Latest Blog Posts

by Bill Gibron

26 Feb 2009


Drugs. The Golden Triangle. The villainous and violent Triads. The undercover cop losing his identity in a sea of competing personalities and passions. The boss who sees himself slipping, both power-wise and personally. These are just some of the earmarks of a Hong Kong action film, the kind that have swept through Chinese cinema over the last three decades and redefined the industry and the genre. While names like Chan, Chow, and Li push the limits of martial artistry, directors like Tung-Shing “Derek” Yee have tried to advance the type beyond the standard stuntwork and moralizing. Protégé is a perfect example of this ideal. Instead of a slam bang rollercoaster ride of thrills and fire-fighting chills, we get a contemplative and dark tale of loyalty, compassion, and most importantly, people.

It’s been over seven years since Nick went deep into the heart of the local Hong Kong heroin trade, and he’s become Triad mastermind Quin’s right-hand man. While our hero currently takes care of transportation issues, the dying mobster is looking for someone to take his place - and Nick seems to be the perfect candidate. As he walks the novice through the various stages of drug smuggling - the cooking kitchen, the importing and warehousing, the control of contacts and persons outside the scope of expectation, Nick begins dealing with a pair of important issues of his own. First, his supervisors want him to go all the way, to get lost in the role of crime lord until they can take down the suppliers and the sources. But even more concerning is a junkie named Jane. Stalked by her pimp/user husband and unable to care for her waifish daughter, Nick feels somehow responsible, and wants to help. All Jane wants, on the other hand, is another hit.

Protégé (new to DVD from Dragon Dynasty) is so unusual, so unique in the current realm of Hong Kong crime films, that it’s a little off-putting at first. When we see star Daniel Wu mastermind an opening act drug deal involving multiple cars and police tails, we except some sort of high speed antics. But as he will do throughout the entire near two hour running time here, co-writer/director Derek Yee defies convention, and then continues to push beyond the norm. This is a film about character, about getting under the skin of a diabetic, dying mobster, an undercover cop under the ever-present lure of crime’s seductive beauty, or an addict who will lie and manipulate - pathetic underfed child in hand - to get what she wants. In essence, Yee sets up a unique and quite dynamic lover’s triangle. It’s a complicated competition between duty, honor, adoration, money, greed, influence, and the sense of superhumanness that comes with being caught between both sides of the law.

Nick is indeed untouchable. He’s done this long enough to earn Quin’s trust, and when a rat is suspected, our hero has every move and excuse down cold. The moments when leader confronts lackey are electric, Andy Lau’s take on the role so dimensional and dynamic that we are surprised by the sudden outburst of rage. For most of the time, Quin is a merely a man, a human being facing a rush of mortality coming far too quickly for his unfinished life. He thinks he can beat the kidney disease that is slowly killing him, but as with almost everyone involved in this story, there’s a fatalism and a finality to his aura that can’t be denied. Even Nick wears such an “end of his rope” demeanor. Life undercover is destroying him as well, leading the former lawman down a path he doesn’t know if he can handle.

All throughout Protégé, Yee substitutes finesse for flash. There is only one major action scene, and it involves a police raid on a drug lab and the resulting escape. Yee gets his actors out on a series of rotting building balconies, and the suspense over who will survive is palpable. But this is a director who understands how to milk tension out of the simplest gestures. When Jane’s horrific husband shows up, looking like a reject from a Japanese punk band, his sinister stare is enough to raise the hairs on the nape of your neck. And when we learn just how far he will go for a fix, such evil becomes even more unnerving. Protégé is not a pretty film, but it’s not because of blood or body parts. The violence here is not visceral as much as it is dark and depressing.

