Tuesday, Herrington made a “sprawling,” “commanding,” and “entertaining” case that The Dark Knight (DK) is the best in the bunch. Wednesday, Akers wrote the War & Peace of off-the-cuff Batman blog posts in trumpeting The Dark Knight Rises (DKR). Thursday, Herrington, exhausted from battle, conceded some points and double-downed on some others. Today, Akers makes his rebut and turns out the lights in the Batcave.
A couple of hundred Memphians at Studio on the Square got a sneak preview last night of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, a documentary feature about the legendary Memphis band of the ’70s that helped relaunch the career of Alex Chilton and launch, a decade later, a whole generation of alternative-rock and post-punk bands.
A trailer for Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me:
The work-in-progress screening was sponsored by the Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy as part of an annual membership event and featured a post-screening question-and-answer session with New York-based filmmakers Drew DeNicola, Danielle McCarthy, Olivia Mori, along with the lone remaining original member of the band, Ardent Studios' Jody Stephens.
Before the screening, DeNicola (the film's director and editor) labeled it “a participatory event,” in which he wanted feedback from an audience that knows the band and its story well before heading back to the editing room to complete the film.
Tuesday, Herrington made a “sprawling,” “commanding,” and “entertaining” case that The Dark Knight (DK) is the best in the bunch. Yesterday, Akers wrote the War & Peace of off-the-cuff Batman blog posts in trumpeting The Dark Knight Rises (DKR). Today, Herrington is back to respond to Akers' tome:
Herrington: Fine, Greg, you win. Your post exhausted me almost as much as the opening-hour set-up stuff in Batman Begins, which, by the way, our Flyer film colleague Addison Engelking would like to point out is his favorite of the Nolan/Batman trilogy, along with asserting that he is not, in fact, “no one.” Chiming in via e-mail, Addison offers this:
For the record, I think BATMAN BEGINS is the best movie of the trilogy because it goes the furthest in answering the most interesting questions about the Batman story worth answering:
1. Why would you become a crime fighter?
2. Where would you go to train for this, who would train you how to do this, and how would you go about fighting so many people at once?
Still stand by my view that THE DARK KNIGHT is the weakest of the trilogy, but it makes more sense as the middle of one long 9-hour film.
I guess I don't care quite as much about the answers to those questions as you guys or have as much interest in pondering the Batman universe. Your thoroughness in all things Batman has worn me down, Greg, and I no longer have it in me to argue over the Big Themes and plot points. You make a pretty strong case for the thematic/political/sociological aspects of DKR, but I still think it flirts with ideas and imagery of income inequality more than really dealing with it. We'll agree to disagree.
But there are some other aspects of your opus that I want to respond to, and some other side issues I want to toss out.
Nolan clearly wants to play in the Heat sandbox, but it comes at the expense of the comic book characters. Was Batman actually in DK? I can't remember. He's virtually a non-factor. I acknowledge that you probably don't see that as a negative, but since they got everyone all dressed up for a Batman movie, I wish it was a little more Batman-y.
I've got a newsflash for you: Batman — meaning Bale when he's in that kinky black rubber suit, riding around in those overblown tank-like vehicles — is the least interesting thing about these Batman movies. Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne is a different matter, but Batman himself is just not that compelling an on-screen figure. More Bale, more Bane, more Dent, more Joker, more women (please), and less Batman proper is a fine recipe as far as I'm concerned.
I've been doing a “Movies” list segment most weeks on The Chris Vernon Show for a few years now — a top five list of movies or movie-related items each week, usually based on what's big or at least new at the box-office each week.
With the show moving this month to a new station, with a better signal and presumably an expanded audience, it seems like a good time to hit reset on the segment — and to start logging them again here.
Wednesday afternoon, I did the first “Movies” segment for the new-look show — best super-hero movie villains, based on The Dark Knight Rises and Verno's own pro-Bane, anti-Joker outburst from earlier in the week. From here on out — if I can keep it up — I'm going to log the lists on Sing All Kinds each week after the segment has been broadcast. (And if you can't hear it live, "The Chris Vernon Show" is available both on the station's site and via an iTunes podcast.)
That's it, here's the list:
5. Dr. Octopus from Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The best villain in the overall Spider-Man franchise turned out to be the best villain of the four films made so far as well. Played by Alfred Molina, a fine and elastic actor who doesn't fit the typical villain archetype, Doc Oc was also the source of the one scene in the first three films in which director Sam Raimi truly indulged his chaotic, comic-horror style:
Yesterday, Chris Herrington made a “sprawling,” “commanding,” and “entertaining” case that The Dark Knight (DK) is the best in the bunch. Today is Akers' turn to make the case for The Dark Knight Rises (DKR).
