Saturday, March 8, 2014

Annie: The Bigots and Racists Come Out in Droves

The trailer for the newest Annie remake  hit the internet and I knew this would happen.  It was inevitable.  Because here in the United States of Uh-merica, bigots and racists dot the landscape like a bad bad case of small pox.   

And why does racism in this country seem to be continuing on just as strong as ever in the year 2014? 

We have a whole political party, Republicans, and their subsidiary members The Teabaggers that depend on them as their life’s blood.  So while they may not blast it through a megaphone, their politicians do their best to adopt discriminating policies and use code words to reinforce their bigotry.  They then tune in and watch the White Man’s News Network for Morons aka Fox News who  pats their audience on the back, encouraging their hatred of all minorities endlessly by reinforcing their notion with a parade of stories that minorities one and all are nothing but a bunch of lazy shiftless no good welfare cheats draining the resources of Uh-merica.

I had my own reservations about the newest remake of Annie when it was announced.  None of them had to do with the fact that Annie was going to be black.

First, did we really need another Annie remake?  We’ve already had the Broadway musical, the film version of that one, and the TV remake of that one some years later which in most ways was better than John Huston’s somewhat dreary but not entirely awful original film.

The second problem I had was that it appeared the main reason this film was being made was so that Will Smith could use his power, money, and influence to shove another one of his offspring into another major motion picture.

He had already done this with a Karate Kid remake that for me wasn’t particularly endearing but did better with critics and the audiences.  But when young Jaden Smith continued his star turn in After Earth, critics and the movie going public turned their nose up at it in unison.

Annie was supposed to be Will’s daughter Willow’s coming out party.  But Willow, decided she wanted no part of it.  She made this momentous decision after the film was already in pre-production.  So the new Annie is former Oscar Nominee Quvenzhan√© Wallis.  Here is the trailer:

Having watched it, here are just a few of the twitter comments once again showing that its okay to be racist, hateful, and a total idiot.  If these few aren’t enough, and you really have to read more distasteful mouth farts from people such as this, there are more posted at Crooks & Liars.

And it’s not much better in the comments section at the IMDB with such thoughtful topics like this:

They could have at least dyed her hair red!,
why I dont like that they chose a black girl for annie,
Annie is a white character,
Refuse to see this,
I guess 40 acres and a mule weren't enough!,
I'm going to make a movie about Obama, but cast a white guy to play him.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with a black Lincoln.

I’ll be honest.  I originally had no particularly desire to see another remake of Annie, but may have eventually caught it on Blu-ray.  Having viewed the trailer, and reading the comments, I think I’ll go out of my way to make sure I go see it during its theatrical run.

As for my artistic thoughts on the trailer, if you’re going to do a remake, you should always bring something new to the table.  They appear to have done that here by transferring Annie to a modern setting and turning Warbucks into a politician.  So that’s interesting, not to mention that they’ve completely updated the script.  So at this point, my earlier reservations are for the most part, mute.

If you think that the blatant racism at work here is just one of those things, forget it.  I wade through this kind of crap day after day after day.  I’m sure some of the people I know will privately say the same things that these morons are stating publicly on one social network and message board after another.  And it will never end as long as we overlook it, excuse it, or give it a pass.

When I was 21 I thought by the time I was 61, most of this kind of Neanderthalithic racist bullshit would be a thing of the past.  Boy, was I overly optimistic.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oscars 2014: In The End, None of it Matters

Wolf of Wall Street was the most daring, most interesting, best acted,  movie of 2013.  Nothing will deter me from firmly believing that.  Catching Fire received marvelous reviews, but as usual crowd pleasing money makers are often ignored.  It was second on my list last year.

Third was Gravity, but as I have said, the margin of preference between the three is miniscule. 

No doubt that 12 Years A Slave is a good film.  Yes slavery, racism, and discrimination, are terrible and I know that as well if not better than any film maker who wants to hammer me over the head with that fact. I crusade against the terrible injustices of this world constantly.  But when you get down to it, wasn’t 12 Years really just Roots on Violent Steroids? 

How many times do we have to be hit over the head with the fact that slavery is bad, discrimination is bad, and racism is bad at the Oscars?  It seems to become an annual event and starting from that premise results in an automatic nomination, whether the quality of the film is deserving or not.  And after a while, the constant drumbeat waters down the message. 

Conservatives will never be convinced.  Red States continue to act like they won the Civil War and Lincoln never existed.  Everybody else already gets it and you’re preaching to the choir.  But just as they did by proclaiming Crash over Brokeback Mountain as the winner, voters again took the safe easy route and gave the Best Picture not to the best film, but again to what they deem the best film that is most relevant.  Don’t go out on a limb, Hollywood.

