, super boring. From the way she addressed her ailing mother and hints about “retirement”…it was like breaking the wall that glittery award shows put up. We like to see stars schmoozing with other stars and seeing them as “real” people. But it’s all so fake. Leave it to a notoriously private actor to shatter those expectations. We don’t know Jodie, but because of her celebrity…we do. And this swan song of sorts is affecting because of that familiarity. Fascinating, moving stuff.

The Competition for Most Distinguished Introduction to a Film

Bill Clinton for Lincoln, Jeremy Renner for Zero Dark Thirty, Christian Bale for Silver Linings Playbook, Catherine Zeta-Jones for Les Misérables, Tony Mendez and John Goodman for Argo, Jamie Foxx for Django Unchained…

Women on Television

Claire Danes: “very proud to be working in this medium, in this moment, in this company”

Lena Dunham: “This award is for every woman who felt like there wasn’t a space for her” and Girls “made me feel so much less alone in the world”

Random Moments

I don’t actively dislike Robert Pattinson, (he is Cedric Diggory after all) but I never give him much thought. However, I have to admit that this little GIF showing how momentarily shy and awkward he appeared to be meeting Quentin Tarantino has endeared him to me a bit:

SKYFALL and Adele win—she high-fives Daniel Craig (such delight!) and pisses off Taylor Swift

The Usual Favorites

How awesome is Jessica Chastain, seriously? So sincere. On the E! Red Carpet she stopped to tell Naomi Watts how great she is in The Impossible and how much she loved it (before being shooed away by Ryan Seacrest).

Can someone PLEASE mass publish the fact that Jennifer Lawrence was quoting The First Wives Club when she said “What does this say…I beat Meryl!” I love her more and more every time she speaks. I know how it feels to diffuse awkwardness with a movie quote only to have it sort of fall flat when no one realizes it’s a quote…

Benedict Cumberbatch (his second time at the Globes) lost to Kevin Costner. Kevin Costner winning also led to the most boring speech of the night. And Ben looked sad! Oh well…

So, ties were optional this year Ewan? What is this nonsense?

Ewan McGregor not-so-shockingly did not win for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but did get to have a chat with George Clooney (that I spied) and plenty of others, probably. I just wish he was there to support The Impossible.

Eddie Redmayne looked quite dapper, of course.

Five Non-Traditional Holiday Films

While I have a standard list of go-to holiday flicks, sometimes it’s nice to watch a movie where the plot doesn’t revolve around shoving Christmas cheer and/or drama into every scene. A nice Christmas-tangential film is perfect for just the perfect amount of holiday awareness without causing you to OD on the big Christmas chill. This list doesn’t include Die Hard (because it is a gaping hole in my pop culture canon) but you know, some people may find that to be a good option as well.

Gremlins

A mogwai can make the perfect surprise Christmas gift. But if you accidentally get him wet, and subsequently feed your mogwai brood after midnight, your town will be in for a Christmas it will never forget! (Also, violence and death.)

Bridget Jones’ Diary

I can watch this year round but so much of its timeline is tied to the Christmas season that it makes for the perfect holiday movie.

Better Off Dead

Who can resist endless microwave meals wrapped up as presents? Or a picture of your host family’s creepy son? Or this movie in general because of its hilarity? I always think of this movie when I see a tiny teddy bear.

“Look Beth, I gotta go. The Christmas tree’s on fire.”

Rent

While I would recommend the live on Broadway edition of the show, the movie will also do in a pinch. Rent begins and ends its story on Christmas Eve, which it doesn’t let you forget due to its aggressive notation of the passing year. But the characters and their lives are far more interesting than the holiday itself.

American Psycho

There must be a point for everyone in American Psycho where you either fully get behind what is being presented, or don’t. I’d like to think that process begins when Patrick Bateman makes plans with Paul Allen at the work Christmas party to meet up. Also, “mistletoe alert” is the most abrupt/hilarious/creepy thing.

Award Season Thoughts: Golden Globes and SAG Noms

Excited for this

If we are all being honest, a Golden Globe nomination is little more than a chance for the real Oscar contenders to continue their campaign, and for some of the kookier nominees to enjoy in the randomness of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. The SAG awards can be telling of Oscar contenders as well but it’s really all about “actors celebrating actors” and a really nice party, I’d imagine (and more campaigning). But things are looking good for some deserving folks, and I feel way more committed to this awards season than last year (ugh). Also, I can’t help but be excited for the Amy Poehler/Tina Fey power hour.

To recap, I LOVED Argo and despised The Master. Ben Affleck got a very deserving nod for a Golden Globe in the Best Director category. Alan Arkin was the only actor nominated, in a supporting role. The movie as a whole was nominated for both Best Drama and Best Screenplay, as well as Best Score. Argo is also nominated for Best Ensemble Cast at the SAGs, and I gotta say, it is tough to beat. On the other hand, while voters seem to be in agreement that The Master is not great, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are still getting acting nominations. Which is okay, I guess. They did good work.

