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[Casting Change] – Channing Tatum in “The Vow”

The Vow is a story about “moments of impact,” specifically, the moment of impact when a careening snow plow barrels into the back of a parked car, sending it head-on into an unfortunately placed telephone pole. The driver of the crumpled vehicle, played by Channing Tatum, is injured, and his passenger and wife, played by Rachel McAdams, is sent flying through the windshield. The husband learns that his wife has suffered major head trauma and the doctors have medically induced a coma to allow her brain to reduce the swelling. It’s all very technical, you see, but when McAdams’ character wakes up, she thinks that the man sitting lovingly at the end of her bed is her doctor, assuming that, in her brain-damaged world, doctors look like Channing Tatum. She forgets the last five years of her life; she is a woman with only half of a past and the last things she remembers are being engaged to another man and attending law school. But the charming and ever-committed Adonis is unwavering and he spends the rest of the film trying to fill in the holes in her memory, to convince this broken flower that they are hopelessly in love and, failing that, he vows to make his wife fall in love with him all over again.

As I watched this timeless love story unfold, though, I realized something: By simply recasting Channing Tatum’s role, the movie suddenly takes on a different tone entirely.

Let’s consider The Vow if the husband were played by, say, Zach Galifianakis. Instead of mistaking him for her doctor, she thinks that Galifianakis is the sketchy ex-convict whom the hospital hired to clean the bedpans. She wouldn’t give him a second look, except maybe to make sure that she was close enough to the nurse’s call button in case he started to masturbate in front of her. In shock, he inches his way to the side of the bed, tries to take her by the hand (though she pulls it away in disgust), and, in that part of every kooky comedy trailer where the music stops for the plot’s ultimate punchline, he says, “I’m your husband!”

She cannot possibly wrap her mind around the pairing—the stunning beauty and the oafish loser. She recalls romantic comedies and network sitcoms with similar duos but it always seemed so unlikely. To help jog her memory, the husband shows her their photo albums filled with pictures of their adorably unconventional wedding, of trips to national landmarks, and of joyful times in the park or on the beach where they couldn’t help but capture their undying love with a sweetly askew snapshot.

“Photoshop!” she screams. “Conspiracy!” This couldn’t be. What must have happened in those five years for her to settle for such a repulsive slob? Is he rich? Is he seriously packing? Nothing short of hypnotism or coercion could explain their marriage. Still at the hospital, she rejects offers to speak with the resident psychologist, and she hasn’t had much of an appetite since waking from her coma. Now, it wasn’t just her muscles that began to atrophy—even her sense of self was fading.

Meanwhile, the husband is drowning in debt. He wishes he could turn to friends or family, but he has none. He has no choice but to sell his impressive Star Wars memorabilia collection to stay afloat. But that doesn’t keep the debtors at bay for very long.

Eventually, he realizes that he needs to do something drastic to save their livelihood. He hatches a scheme to rob a bank—not a major one, but the local branch run by an elderly couple with an equally elderly guard who naps at his post. The next day, minutes before closing, the husband kicks open the door to the bank, wailing wildly, startling the guard to the point of cardiac arrest. Unable to get a gun in time, the man brought the last remaining bit of Star Wars swag—a DH-17 blaster pistol—and sticks it in the face of the nearest teller. “Gimme all the fuckin’ money in this bank!” he screams, and the tellers abide. He exits the bank with a garbage bag filled with stacks of bills, but as soon as he passes through the doors, he hears sirens. He runs, money falling through tears in the delicate plastic. He stops to pick up some of the spilled bills when he hears, “Freeze!” But he doesn’t. Desperate to save his wife, his marriage, and his dignity, he cinches the remaining stacks and runs.

A block away, the sound of a gun firing wakes a sleeping baby. The man drops to the ground, dead of a broken heart—and a bullet in the brain.

The husband gasps and jumps from his bed. It was only a nightmare. The scene provides him with a moment of clarity: His wife doesn’t need financial support—she needs a grand romantic gesture, the kind that made her fall in love with him in the first place.

He rushes to the hospital with a jar under his arm. His arrival scares her, but he makes his way to her anyway. “This. This is our love,” he says, presenting her with the jar.

“This…is dirt,” she says, confused yet curious to know where this is going.

“That’s from our trip to the Grand Canyon. You said that you would never forget the smell there. You said it smelled like earth, like nature, like everything that is pure and good in the world.”

She tenderly opens the jar. The doctor and nurses in the room fall silent. The woman holds the container to her nose and breathes steadily.