Pre-order the Blu-ray and DVD at Amazon.The real purpose of giving the Best Picture Award to a film topic  straight out of the let’s be topical safe zone was never more evident when they chose Alfonso Cuaron as best director,  gave Gravity six other awards, then turned around and ignored it  completely for the big enchilada. 

Sandra Bullock was way better in this film than she was in the one she won for The Blind Side.  It doesn't ad up, and for me the whole charade has become a crushing bore if not a yearly joke. Let’s give racism an award so we can ignore it the other 364 days of the year. 

And please let Cate Blanchett’s award be the end of Hollywood’s perpetual ass kissing of the pedophile known as Woody Allen.  Every defender of this miscreant that says there was no evidence of molestation can only make that statement when they completely ignore the findings at the custody hearing.  They conveniently get a memory lapse time after time after time as if the transcript and judge’s decision never existed at all.  As I said on my Facebook page, what Blanchett should have said was “I thank Woody Allen on behalf of all pedophiles everywhere that are under represented in Hollywood.”

And on top of that, he’s overrated as a director.  His movies are nothing more than a hodgepodge in which he caters to his own inner psychotic neurosis hoping to use Hollywood as his psychiatric treatment instead of paying for an analyst.

These are just a few of the many reasons why the Oscars shouldn't mean diddily squat to you or me.  People will still watch to gaze at the hoopla and celebrities, but they have become so stodgy and snobby that the influence they actually have is now minimal despite how many tune into see this mess.  I mean, it’s an event.  But so was the Super Bowl and it was a crushing bore this year as well. 

From the New Yorker:

With very few exceptions (most notably Christoph Waltz, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Murray, and the duo of Jamie Foxx and Jessica Biel), the presenters seemed zombified, reading their cue cards with an engagement and an enthusiasm compared to which the nightly reports of an average weatherperson seem Brando-esque. And it’s not because they’re bad actors—on the contrary, some of my favorite contemporary performers were onstage distributing statues—but because the tone, set from on high, was petrified, in both senses. I don’t entirely blame Ellen DeGeneres for the course of the evening. I don’t know enough about the parcelling out of power backstage to know how guided or vetted she was by the producers—whether the writers were hers or imposed upon her. But, having accepted the job, she seems, at the very least, to have accepted the regulations, and she toed the line with a dutiful eagerness in a desperate cause; she worked hard to maintain a show of good cheer and good times while being denied the freewheeling disinhibition that goes with real comedy. It was mainly the undue exertions that came through.

The nadir was the pizza; the synthetic spontaneity of the non-event brought to mind Andy Kaufman, whose genius I miss all the time and whose ability to mesh the nostalgic bathos of a pizza party with the edge of chaos would have made him a formidable, historic Oscar host. And to top off the pizza’s unfunniness came DeGeneres’s passing of the hat to pay for it, about which Emily Gould aptly tweeted, “amounts of money that are consequential to most people mean nothing to us, they are literally a joke! ha ha ha.”

In a brief interview in the backstage shadows, after the red carpet and before the main event, one of the two producers of the festivities (I can’t remember whether it was Craig Zadan or Neil Meron) likened the show to tightrope walking and called himself a good tightrope walker. So he may be, but this event was all net; it started in the safety zone and never got aloft……….

……………..There are the movies, and that’s where the far end of the bell curve is served. The fact that the best movies went home empty-handed—“The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Nebraska”—is beside the point. If my own internal audio-meter is to be trusted, two of the biggest rounds of applause and cheers of the night went to Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill, for their performances in Martin Scorsese’s movie. Taking nothing away from the honorable but conventional performances by McConaughey and Leto, the house of peers seemed to know where the magic lay.

That its magicians were even on hand for the festivities, watching others collect statues, is itself a source of wonder. The movie has already passed into the future history of the cinema, and it will be watched with admiration and astonishment when the petty personality politics of the ceremony have passed into welcome oblivion. In the meantime, bring on the four-hour director’s cut of “Wolf” (and may it have a little theatrical run to coincide with the DVD release).

And if you want a list of the winners, here they are.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Recapping Bates Motel Season 1

A few days before Season Two of Bates Motel debuts on A&E, I finally finished  watching Season One.  I’ve had the complete first season on my Dish Hopper since the show finished the first run of ten episodes last spring.  However, I opted for viewing on Netflix which was more seamless. 

Until a few weeks ago, I had only watched the first two episodes, not because I had no interest in continuing on, but life gets in the way sometimes.  So much to do so little time.  The question is, is the show really worth a second season?

Obviously A&E thinks so.  But then, A&E makes decisions that sometimes aren’t so hot and the fact that Norma, Norman, Dylan and the gang reside on that network is probably the worst thing about Bates. 

A&E is the Network that brought us the showcase for celebrating homophobia and racism known as Dork Dynasty.  The show that feeds into the brainless twats who love to hide their prejudices under the guise of religious freedom.