As part of their standard DVD package, Genius Products and the Weinstein Company offer up a treasure trove of content. Bey Logan is once again on hand to walk us through the production and the film’s place in post-modern Hong Kong moviemaking. As usual, his commentary track is insightful, witty, and well worth a listen. We are then given a chance to hear from actors Daniel Wu, Zhang Jing Chu, and producer Peter Chan. Each have something to bring to the Protégé discussion, providing anecdotal spin on the material and a clear view of how such a novel approach bends the traditions within the genre. Toss in a trailer, a terrific transfer of the film itself, and the aforementioned material, and you can clearly see what drove director Yee to take on this intriguing tale.

Fans of the format, of regular roundhouse kicks and high flying kung fu fighting, will definitely feel flummoxed by this movie’s somber and thought-provoking tone. We truly get lost in the relationship between Nick and Quin, understand the competing claims haunting our hero’s conscience. We recognize why he is both attracted to and repulsed by Jane, and sympathize with the concept of wanting to help but knowing that it probably won’t. In fact, Protégé is so much about the human experience vs. the drug trade that it ends up feeling claustrophobic and insular. Yet thanks to Yee’s amazing skill behind the lens, and his accomplished cast, we experience all the horror, all the heartbreak. And when was that last time you could say that about an Asian action film?

by Bill Gibron

25 Feb 2009


Mortality is the last great mystery to man. It’s the final clue as to why we are here, the last link in an ever-present trail of questions, philosophies, and personal lies. We never really consider it until someone we know grows ill, and as we age, we purposefully play at trying to pry away as much of the enigma as possible. We talk tough, staring the fear of nothingness square in its abyss-like vista. But in the secret shivers of the darkest night, we lie awake frozen, cold sweats indicating our actual level of terror. For George Ponso, it’s not a question of how he will die, but when…and he’s not taking the ticking of Father Time lightly. In Giuseppe Andrews’ amazing new motion picture, The Check Out, George is desperate - desperate to connect with people again. Desperate to revisit his past. And desperate to leave his mark on this puny planet before the Grim Reaper makes a fateful trailer park call.

As part of his plan for passing on, George has posted fliers around town. They invite strangers to come around to his humble abode and share experiences with him. George keeps an audio journal of his dreams, said visions usually surrounding an anthropomorphized effigy of his toenails or boogers. He receives one young lady who actually engages him on a philosophical level. An old friend stops by and warns him about diving too deeply into personal history. A big shot Hollywood producer picks George’s dying brain for possible movie ideas and our hero’s supposedly dead dad shows up to give a literary reading. In the end, even George’s doctor doesn’t hold out for a cure. All he can do is swab spicy jelly on his patient’s growth, and hope that his end isn’t painful. George, however, won’t “check out” until he’s ready to…no matter what destiny has in store for him.

As he continues to grow as a filmmaker, as he moves from the certified king of trailer trash to a post-modern auteur with a true and authentic vision, Giuseppe Andrews just keeps getting better and better. The Check Out is his latest magnum opus, and to argue for its greatness is old hat by now. Andrews is the real deal, a maverick movie icon taking digital and homemade cinema into a realm unfathomable by less brave souls. With his typical cast of proto-players, and the consistent discovery of new faces (in this case, a gifted thespian named Nolan Ballin), he brings an unheard of level of authenticity and artistry to his simple, sage like stories. George is supposed to be a bit of a ham. He’s spent 35 years driving a limo in LA, his fondest memory being a meeting with Humphrey Bogart. Everything about him is old school - his façade, his view of the world, his decision to make a statement out of his demise.

But Andrews thwarts such self-indulgence by giving George an air of madness. He calls his tape recorder Davy. He has several dreams/fantasy sequences where his past and present mesh into a kind of comic disarray. As he will throughout most of the movie, our hero views such sequences with a combination of understanding and loss, trying to piece them together while also putting some perspective into the mix. Near the end, after his song and dance with a visiting busker, after the soul to soul with a con man, after the “genius test”, after the cosmic call back with an astronaut (?), George feels content about his passing. He’s done his best to comprehend his current situation, and has decided to go into it with an open mind and a clear heart.