“It just smells like dirt to me,” she admits, with a hint of sadness in her voice.

Defeated, the husband shuffles out the door, down the stairs, through the doors of the hospital, and the six miles home to their apartment. Days later, when his wife is discharged and returns home to gather her belongings, she finds her husband dead in their marital bed, his face destroyed by a self-inflicted gunshot, his blood soaked into the grain of the wood.

It takes her less than a week to forget about the portly stranger’s suicide. One time, though, almost exactly a year later, she stops chopping onions to think, a faint memory teasing her.

“Something on your mind, babe?” her new husband (played by Ryan Gosling) asks.

She squints slightly and cocks her head but then shakes it off. “Ah, must not have been important.”

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[Oscars FAIL] – If We Picked ‘Em

BEST PICTURE

Josh‘s picks

Young Adult
Beginners
Shame
Midnight in Paris
Submarine
Drive
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Contagion
Warrior

Matt‘s picks

Drive
Super 8
Submarine
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
The Muppets
The Rum Diary

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Josh’s picks

Michael Fassbender, Shame
Ryan Gosling, Drive
Craig Roberts, Submarine
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Gary Oldman, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Matt’s picks

Ryan Gosling, Drive
Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life
Craig Roberts, Submarine
Johnny Depp, The Rum Diary
Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Josh’s picks

Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Charlize Theron, Young Adult
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
Melanie Laurent, Beginners

Matt’s picks

Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
Carey Mulligan, Drive
Miss Piggy, The Muppets (I have seen, like, zero films with strong lead women this year)

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Josh’s picks

Christopher Plummer, Beginners
John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Michael Sheen, Midnight in Paris
Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Matt’s picks

Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
David Tennant, Fright Night
Albert Brooks, Drive
Giovanni Ribisi, The Rum Diary
Matt Damon, Contagion

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Josh’s picks

Ellen Page, Super
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants
Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
Marion Cotillard, Midnight in Paris
Carey Mulligan, Shame

Matt’s picks

Kate Winslet, Contagion
Elle Fanning, Super 8
Judy Greer, The Descendants

DIRECTING

Josh’s picks

Steve McQueen, Shame
Richard Ayoade, Submarine
Mike Mills, Beginners
Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Steven Soderbergh, Contagion

Matt’s picks

Nicolas Winding Refn, Drive
Richard Ayoade, Submarine
David Fincher, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
James Bobin, The Muppets
J.J. Abrams, Super 8

SCREENPLAY (COMBINED)

Josh’s picks

Richard Ayoade, Submarine
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Mike Mills, Beginners
Diablo Cody, Young Adult
Miranda July, The Future

Matt’s picks

Richard Ayoade, Submarine
Bruce Robinson, The Rum Diary
Jim Rash, Nat Faxon, Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Hossein Amini, Drive
Steve Zaillian, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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[Oscars FAIL] – The Nominations

Josh: Looking over these Academy Award nominations, I’ve decided that this is a particularly strange year in film. Sure, the Academy usually makes moviegoers say, “wait, what?” when the nominations are revealed, but I can at least see their rationale in years past. But this year, I’m not so much upset about individual nominations—I’m mostly upset about the fact that for the first time ever, for me at least, the majority of the Best Picture noms are movies that I either didn’t care for in the least or have absolutely no interest in. And I think it’s telling that of the nine pictures, I haven’t seen four of them. And it’s not as if I’m some casual film watcher; by my rough estimate, I watched 87 2011 films. I mean, shit, I even have The Iron Lady and War Horse on my computer, this very computer I’m writing on, and I can’t even bring myself to play them as background noise. So either I am very suddenly out of touch or the Academy is no longer able to effectively gauge the best films of the year. I’m assuming it’s the latter. Am I alone here, though? Do you find this year’s choices to be the same kind of uninteresting, unchallenging awards fodder, cast from the same dull mold?

Matt: I think the Academy’s definitely out of touch. I mean, you only have to look at how they’re just now modernizing their voting system. In 20-goddamn-12. But as far as the best picture nominees go (and I’ve only seen two of them, which should show you how much I care), you’ve got: Spielberg War Drama, Throwback Genre Picture, Underdog Sports Movie, Heavy Drama with Comedic Elements, Confusing Vaguely Spiritual Clip Show, Woody Allen Movie, Drama About a Trying Time in African American History as Seen Through the Eyes of a Plucky White Protagonist, Scorsese Movie, and 9/11: The 9/11ing. Each movie just seems calculated in some ways, and it makes me wonder if the Academy even watched them or just read the copy on the back of the box. Now, in all fairness, I can’t really speak to the quality of most of the movies, but when a film such as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is released to what could generously be described as “middling reviews” is nominated for Best Picture, I have to wonder what the fucking deal is. I get that critics aren’t the final line in determining what’s good and what isn’t, sure, but this just seems like the Academy making sure they hit all the sociopolitical tropes people have come to expect from them. And, I mean, I’d be hard pressed to say this makes me angry, but it’s fucking weird.