Greg Akers: Chris, since you had the opportunity of primary source film reviews to support your case for each of DK and DKR and I didn't, I feel that first I should establish one thing: I love The Dark Knight. I think it's a great movie.
I also think DK is flawed; wounded in ways that DKR is not. I love Dark Knight Rises more, in spite of its own, lesser flaws. Hence, this discussion.
Last week, withThe Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan brought his Batman trilogy to a close.
Batman Begins was released in 2005, with Nolan setting a new bar for what can be done with a superhero film as he got elbow-deep in the meat of the Batman origin story. The operative word for Batman Begins is "fear."
The sequel The Dark Knight, hit the streets in 2008 to rapturous praise on the way to the then-second biggest box office grosses of all time. The Dark Knight explores much more fully the criminal underworld of Gotham, particularly menacing new figure the Joker (Heath Ledger). Likened to Michael Mann's epic crime saga Heat by this publication, The Dark Knight is much more than a superhero movie. If Batman Begins was a great comic book movie, The Dark Knight was simply a great movie: bigger and more complex, with greater performances than its predecessor. The operative word for The Dark Knight is "chaos."
The Dark Knight Rises — read Herrington's review here — begins eight years after The Dark Knight. The operative word for The Dark Knight Rises is "pain."
In many ways, it's the movie of the year, and here at Sing All Kinds we seem to have a disagreement on our hands. Chris Herrington thinks The Dark Knight is the best film in the trilogy. Greg Akers finds The Dark Knight Rises to be the superior film. (Note: No one thinks Batman Begins is the best of the bunch.) And for the next couple of days we're going to hash it out here. In the interest of brevity (yeah, right), Batman Begins is henceforth BB, The Dark Knight is DK, and The Dark Knight Rises is DKR. (NOTE/WARNING: Spoilers are likely.)
We'll let Herrington start with why he prefers DK to DKR:
This is part two of my review of Prometheus. A spoiler-free part one can be found here, and if you haven’t seen Prometheus, that’s where you should go. Repeat: It is strongly recommended you do not continue to read part two until you’ve seen Prometheus. Also, I guess it’s worth saying there are spoilers for the other Alien films, but if you haven’t seen them yet have the time to read something like this, JUST GO WATCH THEM.
Written and directed by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), The Avengers gets the benefit of Whedon’s high creative ceiling, and it manages to bump its head against it, too. Whedon has a sure hand in balancing the narrative needs of an ensemble, few are better with zippy one-liners, and the fun is fun. Those are mostly screenwriting talents. Curiously, considering his involvement, the film is lacking thematically — a notion, briefly examined, that humans are made to be ruled, doesn’t connect. And after pondering the plot, I’m not sure everything adds up from a cause-effect perspective, particularly in the second act.
Whedon seems to be kitchen sinking bits from his best invention, too: The Avengers borrows from the Buffy climaxes from seasons four (a thrilling New York set piece occasionally devolves into the Battle of the Initiative HQ, all cheesy stuntman tricks and pyrotechnics), five (a portal to another dimension is opened allowing monsters into our world), six (a protagonist’s anger threatens to destroy the rest of the team), and seven (the earth craters as a vehicle speeds away, just escaping).
Bully tackles the issue of adolescent peer bullying, particularly as it occurs in schools. The film gained some notoriety the last couple months as it has served as a battleground between the Weinstein Company, which produced it, and the MPAA, the organization that assigns ratings to films, sometimes to controversial effect. The MPAA gave Bully an R rating for language, Harvey Weinstein called foul and said he’d just release the film unrated, the story blew up in the press, and compromise was achieved when a few F-words were cut to “qualify” for an arbitrary PG-13. At stake in the rating decision was the audience of teens who ostensibly would most benefit from seeing the film.
That’s the back-story and the extent of my preconceived notions going into the screening. To my surprise, Bully is less geared to a teen audience than I had expected. This is less a school film the likes of which would be shown to a class to spell a substitute teacher than it is directed at actual teachers, administrators, and parents. If progress is to be made in epidemic bullying, it will have to come from the top, Bully argues.
Pera landed a notable cult actress, Ann Magnuson, for his last film, the under-recognized Woman's Picture. And he's done it again for his next feature project, casting the terrific veteran character actress Grace Zibriskie for Only Child.
Zibriskie, now 70, might be best known for recurring roles in the television series Seinfeld, Big Love, and Twin Peaks (where she played murder victim Laura Palmer's mother), but she has also appeared in films ranging from Norma Rae (her debut) to indie classics from Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho) and Twin Peaks' David Lynch (Wild at Heart).
For Pera, Zibriskie will be playing the mother of Amy LaVere's wounded, mysterious Loretta, a character spun off from Woman's Picture. But Only Child isn't so much a sequel to Woman's Picture as a continuation of a series Pera has vowed to explore in both feature and short films.