This is a very emotional movie, a true rarity in Andrews’ oeuvre. It’s not for a previous lack of trying - it’s just that we’ve never really gotten to know a character as well as we get to know George. Ballin is brilliant in his performance, taking everything his director has in store for him (including a couple of crazed moments as an ape?!?) and delivering even the dirtiest dialogue with aplomb. He is matched well by old favorites like Vietnam Ron, Walt Patterson, and Sir George Bigfoot. But this is Ballin’s movie all the way. It’s George’s ravings we have to decipher, his pain we have to predetermine. It’s his focus that we fall in love with, and it’s his impending death that brings us closer to clarity than any other individual has in an Andrews movie.

Interpretations are tough, but one can clearly see a continuing maturation of this motion picture provocateur. He is no longer obsessed with feces and fornication. His conversations are not simply poetic performance art regarding the act of carnality (and all the naughty bits in between). Instead, George reaches out to the people he meets, calming a concerned visitor that she cannot catch “death” from him, and leading an old business buddy into a possible Oscar score with a novel revolving around a gang bang. All through The Check Out, George makes it very clear that life is about living, about grabbing opportunities and never regretting the times when you decided not to. He is as erudite as any shaman, as well versed in the ways of the world as a man whose driven around its powerful population can be. But he’s also aging and sad, someone who we see in ourselves - and hope reflects our own sane and sunny outlook.

Yet mortality is a veiled assassin. We don’t necessarily know when it’s coming, but it tends to strike at those moments when even we would sense a window of opportunity. For George, the bizarre growth on his stomach is not the period on his life sentence. Instead, it’s a motivation to evolve, to extend his consciousness and compassion before reality steps in and stops it forever. As he progresses, Giuseppe Andrews also continues to amaze. With a creative canon already overflowing with films (there are at least 20, in various guises, either released or in the vaults, waiting) and a reputation for being as authentic as he is avant-garde, something like The Check Out only secures said mantle. As with the case of his concerned hero, this is one director whose contribution to this world will definitely live on long after he’s left it. And that’s a kind of immortality, isn’t it?

by Diepiriye Kuku

25 Feb 2009


On the eve of this year’s Oscars, Aakar Patel’s ridiculous article appeared in the Sunday edition of the Wall Street Journal’s India’s version, Mint. “Why Slumdog Millionaire is Unbelievable” came out in Saturday 21, February’s Mint Lounge section, and basically said that Slumdog was far-fetched because poor people don’t have “dignity,” that dignity is an “intellectual” pursuit, and “the poor” aren’t interested in learning. The man even wrote, “those who have spoken to the poor will notice the glaze over their eyes. There is no curiosity in the nature of the world, because it has already revealed itself to them in full.” Well, the kids under the flyover near my house are high, many sniffing something as simple as everyday glue, which would explain the glazed over look. Mr. Patel goes on to say that “we” cannot afford to have compassion for poverty and “the poor” because “it would be intolerable for us to live, surrounded by such sorrow.”

A few things here: First, poverty does not exclude people from experiencing happiness, or even cultivating “dignity,” for that matter. Secondly, not all privileged people find compassion intolerable. Third of all, I am generally suspicious when writers are too presumptuous to unpack “we,” which usually leads me to think even more critically about how it is used. There is no “we” when Mr. Patel says: “The poor are rejected in India for their condition.” Well, do “we” reject them? He then says, “It is an existence of eternal reaction. Constant hunger and helplessness.” Are “the poor” reacting to us? Have “we” starved them or somehow exploited them in ways so morally indefensible? Moreover, have “we” perpetrated “incident upon humiliating incident,” against the so-called helpless poor? Have “we” done this? Has our lack of compassion lead to mainstream trashing of Slumdog, with the only benefit that “we” can now use “slumdog” in mixed, polite, politically correct company?