Josh: It’s very weird, but not entirely unexpected when you consider that almost every single movie that I loved this year was very un-Academy-friendly, and many were small, angry, off-kilter pictures that most general audiences just don’t respond to. But I thought some of this out of touch nominating was supposed to be curbed with the expansion to (up to) ten Best Picture selections. You might as well call it the Christopher Nolan amendment where critically acclaimed movies that are also commercial smash hits can be recognized for their contribution to that year in movies. And I would say that Fincher suffers when it comes to Oscar noms the same way that Nolan has. And yet The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, an excellently crafted thriller based on an international mega-phenomenon, can’t even get enough votes to be the tenth selection. Sure, it’s admittedly edgier than the stuffy-shirted voters usually go for but there wasn’t a single nomination in that category that would make me go, “well, at least the Academy isn’t totally up its own ass.” Not one. And that’s the part that upsets me the most. But while I find a kerchief to wipe these tears away, why don’t you tell me what you would have been happy to see nominated.

Matt: Well, for one, I think Drive should be on there, just for the sheer number of great performances. Plus, I really love how much the story was conveyed with so little dialogue overall. I’m happy with The Tree of Life. I know you hated it, but I really loved it, so it can stay. I’d probably put Submarine on the list as well. I love Richard Ayoade as an actor, and his debut as a director was surprisingly strong. Super 8, definitely. It’s an homage to ‘80s Spielberg, but it’s also just a great movie on its own. And then maybe The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. Admittedly, I’ve only seen about 35 movies from 2011, so my opinion’s a little bit limited. I’d honestly be fine if the Academy went back to five options like they used to do. The flexible number of nominations is a great idea in theory, but if the execution means we’re just going to keep seeing them make safe choices like War Horse and Incredibly 9/11 Make You Sad Cry Now, I’d honestly prefer fewer slots.

Honestly, as we move into February, I’m expecting some of the Oscar noms I missed to go into (or back into, as the case may be) wider circulation. My crappy town doesn’t have much in the way of theatres, and what we do have is usually given over completely to stuff like Twilight and Transformers.

Josh: But from my perspective this year, I’d rather watch Transformers and Twilight (both of which I’ve seen) than watch War Horse even once. It could just be that I’m getting stubbornly ignorant in my old age, but I have absolutely zero interest in watching The Artist or Hugo or ELAIC—which I find really fascinating because it’s not like those movies are ones that I’d normally dismiss outright. I mean, City Lights is one of my favorite movies ever, so a silent feel-good movie is right up my alley, and I’m a big fan of Scorsese (duh) and Safron Foer‘s short-form fiction and nonfiction (which I guess is like saying I’m a big fan of Spike Jonze, the director of IKEA commercials, but still). I enjoyed much darker works this year, ones that challenged me quite a bit and showed me some seriously flawed, unsavory central characters. Films like Drive, Young Adult, and Shame blew me away with their edge. The criminally under-watched Submarine and Carnage were awesomely malicious and confused. Martha Marcy May Marlene and Contagion were both terrifying in very different ways. Does the Academy hate raw stories? They occasionally love that kind of nastiness in lead acting roles, but I guess not in their films.

Matt: See, but even in the acting nominations, I can’t honestly say I’m impressed. A lot of them seem really obvious, and others just don’t seem deserving. Like, of course Meryl Streep and George Clooney are fantastic actors, but it almost seems like the Academy gave Streep a reserved parking spot twenty years ago and they’re determined to never change the sign. And then you get to the left field nominations (That’s a little baseball pun, since we’re going to be talking about Jonah Hill in Moneyball, folks. Stay tuned.) like Jonah Hill and Melissa McCarthy.

Josh: And from now until the end of time, we have to refer to Jonah Hill as “Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill”.