To raise funds for the project, Pera set up a Kickstarter campaign where those offering donations can get items related to the film or the local arts scene. The campaign, already at its goal, concludes today with a live video podcast interview with Zabriskie and LaVere, at 6 p.m.
Here's a promotional video Pera shot for the project:
The film follows the ups and downs of the 2009 football season at Manassas, a North Memphis high school with no history of winning. Here’s the story I wrote for the Indie Memphis preview (fourth item from the top) and here’s my review of the film in this week’s Memphis Flyer. Undefeated won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature last Sunday evening.
Much of the material I got in the interview was left out for space reasons for my story, so here are some excerpts from the cutting-room floor.
Cool nerds everywhere are involved in some manner of Oscar pool, ballot entries, prop bets, or many other methods of adding personal intrigue to the ceremony presentation.
Last week, Memphis Flyer film editor Chris Herrington and I took on ten categories and who we thought would win, who should win, and who got robbed — Editing/Cinematography on Monday, Lead Performances on Tuesday, Supporting Performances on Wednesday, and Screenplays on Thursday, and Director and Picture on Friday.
On Saturday, I went on 560am radio on Memphis Sport Live and participated in the MSL annual Oscars handicapping show. With hosts Kevin Cerrito and Marcus Hunter, we aired our final picks for every category.
Want to know who to select for the relatively obscure Oscar categories such as Best Sound Mixing and Best Animated Short? Listen to the podcast of the show for all the answers.
Best of all, Memphis rapper Frayser Boy participated in the MSL Oscar show as well. The man who wrote the lyrics and title to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Original Song from the film Hustle & Flow, joined us in studio, talked about his Oscar experiences, weighed in on this year's nominated films, and, significantly, brought with him his Oscar statuette. (Holding an Oscar: cross it off my bucket list.)
One of them is a little bit Extremely Loud. The other is a little bit Incredibly Close. Put them together? Oscar bait.
The Memphis Flyer's film brain trust closes out a week of Academy Awards revelry — Editing/Cinematography on Monday, Lead Performances on Tuesday, Supporting Performances on Wednesday, and Screenplays on Thursday — with a Friday dedicated to the big two awards, Best Director and Best Picture.
The Nominees: Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
Hazanavicius won the Directors Guild honor. The DGA winner has won this Oscar eight years in a row. He also won the mythical BAFTA, and when the same person wins the DGA and BAFTA, they've won the Oscar four out of the five times it's happened since 1996. He didn't win the Golden Globes, however. That went to Scorsese. That's not bad news for Hazanavicius either. Twice in 16 years has a director won the DGA and BAFTA but NOT the Globes, and both times they still won the Oscar. What are the trends for Scorsese to win? Six times in 16 years has a director won the Globes but not the DGA or BAFTA, and only once did that person win the Oscar. And only once in 16 years has the Oscar winner not been predicted by any of the DGA, BAFTA, or Globes.
In other words, Michel Hazanavicius Will Win.
Should Win: Oh, but this is a different story. The idea that Hazanavicius will win, beating out the likes of Scorsese, Malick, Allen, and Payne, galls me. Especially this year, when all-time great Scorsese made a fantastic movie unlike any other in his catalog, Malick made one of the most impressive films in memory, Payne made another solid character drama, and Allen made another pleasing intellectually romantic comedy. Hazanavicius' film is generally unimaginative. It has its charms, but I'd give credit to the acting. The script is a knock-off — strike that, a bold rip-off — of better films. Once you get past the gimmick of the film — let's make a silent black-and-white film in the 21st century — The Artist isn't particularly interesting visually.
As much as I admire Hugo, Terrence Malick's Tree of Life is a juggernaut, and I cannot deny it the highest honor.
Got Robbed: I've mentioned all of this previously this week, so I won't go into great detail, but: Xavier Beauvois made a powerful film about religion — probably the best such since The Apostle — with Of Gods and Men. Lars von Trier finally stopped beating about the bush with his movies and just went out and destroyed all of biological life in Melancholia. A pretty funny joke, if you ask me. Sean Durkin made his debut feature really count with Martha Marcy May Marlene, a complex character study that flirts with a number of genres before settling on horror. Steven Spielberg made his first animated movie, The Adventures of Tintin, and he felt the freedom, coming up with one of his most enjoyable films and his best cliffhanger plot since Raiders of the Lost Ark. Tomas Alfredson paid attention to everything and produced the greatest spy movie ever with Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. And, my winner, Steven Soderbergh, one of the great American directors, made what is possibly his masterpiece, Contagion. With immense precision and deliberation, Soderbergh creates a lean plague procedural about professionals acting professionally and trying to keep it together in the face of disaster. Plus, it has the biggest shock shot of the year: Gwyneth Paltrow's world-famous face peeled down in an autopsy. Pretty spectacular.
