AND … THE ENVELOPE, PLEASE?  A Film Fest for Armchair Critics

“Fabulous Fifties” inform my every thought, especially during the month of April.  Comedian Bob Hope, spiffy in a tuxedo with tails as master of ceremonies, sparked each Academy Award ceremony televised in living black and white year after glorious year.  Monday evening telecasts eased into Tuesday mornings as one glamorous presenter after another headed toward the podium to either award or receive the golden statuettes.  No red carpet nor Joan Rivers nor competitive cleavage wars.  Much more pizzazz than current coarseness — and less artificiality than now – greatly impressed me in those bygone days as stunningly evident during the Golden Age of Television!  And I sincerely wished I might not have to wake up and attend school the following day.

Fast forward to the present, lamentably devoid of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Doris Day, Dennis Day, Gary Cooper, Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, and Clark Gable.  The pageant and its hype flashed before our bi-focaled eyes in February…featuring the likes of Will Ferrell, George Clooney, Adam Sandler, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. 

Our adjustment to this seismic shift kicks in as a winter festivity with its goal the absolute assurance that we have seen every film and star nominated, which we accomplished yet again in 2012 via trips to the Bones Movie House, Coldwater Crossing, the Rave, Cinema Center and via DVD purchases or rentals.  We have substituted film marathons extraordinaire in a quest to reinvigorate half-remembered glitz, “class” missing in action, and fully developed plot lines and character development once characteristic of Tinseltown.

Reviews of the most noteworthy entries are in: 

Our son Roy who is an actor in the Metro-Detroit area and who studied theater history and criticism at the Ohio State University wrote:

‘The Artist’ is an exquisite but fresh homage to classic film.  Both leads are enchanting, and the supporting cast, which includes John Goodman and Missi Pyle and James Cromwell and Penelope Ann Miller among others, strikes the perfect balance of stylization and believability.  But the cast member who literally runs away with the film is little canine star Uggie, who, along with a sparkling musical score, provides the movie’s emotional center.  The silent movie conceit is less a novelty than a means of refocusing an increasingly jaded audience on true ‘special effects’ like the dynamics of an actor’s physicality, facial expressions, and human interaction.  The movie also offers subtle though poignant commentary on ageism, xenophobia, and what can be lost in our breathless pursuit of technological advancement.  Highly recommend! “

“War Horse”… emerged in 2011 as fine as “Gone With the Wind” ever was and reminiscent of that 1939 war-themed epic and BLUEPRINT OF GUILTY PLEASURE which “nobody can deny”… but may not have been cool enough for the Preppie/Yuppie/Generation X crowd?  I happily defy classification then!  (Film-maker Frank Capra once got saddled with the snide reference “Capra-corn” resulting from his unrelenting messages of hopefulness during the Depression era and war years…yet his films rated as block-busters.)  Joey the plow horse, transformed into cavalry hero, first appeared in juvenile fiction, moving to the stage by way of puppetry and ultimately into the loveliest adventure film I’ve ever viewed.  I applaud the mastery of Steven Spielberg who recaptured American filmic grandeur within a British setting in a perfectly credible, harmonious blend of PBS artistry pulsating to the accompaniment of sweeping Hollywood cinematography.  Yes, sheer genius.

“My Week with Marilyn” — a weak attempt at recapturing a bonbon of a frothy moment in time when Monroe stretched to emote opposite Sir Laurence Olivier during 1957 in the U.K.  The setting failed as somewhat askew and off kilter, but the Tiffany diamond — who glittered as the jewel of “Seven Year Itch”, “Some Like it Hot”, “Bus Stop”, “The Misfits” and the film which this year’s movie referenced, “The Prince and the Showgirl” — shone brightly.  “A+” for Michelle Williams’ re-creation of a unique yet tortured individual like none other, a grade of “C-“  for the movie itself.  Dame Judi Dench operated in supporting actress over-drive this season as this production’s Queen Dowager and also as Leonardo DiCaprio’s (J. Edgar Hoover’s) nagging mama.  