While I am championing Argo, I am full-on obsessed with Silver Linings Playbook (Golden Globe Best Comedy/Musical, SAG Best Ensemble). Bradley Cooper: best role I have ever seen him in (GG Best Actor Comedy/Musical, SAG Best Actor). Jennifer Lawrence is as fantastic as she is crazy and fragile (GG Best Actress Comedy/Musical, SAG Best Actress). And as the cleverest sort-of rom-com I’ve seen in years, it is very deserving of its GG Best Screenplay nod. However, it is shocking that the Golden Globes bypassed Robert De Niro, who gave his best performance in years; he was nominated for a SAG award, which hopefully keeps his Oscar nomination chances afloat.

The early praise for Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty is being supported by multiple nominations for both films. Where they fit in with Argo and Silver Linings Playbook, in my opinion, is yet to be determined but I am excited to check them out. Both are nominated in the Best Drama category for the Golden Globes and both directors, Kathryn Bigelow and Quentin Tarantino, are nominated. They also both received noms for Best Screenplay. For Django, one of my favorite people in the world, Christoph Waltz, is nominated alongside Leonardo DiCaprio. Meanwhile, another one of my favorite people, Jessica Chastain is nominated for Zero Dark Thirty, at the Golden Globes and the SAGs.

SURPRISE: For some reason, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association really felt the need to recognize Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, with a nod for Best Comedy/Musical, and acting nominations for Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor. I don’t have anything against the film, I actually own it. (I am contractually obligated by myself to own every Ewan McGregor movie so this hardly counts either). It is just one of those bizarre instances when a little talked about film from months ago pops for a run at gold. But I would much rather have Ewan nominated for his work in The Impossible at the Oscars.

Other notables:

  • I have not seen The Sessions but I will never not be ecstatic over recognizing John Hawkes, which the HFPA and SAG both do. People claim that The Sessions is pure Oscar bait and I see where they are coming from, but John Hawkes has so many more unrecognized performances that this makes sense to me.
  • Not wholly unexpected, but still surprising: Rachel Weisz snags a Best Drama Actress nod for The Deep Blue Sea. It is always nice to see her recognized (I love her) and I did like the performance (and the presence of Tom Hiddleston, naturally).
  • My poor beloved Cloud Atlas is nominated for Best Score. As well it should!
  • The Hour is nominated for Best Miniseries (?), hooray!! Sherlock is not; but Benedict Cumberbatch is nominated for Best Actor in a miniseries. Weird.

22 Bond Films Later…

On the 50th anniversary of James Bond, I celebrated by watching Dr. No for the first time. Seized by the unexpected desire to watch all 22 official Eon Bond Productions by the U.S. release of Skyfall, I set out to do just that. And lo and behold, I accomplished my mission. Honestly, my previous experience with Connery/Moore was limited to holiday marathons on television, which meant they all blurred together and left no lasting impression. So, it was a great to finally commit to the full experience, and in true blogger form, I have some observations.

The Women

How to approach this integral part of the Bond franchise? Well, I went with number of different women Bond sleeps with in a given film, not necessarily how many times he sleeps with someone. Certain lucky girls get multiple encounters, after all. And of course the films rely heavily on innuendo in some cases, so Bond being Bond, I counted those in most cases…although I really had to extrapolate on the data presented. In any case, the average number of women per film: 3. They ranged from 1-4 with 2 being second most prevalent. Impressive: an implied threesome in From Russia with Love and an underwater hookup in Thunderball. Also, before Bond descended into formula, one girl had the distinct privilege to be reoccurring paramour: Sylvia (Eunice Gayson) appears in Dr. No and From Russia with Love.

Bond Girls In Focus

Honey Ryder in Dr. No

 Honey leaves huge shoes to fill in terms of what a Bond girl could bring to the table. In typical fashion, she joins the action halfway through the film by just showing up and actually having direct relation to a plot point, but that’s fine. No, she has the gumption to show horror at the fact that Bond sometimes, just kind of, murders people. I concede in this case it was necessary, but she still asks “why?” and sometimes it is nice to actually reflect on the implications of our action movies. But I also like the fact that when she was a young girl she killed her rapist with a black widow spider. Can’t argue with the “why” of that.

Domino Derval in Thunderball

Domino is unknowingly the mistress of the guy that was responsible for the death of her brother. Disclaimer: Thunderball is one of my least favorite Bond installments and for the most part, Domino didn’t display much prowess in the Bond girl department. But when she finally gets a clue as to the plot that got her brother killed, she gets the satisfaction of killing her lover. And I thought that was a powerful moment, given the fact that most people like to see Bond directly save the day.