It is true that “we” were the bad people in the film. We were the schoolteachers that beat kids over the head. We were the mute-witnessed that stood by while mobs slaughtered communities, while authorities stood by. We rolled up our car windows when beggars approached at intersections. We were the game-show host, taking each and every chance to humiliate the “slumdog”, a word said repeatedly like a hissing snake. We were commuters on the train watching a group of goons assault a young girl, grabbing her by her hair and dragging her into a car. We were the citizens who tolerate torture by water-boarding and electrocution. We did not even see “the poor” as people. Indeed, Slumdog was hard for us to watch.

Alternatively, we might dare to base our actions-whatever they may be- on compassion and recognizing that everyone has the right and potential for dignity. The Dalai Lama says, “Everything interdependent, interconnected. If you harm others, you get suffering. If you help others, you get benefit.” It is my own lack of humanity that blinds me from seeing the dignity in any other, and that causes suffering.

The Mint article makes some pretty shady analogies that “we” relatively privileged people often employ to speak about those who have less than we do. We use these excuses to convince ourselves that we deserve what we have, as if by birthright. Patel continues: “The single most important fact of poverty is the loss of dignity in the individual. The Indian knows this. The poor are actually second-rate human beings. Their existence is like that of animals: Their concerns are all immediate because that is the only level at which life engages them.” I disagree. I think that lacking compassion is a greater loss of dignity. This loss of dignity allows us to characterize others as “second-rate,” which justifies why “we” treat them as we do. It is really a lack of compassion for the self, however, that allows us to believe that sheer compassion makes life intolerable. Perhaps Danny Boyle believes that even in India, compassion cultivates tolerance.

Popularity and Appropriation

Following the eight trophy triumph of Slumdog Millionaire, it is important to establish tools for critical introspection now, before the wave of appropriated images flushes the so-called free market. Like Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song ushered in a wave of cultural retaliation, so too might the popularity of Slumdog lead to more cultural appropriation, lest we start with respect for diversity in the compassionate, salad-bowl sense.

An entire genre of film resulted in the 70’s in response to demands and petite advances in empowered representation of Blacks in mainstream films. Blaxploitation as a genre spawned from MGM Film Studio’s appropriation of Black filmmakers’ leading characters in works written and produced by African-Americans such as Melvin Van Peebles. In fact, in 1970 Peebles wrote, produced and directed two feature films: Watermelon Man and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song. Peebles starred in the latter, in which his son Mario also made his child-acting debut. The crust of it is that Van Peebles’ main protagonist had a personal vendetta against racialized oppression and (white) supremacy. Taking plugs at ‘the man’ turned out to be a major undertone of Van Peebles’ films. His films typically depict the rage of Black heroes against ‘the man’ (read: Establishment), particularly as this is articulated through racism and classism. Barring how narrowly gender is represented, like Sweetback, Slumdog uniquely centers upon non-elites, from a non-elite perspective. In both cases, all of the elite folks in the film were villains, including folks like me in the case of Slumdog; I simply roll up the windshield each time I pass under the flyover near my house where plenty of street children hustle and reside.

Slumdog made no focus of the elite, or Aakar Patel’s presumptuous “we.” Rather, the film critiqued systematic oppression and chronic poverty by its own virtue. Again, Slumdog portrayed us with great clarity as mute-witnesses to all sorts of oppression and exploitation happening in the so-called under-bellies of every urban space on this planet to one degree or another. This is even the critique of the Batman franchise, especially The Dark Knight and Batman Begins. Understandably, critiquing bourgeois society is met with bourgeois retaliation like Mr. Patel’s remarks perpetuating the “myth of meritocracy”. Unlike comic book superheroes, Slumdog hit a bit closer under our bellies with our eyes wide shut. Yet, now that “we” have had our eyes opened, will “we” place Third World poverty into another, more entertaining box?