“The Descendants” — lame effort at dark comedy with Clooney performing the role of Dad about as well as I myself might have?  Where?  Ah, cutesy Hawaii—a sure-fire formulaic locale always successful in captivating those audiences with too little lushness and exotic daring in their lives. The script washed over me as not unlike one of those women’s magazine stories my mom and her sister Helen used to devour in their “Ladies’ Home Journal” or “McCall” sessions during long afternoons of housewives sitting at kitchen tables –  packs of cigarettes and coffee cups scattered about.  The ladies studied water-color “groping, grappling” illustrations while continuing from … page 17, flipping through advertising and recipes and knitting instructions, to pages 46-51 toward “happily ever after”!  Eventually, those slightly suggestive, glossy, yet well-worn periodicals — brimming with fictional romantic intrigue — got bundled up with strings and tossed into garbage cans lining the alleyways.

“Iron Lady”  —  a problematically simplistic “Reader’s Digest’s Most Unforgettable Character” study/profile allows us effortlessly to witness Meryl age from menopausal to an addled elder while channeling a Brit icon with the help of make-up expertise.  One third of the story soared due to the casting of a superb English actress — who surpassed the talents of Ms. Streep — filling in as the younger, dewier version of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“J. Edgar” – Leo never better… this entry impressed as atmospheric and informative and overlooked.  Meryl should have loaned her make-up artist, though, to Hoover’s companion-assistant, the Jack Jones (a 60s heart-throb singer) look-a-like who earlier portrayed the handsomer Winklevoss twin in 2010’s “Social Network”.  Hoover’s assistant’s rubberized death mask, startling yet amusing viewers toward the conclusion of the saga, appeared to be melting under the studio lights, similarly to Charlie Chaplin’s fresh face-lift hilariously evaporating during the unforgettable nightclub sequence in 1957’s “A King in New York”!

“Hugo” boasts Sacha Baron Cohen as a French, 3D gendarme, his subdued but clever performance the singular reason for checking out this movie which otherwise laboriously delivers — one scene after the other — strangely contrived mobile illustrations straight from a (thick) kid’s book (which consists substantially of full page pen-and-ink drawings rather than text) as we wonder exactly what we might be watching unfold — with a minimum of expectation or even tension – and why?  Furthermore, Ben Kingsley will always, always, always be Gandhi to me no matter what role he plays.  That is not his fault but mine.

“The Help” and “Bridesmaids” totally resonated with this movie buff, to maximum effect.  “Midnight in Paris” qualified as a favorite, attributable to writer/director/soundtrack composer and Renaissance man Woody Allen — and scintillating portrayals of literati Gertrude Stein and Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald and their chum Ernest Hemingway — as well as appearances by artists Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali – with the crème de la crème provided by bewildered transplanted script writer Owen Wilson who never disappoints no matter what cinematic endeavor he graces.

Finally, I applaud a film which really should have been academy nominated — adapted from a stage play and re-titled “Carnage”…a real-time parlor piece featuring four faux sophisticates degenerating into battling childen — within 80 minutes — right before our eyes.  But persona non grata Roman Polanski directed this improbable confection, so this delight shall never be heard from again.  As a matter of fact (or taste), the Academy Award for female lead “actor” should have been a toss-up between Kate Winslet, who convincingly vomits during the tale’s progression, and Michelle as Monroe.  Critic Roy wrote:   “What a masterfully acted, suitably claustrophobic comedy of bad manners!  All four principals – Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John. C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz – let it rip with rich material that plumbs the depths of superficial courtesy as well as the cruelty and competitive monsters lurking beneath parent-to-parent interactions.  And the final third that lays bare the misanthropy and misogyny underpinning the relationships of even the most ‘sophisticated’ of couples is brilliant, troubling, and revelatory.”

The only tricky part of our adjustment to the whims, follies, foibles, and promotional shenanigans — emanating from Hollywood in this 21st century — is not preference for Orville Redenbacher’s home-nuked popcorn over the movie palaces’ buttered variety — which requires a bank loan — but that at our advanced ages, we do become confused about whether we are seated inside a darkened theater or snuggled into separate recliners within our own living room. Conundrum?  We cannot press the pause button to accommodate frequent visits to the “powder room” while totally mesmerized and “Spellbound” in some Ft. Wayne cinema complex…not that we haven’t tried searching for our remote control device once or twice nevertheless. Whoops!

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