Matt: I just end up assuming that Hill was nominated for no reason other than because Moneyball itself got a nod. And in McCarthy’s case, apparently 90 minutes spent farting is made up for in a two-minute speech about how girls gotta stick together, or whatever it was. I mean, I loved Bridesmaids and McCarthy was pretty funny, but I don’t think a single moment of self-awareness amidst a sea of crudity really translates to an Oscar-worthy performance. I was thinking about this the other day, and I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t change the criteria for the acting categories altogether. I mean, Brad Pitt was nominated for Moneyball and not The Tree of Life, which cheesed me off enough to actually say it cheesed me off. But it’s also not like either one of those performances is notably awful, or anything. So I wonder if maybe the Best Actor/Actress category shouldn’t change to reflect actors who do great work in multiple roles per year. Or, at least take it into consideration. I mean, maybe Meryl Streep only makes one movie a year, but again, does she really need another Oscar?

Josh: I was reading an interesting statistic about Streep the other day, though. She’s been nominated a record number of times and has only won twice, which actually makes her the biggest loser in Oscar history. That factoid made me laugh quite a bit because, and this will likely put me in the minority, I think that Meryl Streep is overrated. “She’s good in everything!” Yeah, she’s good in everything, but so is bacon, or cheddar cheese, but after so many different dishes, when chefs are throwing bacon into melted chocolate and cheddar cheese into god-knows-what, that’s all I notice. Streep is an excellent actress and a terrific mimic, but frankly I’m kind of sick of her. That’s why I was so pleased to see that Michelle Williams got a nomination for playing Marilyn. Her performance actually made me feel sexually uneasy, antsy almost, in the way that I assume audiences a generation ago felt when they saw the lush sexuality of Ms. Monroe. It was a really fine performance in an absolutely mediocre film. And I see that kind of trend with the Best Actress noms. While the men’s performances are typically pulled from movies that were also nominated for Best Picture, the actresses star in mostly shitty, forgettable, un-nominated films. That’s weird, right? Does that speak more to the still-unequal roles that women are given in films? Do we even want to open that can of worms?

Matt: I’d say if it speaks to anything, it’s to the relative dearth of great material this year. I can’t really say I’m the greatest judge of quality or anything, but even during awards season, there wasn’t much that struck me as interesting. Or that played near me; again, fuck my life. But I mean, last year as far as nominated movies went, I wanted and got to see The Social Network, The King’s Speech, Inception, The Fighter, True Grit, Toy Story 3, and Black Swan. This year, I’ve seen The Descendants and The Tree of Life. I might go see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I’d be hard pressed to say there were really any other nominees that appealed to me. And to then draw the Lead Actress nominees from movies that didn’t even make the nominations just makes me wonder. I guess The Help has three female acting nominations to lead the pack, but there was really nothing from that movie’s premise or advertising that actually made me want to see it (ie; black history from a plucky white protagonist’s perspective).  I think, though, if we have to address the gender issue you brought up, I’d probably agree that there’s a definite imbalance. But it seems to me like there’s more of a lack of good stories built around or for women than there are a lack of strong female characters. But then, Glenn Close is technically nominated for playing a dude, so maybe what the fuck do I know? Although, I think maybe that’s where Young Adult or even Bridesmaids being ignored for best picture gives us something to go on, since both movies managed to tell compelling stories with strong female leads in Charlize Theron and Kristen Wiig. Again, it’s not so much that I think Bridesmaids should get a nomination, but rather that the Academy and Hollywood in general aren’t as willing to recognize stories about women.

Josh: Agreed on the lack of material for women. But, maybe even more than with the actor categories, the best lead actress category seems to be more likely to just throw some nominations the way of awards mainstays. Close and Streep? They’re the safe bets. But there were a ton of great performances by new-ish actresses (in addition to the Rooney Mara nomination) that blew those two roles out of the water (I’m assuming—I didn’t watch either, ugh). Miranda July was weirdly brilliant in The Future, which she also wrote and directed. But probably my favorite female performance of the year came from Elizabeth Olsen, who somehow held her own against the haunting John Hawkes in Martha Marcy May Marlene. She carried that movie but somehow was overlooked in favor of Close in what looks like the most boring retelling of Just One of the Guys ever conceived. The male categories were a little better. At least Gary-fucking-Oldman finally got a nod.