Contagion: A movie you won't be hearing about on Oscar night.
The end is near. It's day four of the annual pre-Oscar conflagration here at Sing All Kinds. Where we've been:
Tomorrow we'll finish up with Best Director and Best Picture. But before that, it's time for the starting point of most film projects, the screenplays:
Best Adapted Screenplay
The Nominees: The Descendants, Hugo, The Ides of March, Moneyball, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Should Win: I'll say my piece here on Moneyball, which, to my mind, is the most overrated film of 2011. I say this as an amateur sabermetrician since discovering Bill James in junior high and as someone who's read Michael Lewis' book: The book Moneyball is flawed to begin with and the film doesn't seem to really understand the book. The result is a film that pretends to be smart rather than a smart film. It apes the brainy verve of Sorkin's roughly similar The Social Network, but in no way matches it. The Ides of March is even more pleased with itself than Moneyball and has even less reason to be. That's a bad nomination. I think the way Hugo fruitfully personalizes its source material is probably more a function of director Martin Scorsese than the script. And that leaves me with The Descendants and Tinker Tailor, both solid options.
Tinker Tailor is, I'm sure, a terribly impressive distillation of its complicated source material. You've testified to that already and I'm sure you will again. I was impressed by it but also, like a lot of people coming to the material cold, a little confused at times. Where The Descendants wobbles, I think, is in its direction. I think the mix of marital issues, real estate concerns, parenthood, and sense of place are all assembled very well and I can actually imagine this being an even better film in the hands of another filmmaker. So my vote's going there.
Got Robbed: I'll make A Dangerous Method an honorable mention here, but my real choice is going to be an unpopular one: The Help. Having spent some time with Kathryn Stockett's best-seller, I can say that director Tate Taylor's screenplay improves on the source material. The Help was justly criticized for not fully breaking from the "white crusader" dynamic typically deployed in Hollywood films about Southern racism. But it wasn't given enough credit for the interesting and instructive ways it tweaks that formula. I thought much of the negative critique it got felt pre-conceived, and these dismissals and attacks tended to bother me because I recognized myself in them. They're what I assumed I'd be writing before I actually saw it. One piece I saw derided the film as something like "a feel-good movie for white people." I'd say it became a feel-good movie for a lot of critics and social media snarkaholics who were able to use it to make themselves feel superior without really dealing with the film or what it's doing in any substantial way. The Help is an imperfect film, but one that wrestles with its issues with more complication and less comfort than most of its detractors recognized.
And we're back with Day 3 of the Herrington and Akers Oscar parse-aroo. Previously on the series: On Monday we looked at Editing and Cinematography. Tuesday we examined the Lead Performances.Today, we consider the Supporting Acting categories.
Best Supporting Actress
Nominees: Bérénice Bejo (The Artist), Jessica Chastain (The Help), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), Octavia Spencer (The Help)
Greg Akers: Will Win: Octavia Spencer has this one on lockdown. She won the Golden Globes, the SAG, and the BAFTA for her performance in The Help. That trio of wins has happened three times in 16 years, and each time it has netted an Oscar for the supporting actress as well. Only once in 16 years has someone (Marcia Gay Harden, Pollock) won this Oscar and not won at least once out of the Globes, SAG, or BAFTA awards.
Should Win: Octavia Spencer. Her role is meatier than Chastain's in The Help, and Spencer is dynamite. (The relationship between her and Chastain's characters is my favorite in the film.) We'll get into The Artist much more in later categories, but Bejo is very good as Peppy Miller, the starlet with charisma to burn. McTeer is probably better than Close, even, in Albert Nobbs ... but, dangit, she looked too obviously like a woman trying to look like a man, and that annoyed me. As for McCarthy, I LOVE Melissa McCarthy. I would want her to win all manner of accolades for all manner of things, up to and including her great Sookie from Gilmore Girls and Internet vlogger Marbles Hargrove. (Who satirizes people like us in this hysterical video below.) But Bridesmaids underwhelmed me. There, I said it.
Got Robbed: So many people got robbed this year. 2011 was the year of Jessica Chastain, who robbed herself in better performances in The Tree of Life and, in particular, Take Shelter. Kate Winslet was robbed from recognition as the brave, emotionally restrained first responder in the viral horror Contagion. Charlotte Gainsbourg got robbed for being sad the world was going to end in Melancholia. Elle Fanning got robbed for being a great kid actor in Super 8.
But more than any of these, Shailene Woodley got absolutely robbed for her performance in The Descendants, the best thing about a really good movie.