But Bates Motel is a scripted fictional show (so is Dork Dynasty, but they disguise it as reality) so no worries there unless one of the writers or stars do their own Gentleman’s Quarterly interview and say something  totally off the wall stupid like Phil “I Never Met a Black Man or Gay Man I Liked” Robertson.  I don’t see that happening though.  Once bitten, twice shy.

For those who may not have been watching, Bates Motel is a re-imagining of events that happened before Norman Bates sliced and diced Marion Crane in the Hitchcock classic Psycho.  By labeling it a re-imagining, and since it is fiction, the Producers, Directors, and it’s team of writers can do just about anything they damn well please with the whole she-bang, and that is exactly what they have done, purists and internet fan boys be damned.

In the very first episode, Norma and Norman take ownership of the now infamous Motel which has been relocated from Fairville, California to White Pine Bay, Oregon.  I guess it’s easier to make Canada where the series is filmed look more like Oregon than California.  Weather being the damn nuisance that it is.
The ownership of the Motel is a new start for the gruesome twosome after husband and father Sam Bates (David Cubitt) has been mysteriously killed in an accident that is not so accidental.  It’s a mystery that is cleared up halfway through the season, and one of the few that is.  Bates Motel asks a lot of questions, but like the series it’s modeled after, Twin Peaks, it answers damn little of them.  So take it any way you can get it.

Previous owner,  Keith Summers (W. Earl Brown) is none too happy about losing The Seafairer (the previous owners spelling, not mine) and the house overlooking it to a bank foreclosure and he wants it back.  And what better way is there to get the old homestead returned to the family fold than raping the new owner.  Yeah, it’s that kind of show, and from that extremely violent point on you can anticipate just about any plot manipulation possible and an outburst of bloody violence at any moment when you least expect it.

The Sheriff of White Pine, Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonelli), begins nosing around the Bates Motel along with deputy Zack Shelby (Mike Vogel).  There’s not much that goes on in Sheriff Alex’s town that he doesn’t know about.  And if by chance something escapes his attention, such as why Keith Summers parked his pickup truck in an unlikely place and just left it, Romero will find out why before gracing the windshield with a parking citation.  Deputy Dawg Zack does his own nosing around in his own special way as well, spending much of his time sniffing around Norma.  He’s much much friendlier towards her than Sheriff Romero is.  How much friendlier?  To put it bluntly, he goes in where Keith Summers has been except he doesn’t have to force entry to do so.  But he does have a secret tool that helps pry her pants off.  Shelby, just like practically everybody else has secrets of his own.Norman also meets his first real love interest in episode one, when Cystic Fibrosis stricken Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke) befriends him on his first day of school.  It’s pretty much a one way street on her part though as Norman only has eyes for Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz) whose father is mysteriously murdered.  I guess you can just go ahead and attach the word “mysterious” to anything that goes on in this neighborhood.  And although Norman is there when Bradley needs a shoulder to cry on, there’s a difference between being a “thing” and “hooking up” as Emma tries to explains to Norman, who isn’t very open to that explanation.  At least not until Bradley’s real boyfriend explains it to him in the season finale.

By episode two, Norma’s other son, Dylan (Max Thierot) takes up residency at the creepy famous house on the hill.  This is not an example of the Prodigal Son returning home to the welcoming arms of mother and brother.  Norma and Norman would just as soon  he be on his way, but the producers having invested in putting Thierot’s name on the opening credits, we’re pretty sure he’s not going anywhere for a while.

Dylan gets a job being a security guard.  Well, sort of.  He’s hired to protect the local marijuana crop which is also the main source of income for practically all the residents of White Pine, as it was for the former residents who keep showing up slightly dead.  He takes to the life of crime like a duck to water, which means he’ll fit right into the town of White Pine Bay.