Matt: Yeah, but, and this is where I get to be all Canadian and Righteously Angry (TM), still nothing for Ryan Gosling. It’s completely fucked up how he manages to put forth amazing performances in almost everything he’s in, and yet I don’t think he’s even been nominated since Half Nelson. By all accounts, Blue Valentine was excellent, and he was every bit as important as Michelle Williams, and got nothing. And this year, with Drive, he did amazing things with what? Maybe fifteen lines of dialogue? And everything I’ve heard about The Ides of March, bland political intrigue notwithstanding, suggests he was great in that, too. I mean, yeah, I’m glad to see Gary Oldman get nominated finally because he’s fucking great, but come on. If you’re going to give Max von Sydow or Christopher Plummer the token “You’re old and are going to die soon, so please accept this award you probably should have gotten years ago” nominations, why the fuck can’t we get one for one of the most consistently great young actors of the last five years? And for that matter, where’s any of the rest of the principle cast of Drive? Albert Brooks for best supporting actor, maybe? Dude was fucking awesome. And I’m not just saying that because I love Hank Scorpio. Seriously, where the fuck is Drive at all? Now I’m just angry.

Josh: I’m absolutely on your side about Gosling, especially the Blue Valentine snub. That simply didn’t make sense. The movie was a duo performance that never would have worked if either actor didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, and both just rocked their roles. And in Drive, Gosling essentially plays the “man with no name” character that Eastwood popularized (and in fact he has no name in the credits) and yet you see such an impressive evolution (or devolution) of emotions. He shifts deftly from shy and withdrawn to curious and confident to, in the gripping last act, teetering on unhinged but still driven and principled. I have to take issue with your knock against Plummer, though. It may be because I loved Beginners more than almost every other movie last year, but Plummer was the emotional core of a very well told emotional film. He was the heartbreaking conduit through which Ewan McGregor was able to finally learn something about himself. Without the light inside Plummer’s character, Beginners is little more than a mopey what-does-it-all-mean semi-biopic. Now, let me take a breath. I may fly off the rails because the Academy completely ignored Shame, one of the most daring and courageous movies I’ve seen in years. Fassbender had as big a year—if not a bigger year—than Gosling and he was just devastating in Shame. As with Blue Valentine, the movie relied entirely on world-class central performances that delivered on every level. Maybe Shame would have gotten more recognition if it were about baseball.

Matt: I should probably say that, in my tumultuous northern rage, I didn’t really mean what I said about Plummer, specifically. He is another Canadian, after all. I’m sure he gave an excellent performance (frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t just miss the ball and nominate him for Dragon Tattoo). It just seems really common for the Academy to give compensation awards to people they snubbed in the past, particularly when they’re very old (Am I the first to notice this?!). Like, in my opinion, Max von Sydow should probably have won for his performance in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, however many years ago that was, or really any number of other things. And it looks like his role in ELAIC gave the Academy enough of a reason that they could realistically nominate him without too much egg on their faces. But I lumped Plummer in because they’re both old, and I don’t pull any punches, man. Those old people, let me tell you. But anyway, we should probably move on. I don’t really care about the screenplays or technical awards except to say I want Jim Rash to win so he can either become some sort of high profile Oscar winner to boost Community’s appeal, or go on to actually write Time Desk: The Adventures of Dean Dangerous. But beyond that, I say we move on to direction.

Josh: Just one quick note before we talk direction. I usually consider the screenplay categories to be where the Academy can right some wrongs and give some nods to edgier films they didn’t have the balls to nominate for the other major categories, like how they nominated In Bruges a few years ago. But again, this year, easy choices. Five of the nine best picture nominees were nominated for screenplay. That’s not totally unheard of but aside from The Descendants and Midnight in Paris, none of the others chosen seem all that “writerly”. I was hoping that something like Beginners or Submarine, which both feel like great novels come to life, would be recognized, but nothing. And nothing for Martha, et al., which was structured and written in such a fascinating way. But, ugh, alright. Direction. Go.

Matt: Well, again there are a lot of safe choices, really. Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, even Terrence Malick is a pretty safe nomination, although I think The Tree of Life was a pretty ballsy movie in general. Though I have to wonder how much credit should go to him, and how much should go to the cinematographer, since about 50-percent of that movie was just beautiful shots of stuff happening. I’m tempted to say that Hazanavicius is at least an interesting choice, given that he’s nominated for making a film in a mostly dead genre, but I haven’t seen enough of The Artist to really say for sure. And again, I don’t really know if The Descendants is quite good enough to be worth all the nominations it’s getting, so I’m not sure if Payne works very well here, either.