Stacey Sutton in A View to a Kill

You might say, hey, you feel special kinship because you share the same name. But you would be wrong gentle audience, because I liked Stacey before I knew her name. Educated in earth science and looking after her father’s legacy, she was already standing up to Christopher Walken’s character before Bond entered the picture. I also like her cat. I also appreciate the fact that, as an everyday rich girl, she takes a lot of initiative at the end to stop the baddies.

Pam Bouvier in Licence to Kill

A former Army pilot and current CIA informant, Pam is on Benicio del Toro’s hit list. However, Bond swoops in, charms her and needs a pilot. However, it soon becomes clear to her that Bond is also charmed by Talisa Soto. And, unlike the other scores of women he sleeps with, she actually gets outraged about it. Which while a common human emotion, isn’t usually on display in these films. And best of all, the romantic tension comes to a head at the very end and Bond is forced to make a choice.

Top 10 Recognizable Faces

1. Robert Shaw: Years before he was Quint, he’s still awesome. (From Russia with Love)

2. Donald Pleasence: I like his take on Blofeld, or maybe I just really like Austin Powers films. (You Only Live Twice)

3. Christopher Lee: It is just sort of weird to seem in an action-y kind of role, as opposed to creepy…(The Man with the Golden Gun)

4. Christopher Walken: A Hyper-Intelligent Nazi Experiment with Christopher Walken mannerisms…yes please! (A View to a Kill)

5. John Terry: You might just identify him as “Jack’s Dad” from Lost, but I really enjoy seeing John Terry pop up in random ’80s films. (The Living Daylights)

6. Benicio del Toro: So young! (Licence to Kill)

7. Everett McGill: This guy…he is always evil. Silver Bullet! But he’s a nice guy on Twin Peaks. (Licence to Kill)

8. Sean Bean: This is the quintessential role that can explain Sean Bean’s reputation to anyone uninitiated. First few minutes, he dies. Already typically Bean. But then, you might notice his name pop up right after Pierce Brosnan. He’s revealed to be primary antagonist. Another Bean signature. And then still dies at the end. SEAN BEANNNN in a nutshell. (Goldeneye)

9. Alan Cumming: He’s a true chameleon. (Goldeneye)

10. Vincent Schiavelli: This guy was literally the only tolerable part of Tomorrow Never Dies, in my viewing experience. Uncle Enyos on Buffy! Teaching positions in both Better Off Dead and Fast Times at Ridgemont High!

The Icky Business of Political Correctness

Horrible writing for women (especially in Roger Moore years) isn’t the only cringe-inducing treatment of “others” in the series. “Gypsy” stereotypes are in full view during From Russia with Love. All of Live and Let Die has issues, like, being on the lookout for a “white pimp-mobile.” See also, the use of “ghetto blaster” in The Living Daylights. Perhaps the most egregious line is from Octopussy, while Bond is in India: “that should keep you in curry for a few weeks.” In India, the camera shots also include a snake charmer and a scene of men walking on hot coals.

But what about the women issue? It’s terrible. Even Connery pushes a girl in the face and dismisses something as “man talk” in Goldfinger. The Man with the Golden Gun features some nice woman-slapping and a promise from Bond to Goodnight that “your turn will come, I promise.” In The Spy Who Loved Me, Agent Triple X not only can’t drive a truck but Bond gets to exasperatedly say “women drivers!!” Original. Also, a “compliment” in Moonraker? “I keep forgetting you are more than just a beautiful woman.” Can’t say I was pleased with Bond ripping off a woman’s clothes to create a distraction in The Living Daylights either.

One Liners and Double Entendres

Bond is also famous for his cheeky send offs to villains. Some of them are groan-inducing cheesy, but a few are quite good. And he isn’t the only one who has a sense of humor in the Bondverse.

“Say, what is this? A merry-go-round?” — one guy’s objection to Goldfinger’s rotating floor.

“He’s playing his golden harp.” — Bond’s answer to the location of Goldfinger.

“I think he got the point.” — Bond, moments after harpooning a guy in Thunderball.

“Wrong pussy.” — Bond, after targeting the wrong Blofeld cat in Diamonds are Forever.

“An ice palace can be such a treacherous place.” — Graves in Die Another Day. The ridiculousness of this line makes it hilarious, even if Graves was being serious.

WORST: “He had a lot of guts.” — Bond after a ski pursuer gets shredded. Come on, you don’t know if he figuratively had a lot of guts, only literally! Actually I think all of Lazenby’s were horrid and just not timed well.