English Teacher Miss. Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), takes a special interest in Norman.  But not the kind of interest that Miss Landers showed for Beaver Cleaver and his classmates.  No, Miss Watson’s seems to have kind of a creepy way too much for her own good  kind of attraction towards Norman.  Think of her as being sort of like Norma without the shrillness and actually being sympathetic.  That being said, it’s never really spelled out for sure exactly what her thing is, and by the end of Season One, it’s one of those plot points that we are left wondering if it will ever be cleared up. It’s sort of like the whole is there or isn’t there some kind of incestuous relationship between Norma and Norman.  It’s never spelled out one way or another. It’s hinted at on more than one occasion, but either it’s a line the network, the producers, and the writers don’t seem to want to cross openly, or it’s left to be resolved for certainty at a later date.  It may be the same reason that Mary Kay Letourneau double, Miss Watson, intentions are left for us to decipher because by the season finale, there’s a good possibility we may never know what was up with her and that would not be good.  Plot points left hanging are a very bad thing in series television.Midway through the season, the villainous Jake Abernathy takes up residency in Room 9.  He’s looking for something, thinks Norma has it, but she doesn’t.  We do find out what he is after, but this too just leads to more and more questions. 
Norman adopts stray dog.  Dog becomes Road Kill.  So Norman does what any kid in the U.S. would do when losing a pet.  He takes it to a taxidermist to have it stuff so he can keep it with him forever and ever.  Hey, don’t knock it.  At least he didn’t bury it in the Pet Semetary which would make this an entirely different show.
It is actually Emma’s dad Will (Ian Hart) who make his living doing taxidermy.  And no, he doesn’t stuff the animals with marijuana leaves which is probably why Will and his daughter are kind of out of place.  He decides to teach the trade to Norman, which does relate back to Hitchcock’s film where taxidermy was Norman’s hobby.  A hobby that would serve him well later on in life.  Besides the two main characters and the name of the Motel, it’s one of the few times the series actually acknowledges the original film.

It would be impossible for me to relate every sudden plot twist and turn that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere.  Bates Motel is not a series you can just drop in on and know what the hell is going on.  I’ve watched all ten episodes and even I’m not sure.  You would be best served going back to watch the first season on either Netflix, DVD or Blue Ray, or look for reruns on A&E before jumping in. 

It will hold your interest throughout, but whether it can keep up this pace for much longer is questionable.  There could be problems ahead.

Notably, on the one hand Vera Farmiga does a terrific job as Norma.  She’s overbearing, obnoxious, shrewish, creepy, annoying, and way over the top in everything she does.  And I guess that’s a necessity in explaining what happens with her sons.  On the other hand, a little of this goes a long long way and after a few episodes it begins to wear a bit thin.  You just wish there was something more to this woman than constant bitching.  More Norman and Dylan and less Norma would be a very good thing, and if she ever bites the dust I’m sure her demise won’t be looked upon with any regret.

Bates may also be running into the old too much of a good thing problem.  So many minor plot details are left hanging that you wonder if they’ll ever be resolved or just forgotten as if they didn’t exist.  This often happens in series that begin to think plot twists for the sake of plot twists and no sensible solution will get them by. 

This was part of the problem with Twin Peaks as time went on.  So many open ended plot elements and issues left open ended, you have to wonder if these writers have an end game in mind or is this another make it up as you go along and throw things in just for the hell  of it sort of thing. It’s one thing to play your audience like an instrument, but eventually you’re going to wear down and break those guitar strings and your audience will quickly disconnect.  As Twin Peaks went on, audiences were worn down and eventually tuned out.

Highmore as Norman is okay as far as it goes.  You just wish he was more animated.  We never know for sure what he is thinking, feeling, or what is real and what isn’t.  Maybe we’re not supposed to and that may work in a feature film, but I’m not sure that in a series it will hold up that well for a long length a time. 

Even Tony Perkins who played the adult Norman understood that you have to bring more to the table than appearing to sulk your way through ten episodes.  Most of the time we can even sympathize with Norman because of how he is treated by Norma, Bradley, and some others.  But his disconnect and treatment of Emma makes us just think he’s nothing more than a brain damaged spoiled little shit.  And frankly, the whole is it real or is it Normanized shtick will quickly get old under these circumstances.  Another gimmick that could quickly wear out its welcome.  Those who have watched, know what I mean.

Max Thierot is a revelation, and one of the best things about this show.  Despite his criminal tendencies, he's just about the only main character who lives in reality and sees things for what they are.  Back in 2007, he had the misfortune of playing Ned Nickerson in Emma Robert’s Nancy Drew movie.  About that I said:

This Ned is written as the exact opposite. He's not sure about anything and although he comes out to Hollywood to join Nancy, he isn't very helpful and is given little to do except sit around and mope, even to the point of worrying that Nancy is going to run off with thirteen year old Corky. By the time he heads back to River Heights, he had already overextended his welcome in my opinion. And if this Ned had popped up in the books, Nancy would have vanquished him by the end of Nancy's Mysterious Letter, the volume where he popped up in the first place.
You can forget that. Given the chance to actually act, he's much much better here and is one of the few things that helps keep this potpourri stirred.  But he’s six years older as well so maybe it’s the maturity.

While it doesn’t exactly have me on my feet giving it a standing ovation and clamoring for season two, Bates Motel has drawn me in enough to stay tuned.  There are  a lot of good things here, so lets hope the writers and producers make good use of them and unscrambles some of the plot mess they’ve made.  I mean, even the first season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer wasn’t really great, but by the second round it turned into one of the most memorable shows in Television History.

Speaking of round two, that starts up on A&E Monday March 3.  Check your satellite and cable listings for time.