I’d honestly like to see Richard Ayoade on the list, if only because, holy shit, look at what he made with his first fucking movie, for fuck’s sake, rather than yet another Scorsese nomination. Or maybe even Nicolas Winding Refn, just after reading about all the character work he did with the actors while making Drive. But then I read about Gosling and Mulligan omitting large portions of their lines to preserve the emotions of a scene, and I wonder how much of the movie is really there because of him. I don’t know. I think maybe I’m fine with Scorsese, because from what I’ve heard about Hugo he was doing a lot of the same sort of world-building that would have made me okay with a James Cameron win for Avatar two years ago. And also, it is fucking Scorsese. I don’t know. For whatever reason the direction category never really hits me too hard. What do you think?

Josh: I always look for nominations that are given to bold, commanding filmmaking, and I’m honestly not seeing a lot of that here. I saw The Descendants and I couldn’t imagine that movie being recognized for more than the screenplay and maybe an acting nod (though not for Clooney, interestingly). But Payne is an Academy darling, so I get it. Same with Scorsese. I’m fine with Malick here, really, because he somehow turned the most beautiful screensaver in the world into a sorta-coherent, mostly-metaphysical story about, well, all life. And as much as I loved Midnight in Paris (come on, I’m a writer and this was a gorgeous love letter to Paris and artistry), Allen doesn’t really belong here. This is one of my favorite films of his, but it’s just not much of a directorial effort.

I would have loved to see Ayoade nominated for the same reason I would have liked to see Mike Mills in this category, but in that specific case that’s more because with a movie that is written and directed by the same person, I have a hard time divorcing the two. I just have this romantic image of a wholly original and organic process that results in a beautiful movie. I also would have liked seeing Soderbergh nominated for Contagion because goddamn was that a tense, methodical look at epidemiology. After my first viewing, I wanted to carry Purell with me everywhere I went. After my second viewing, I didn’t want to leave my apartment. That’s an effective thriller if you ask me.

More than those, though, I wished some truly bold filmmaking was recognized, namely Refn for Drive and McQueen for Shame. I mean, you talk about Ayoade’s first film? McQueen already has a well-established voice and perspective and Shame was only his second film. (For those who haven’t seen it, watch Hunger, his first film—a motherfucker of a gut-punch, also starring a pantsless Fassbender.) McQueen and Refn are sure to have missteps throughout their careers, but the risks they took this year have to be applauded. Or maybe not. Whatever.

Matt: That seems as good a place as any to end the discussion for now. Especially since it’s becoming increasingly apparent that I’ve been talking out of my ass since about the time you said “So, Best Picture?”

Josh: Yeah, I’m good with that.

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[My Favorite Clichés] – The Emotional Head-Shaving Scene

Shaving one’s head, like getting mustard on one’s tie or having a bird defecate on one’s head, is a visual metaphor. The moment expresses a vivid emotion, a feeling of anything ranging from relief to dread. The emotional head-shaving scene is a sorely under-utilized cliché, but perhaps it’s the scarcity that gives it its punch to the gut. (That’s another visual metaphor, son.)

Demi Moore’s head-shaving scene in G.I. Jane is an obvious example but is probably the least interesting. We get it: you’re a woman, a super hot woman, in a man’s word, and that’s gotta be hard. Parting with those locks is proof that you’re one of the boys now, as long as we overlook your sexy lady-moans during one-armed pushups and eerily rock-hard nipples. But the whole act is relatively one-note. It’s the female soldier equivalent of a football player putting that shit under his eyes as he prepares to take the field. Personally, I think it would have been much more impressive had Demi taken on the Vietcong in an updo. (They were fighting the Vietcong, right? I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really playing attention.)

Now Empire Records is a different story.

Robin Tunney’s character’s head-shaving is as much a moment of catharsis as it is an act of defiance. This scene is our introduction to Debra. From the walk through the record store to the bathroom, we already get a sense that she’s a bad ass chick. Chains? Check. Facial piercing? Check. Black clothes? Check. Perma-sneer? Oh man, check. But there is pain beneath that rugged exterior. Her wrists are bandaged, the aftermath of a suicide attempt. Debra is infinitely unhappy, and the head-shaving scene makes it clear that part of the reason she feels that way is because she is at war with her persona. She wants to show the world that she is not to be messed with–an extreme and mostly contrived statement–and she does so by trying to differentiate herself from the Barbie-like airheads she works with, people she consider to be fake and insincere. So who’s phony and who’s real? Ahh, to be full of angst.