I will admit to sometimes being scandalized by the double entendres being employed in these films. It isn’t necessarily the subject matter, but the fact that any human being would ever say some of these things to begin with, especially in a wide variety of situations. And this is more of an indication that I am always on the look out for “that’s what she said” moments so much so that my mind is definitely in the gutter, but sometimes I wasn’t sure if something even was a double entendre, but this is Bond, so I usually assumed the intent was there. At least in Octopussy a woman takes Bond off guard with one: “I need refilling..” “Huh?? Oh…” (as he realizes she meant champagne). But I was never more scandalized than when Q, in Moonraker, says “I think he’s attempting re-entry.” Q!!!

Variations on One Martini

I think a good argument can be made that Bollinger is Bond’s actual preferred drink of choice because it seems to appear way more frequently, and with little alteration (except maybe to vintage). But writers like to get creative, especially when it comes to the Bond martini mythology. They alternate speaker, location, and even phrasing to introduce Bond’s signature drink. By my count they appear in fourteen Bond films. Here are some favorites:

“Vodka, rather shaken” — Bond, A View to a Kill

“Would you get me a medium dry martini, SHAKEN, not stirred?” — Bond, Licence to Kill

“Lucky I asked for it shaken” — Bond, on turbulent plane in Die Another Day

But the most rewarding usage, and my favorite, happens in Casino Royale. If you had to describe the formative Bond that we get in Casino Royale, all you need is this sequence:

Bond: Vodka martini.

Bartender: Shaken or stirred?

Bond: Like I give a damn.

The Curious Case of Felix Leiter

While there are many missed opportunities to be observed in the franchise, one that boggles my mind is the revolving door of actors that play Bond’s CIA friend, Felix Leiter. In nine movies, only two actors play the role twice. It’s no surprise that the role needs to be recast from time to time, but they made the odd choice or foregoing any basic description of Leiter. He could be young, old, skinny, fat. Whoever was available I guess. And in the pre-reboot days, the one guy to play him twice, David Hedison, did not even appear in consecutive films! He stars in Roger Moore’s first (Live and Let Die) and Timothy Dalton’s second (Licence to Kill). Why was he cast again, at the age of sixty-one, when his character was not only getting married but the main driver of narrative action, is beyond my reasoning. Especially after John Terry is wasted in the role in the previous installment? (Still bitter). The other actor, Jeffrey Wright, who appears twice is an absolute necessity — since Quantum of Solace is a direct continuation of the Casino Royale timeline. But I hope that if they use Leiter in future Daniel Craig movies they can also get Jeffrey Wright.

Other Tidbits

Creatures: what are you most likely to see in a Bond film? The answer should always be SHARK. Pet sharks, wild sharks, sharks everywhere! Thunderball, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, Licence to Kill. Also a lot of shark cruelty. with the worst example being what I dub “Jaws biting ‘Jaws'”in The Spy Who Loved Me. Poor sharky. You’ve also got a spider in Dr. No, piranha in You Only Live Twice, and snakes in Live and Let Die, Moonraker (poor python!), and Octopussy.

Space: Satellites! Rockets! Space Stations! Bond’s got ’em all! Dr. No, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, Goldeneye, and Die Another Day all feature some sort of space related narrative.

Casinos: Now I know that casinos are a great place to stage spy scenes but I had no just how prevalent they would be, so much so that I actually might be missing some of the films in this list: Dr. No, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun, For Your Eyes Only, Licence to Kill, Goldeneye, The World is Not Enough, and of course, Casino Royale.

Locales: Where does the Bond franchise love to visit? The Bahamas (in particularly Nassau), Italy (in particular Venice), and as an extension of its numerous South American action scenes, Florida. Miami is constantly mentioned, and an actual target for attack in Thunderball.

CAT CONTINUITY

Now, an issue close to my heart. Forget the fact that arch-villain Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE, is played by numerous actors who never resembled each other. No, consider his feline companion. For something that he seemed really attached to, that cat was left in the lurch at the conclusion of every film! So how did it magically return, always? You Only Live Twice: cat is left in imploding volcano. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: cat disappears as Blofeld’s research facility is destroyed in the Alps. Diamonds Are Forever: multiples of the same cat, and yet one of them is meant to be THE cat. Blofeld attempts to escape in a mini-sub, sans cat. Finally, the cat appears in the opening of For Your Eyes Only, proving that it had escaped yet again. I hope other people are just as concerned as I am about how impressive the nine lives of this cat prove to be.

Halloween Playlist

Thanks to Sandy, I feel really unprepared for Halloween. Luckily, I always have a makeshift selection of songs at the ready to instantly transport me to the appropriate All Hallow’s Eve mindset. These 20-odd are what I have on rotation this year. The inclusion of some of these songs may be more obvious than others I grant you, and yeah, I really like “Whisper To A Scream,” which is featured in Scream and, if I remember correctly, Nightmare on Elm Street 2. My only gripe with Spotify is that I couldn’t find J. Geils Band’s Fright Night song, so I included it separately via YouTube.

 

 

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!