Not every head-shaving is willing, though, and that difference obviously brings with it a different set of emotions. In V for Vendetta, Natalie Portman’s character gets involved with the disturbingly well-spoken political terrorist V. Evey (Portman) is child-like and excitable and enraptured and, unfortunately, dead fucking weight. So, predictably, she gets nicked by the bobbies, or whatever those Brits say, with the purpose of getting vital information about V. You see, the movie is a heavy-handed commentary on terrorism and political and civil unrest. But rather than waterboard her or shove bamboo shoots under her finger nails (Is it that obvious that I just watched Rambo: First Blood Part II?), they did the most torturous thing you could do to a petite young dish: shave her hair.

This punishment sends the message, essentially, that, “Bitch, you are incarcerated. And we mean business.”

For Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the upcoming 50/50, shaving his head sent a very different message. In the film, Gordon-Levitt, a healthy, spry, adorable (I mean, look at him) young man gets diagnosed with cancer. The trailer suggests that the character struggles with coming to grips with his condition. It must be tough to be of two minds when that diagnosis comes back positive–to be both strong enough to fight the disease and also accepting enough to embrace the long road ahead.

Here, the character decides to shave his head prior to chemotherapy in an attempt to own his disease. It’s admirable to preemptively, uh, balden yourself, and it’s a fascinating direction to go in with the emotional head shave. The moment is heart-breaking, for sure, and the empowerment gained is all that would help the character get through. Unlike in Empire Records, this head-shaving is less about who the character wants to become and more about coming to terms with the person he will be forced to be.

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[My Favorite Clichés] – Action Movie Ending Celebration

When I think of action movies, I think: high octane, adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding, a thrill ride from beginning to end, edge-of-your-seat excitement, and a million other meaningless, machismo-infused phrases. But for some action movies, there is a peculiar calmness after the film’s climactic set piece.

The protagonist has spent the entirety of the film chasing, discovering, or making his way to some intimidating villain, and the inevitable showdown happens in some mansion or warehouse or skyscraper–something that blows up real good and gives the pyrotechnics a place a shine. And the showdown itself is gripping, intense, exciting–all those buzzwords that action movie creators want you to use–but the action star brain, it seems, almost goes into this hibernation mode, a dreamlike, carefree state where the main character and everyone around him (or her, rarely) have forgotten where they are and what the fuck just happened.

The moment the bad guy has met his demise, the protagonist takes a sigh of relief and then just kinda…holds it. A mansion could still be in the process of exploding behind him, a skyscraper could be a towering inferno mere feet away, a goddamn plane could have crashed into the Las Vegas strip, and the main character struts–wounded yet empowered–to be reunited with the people he loves. It makes me wonder if any of these characters had ever been in a school fire drill, where even a hypothetical waste basket fire would require a perimeter of at least 100 feet. But he remains calm. He grabs his girl and says nothing or he says that one thing he had wanted to say during the entire film. He embraces his sidekick. He receives his acclaim. He explains to the overzealous superior that he’s going on vacation. He finally punches that prickish reporter or bureaucrat in the nose.

And all the while, with screaming ambulances and panicked firemen around him, he walks proudly, totally unaffected, his mind eased and his body tired. It’s as if the entire movie was a tense and aggressive build-up to a desperately needed masturbation session and the ending is simply the man’s blissful catharsis. The crucial difference here, though, is that in action movies, these protagonists are never responsible for the clean-up.

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[Fake But Plausible] Horror Movie Plot #1

Tentative Title: Odds & Evens

Told through sloppy exposition (or perhaps even by way of a montage set to death metal), an unnoticed and disrespected man becomes an outcast, expecting the world to welcome him with open arms rather than put himself out there and be a social human. His misanthropic urges cause him to read constantly, focusing primarily on the macabre because he’s a whiny emo bitch. He comes across a dimly lit bookstore and finds a dusty tome on the ancient occult. Through some research, he discovers that six times each century, when the date becomes three consecutive odd numbers, a gate to hell opens and all manner of demon are able to be summoned…by those who know the proper spells. 7-9-11 is fast approaching and a young and eager journalist is doing a story on the occult when she catches onto the outcast’s plans to access the gate to hell–conveniently located in Times Square–to exact his revenge on the people who shunned him. She goes to the police, who laugh at her wild claims. But a sexy, grizzled, and mysterious man, who was at the station for some unexplained reason, overhears the young woman and offers to help her. She struggles to work alongside the charmingly offensive man, who is quirkily unconventional in his methods. Can the two of them stop the outcast from summoning demons? Can they bury the secret of hell’s gate until the next Odd Day on 9-11-13? Which crass one-liner will finally soften the young reporter enough to fuck the sexy, mysterious man? How can they fit in a gratuitous titty shot?…wait, I got it, he’s crass so his “office” is at a strip club.

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[Best of 2011…So Far] – Movies

In a brief ongoing series, our heroic and intrepid editors discuss what they think has been the best media released in 2011… so far. Tonight’s topic is: Movies. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging, already in progress:

Bick: Okay, so should we start this bad boy on movies?

Josh: That works

Bick: Alrighty then. So, pretty much the best movie I’ve seen (at the theatre) in 2011 is Super 8. It probably has more to do with my not having seen very much this year, but I also think it was just really well made. Abrams clearly intended to capitalize on nostalgia for the 70’s and 80’s genre of Spielbergian sci-fi, and I think in that respect, Super 8 is a fantastic success. Although, even I have to admit the movie kind of falls apart in the last act, although, I think that may actually make me like it more if that makes any sense. Cause, up until the point where they actually really got into the crazy alien bit (spoilers, by the way) the movie had to rely on the cast and their attempts at making a movie.I mean, I could just watch an entire film about those kids trying to make their zombie flick, and fuck all the extraneous sci-fi bullshit. So, I mean, I guess based on nostalgic criteria alone, Super 8 is the best movie I’ve seen this year, and as much as the comics dork in me wanted to like Thor or Green Lantern or X-Men more, I was just won over by nostalgia for a generation of films I wasn’t even alive to experience. Oh, and the fact that they found child actors who were not only competent, but actually pretty good is just incredibly impressive to me.

Josh: I was going to be like, “Gee, are you writing a novel?” and then you did.

Bick: Sorry I wanted to be comprehensive.

Josh: No, that’s good. I haven’t even thought of my argument for Submarine.

Bick: Haha, fair enough. I’ll wait. This is all going in, by the way.

Josh: Okay, let me think…

There is a very thin line that a filmmaker has to tread when dealing with quirk, you know? Someone like Wes Anderson has made a career by wrangling oddball characters, and he generally does a pretty good job. But it almost seems like writer/director Richard Ayoade–a successful comedian and writer in England–took a page from Anderson’s playbook and then said, “Fuck it, I can do better.”

The film is a bit stylized by never flashy, and I love that shit. The story is divided into chapters, like with Inglorious Basterds, and in the entire first part we get bombarded with Oliver Tate’s eccentricities: he dabbles in French music and New Wave, he totes a briefcase to school instead of a backpack, he narrates his life and sees himself as the star of his own eccentric movie. He’s a hyperaware character who knows his status in the hierarchy of school but is overrun with a bloated idealism, and he identifies one of his classmates, Jordana, a girl who suffers from ezcema and too-cool-for-school-itis, as the perfect match for him. He flirts with her in his own weird way and eventually they pair up. This first chapter has the makings of a typical teenager quirky comedy–like Rushmore if Max focused on his own insecurities rather than on extracurricular activities. But as the other chapters unfold, a new, wholly unexpected level of darkness and emotion emerge.

Ayoade doesn’t tell the story through these odd characters. No, he establishes these characters as odd and then drops them into a world where Oliver tackles genuine uncertainty, confusion, disappointment, frustration, and terror. He seems self-assured and somewhat comfortable (or at least accepting) of his quirks, but as the film develops, Ayoade turns that assuredness into self-sabotage. Oliver’s quirks betray him, and it strains his relationships. As a person who also feels like he lives much of his life in his own head, I connected with the strange levity paired with the crushing sadness and frustration that pour out of Oliver. He tries his hardest to be himself and also do the right thing, but sometimes the former butts heads against the latter.

Bick: Now who’s writing a novel? That actually made me want to see the movie even more. Before I was mostly like “Richard Ayoade is funny! And British! And funny!” but the Wes Anderson comparisons, and the discussion of the characters actually intrigues me more.

Josh: It’s insanely good.

Bick: And it just makes me sadder that nowhere near my house will ever play it. We’ll have 6 screens for Transformers, though.

Josh: It’s like when I saw In Bruges and immediately thought, “Why the fuck aren’t Americans doing this?”

Bick: Man, In Bruges was good. Have you seen Super 8 yet?

Josh: Not yet. My parents are flying in tomorrow and hopefully they’ll want to see that. Which also means this 20 or so pounds I’ve lost in the past three weeks will be back and then some.

Bick: Hahaha. Parents, am I right?

Josh: Seriously. We Covells love to eat.

Next time on [Best of 2011… So Far]: Matt and Josh discuss their personal bests for Music in 2011.  Tune in and see how that turns out!

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