Will we see a slew of “Third World” exploitation films, forgetting that ‘third’ in this instance means ‘non-aligned’ and not ‘less than’. Getting back to Slumdog, “third” as it pertains to “Third World” certainly does not mean “second-rate human beings.” That perspective gives way to charity, like the actor who played the game-show host donating his earnings from Slumdog to “the poor.”  While worthwhile, charity is incomplete, for money is not the only answer. Moreover, charity has more to do with the giver than the receiver. Despite any temporary rapture money may impart, its effect tends not to endure.

Charity strokes First World egos (and perhaps ambitions of Mint’s readership), justifying our own power, privilege and wealth, as well as “their” oppression. “Without changing structures of domination, we leave in place the culture of lovelessness,” says radical feminist bell hooks. A very real ideological commitment towards domination reproduces and aptly reflects oppression in popular culture, which in the modern day means consumption. Colluding with this culture of domination, for example, Black actors are lured by Hollywood’s money to play minstrel-like, Magic Negro characters, sealing their own oppression. In this new millennium, will “we” break or perpetuate this cycle lovelessness? On the other hand, “love,” says bell hooks, “is especially available to is because it is a non-market value.”

by Bill Gibron

23 Feb 2009


Some filmmakers wear their influences like a clandestine coat of arms. While they’ll never really admit it, they are clearly borrowing from the wealth of directorial prowess that came before them. True originals are hard to come by. Instead, we usually wind up with post-modern moviemakers channeling their heroes and paying homage to elements both obvious and obscure. When he first hit the scene in late ‘60s, Dario Argento was seen as a part Hitchcock, part Italian cultural heritage. After all, his father Salvatore was a famed producer, and he himself had helped script several successful spaghetti westerns, including the classic Sergio Leone classic Once Upon a Time in the West.

But with his first film as a director, the brilliant Bird with the Crystal Plumage (new to Blu-ray DVD from Blue Underground), he was out to prove that he was more than just a Mediterranean copy of the Master of Suspense. Using innovative camera work and a novel twist on the standard thriller type, he invented the language of the “giallo” - the Italian crime film based on the famous ‘yellow’ novels that provide the genre’s moniker. Bird itself was actually an un-credited adaptation of Fredric Browne’s The Screaming Mimi, but as he would throughout the rest of his illustrious career, Argento takes the basics of the artform and transforms them into something original and wholly unique.

After a prosperous stay in Italy, American author Sam Dalmas is about to return to the US with his glamour gal model girlfriend in tow. On the way from picking up his final check, he sees a woman brutally attacked by a sinister dark figure. Helping the police, he learns that there have been several such incidents in the last few months - and he was lucky. All the other victims have ended up dead. While not a suspect, his passport is confiscated. Unable to leave, he decides to investigate the case. Turns out, there are several suspects, including the woman’s wary husband. As he gets deeper into things, Sam finds himself threatened both verbally and physically. Seems he is getting close to solving the crimes, and the killer will stop at nothing to make sure that doesn’t happen.

As a first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a startling achievement. It’s technically proficient, visually arresting, and quite suspenseful. It features remarkable work from Tony Musante (a truly underappreciated American actor) and Suzy Kendall and a script that does a decent job of keeping the last minute surprises in check. As he does with many of his films, Argento employs an unusual combination of found locations and studio set-ups to create his uncomfortable worlds. When Sam sees the assault, it takes place in an art gallery overloaded with baroque and downright surreal pieces. Toward the end, our hero visits a hermit who lives in what looks like a broken down barn. Always a stickler for detail, you can practically smell the rot surrounding the cat-eating recluse.

As with many giallo, Bird is basically a police procedural, except this time, an American writer with some time on his hands does most of the grunt work. This gives Argento the opportunity to indulge in some dopey scenes of serio-comic clue gathering. They include a stop over at an antique shop where Musante’s rugged good looks give a fey clerk the veiled vapors. Later, a conversation with the victim’s husband reveals more red herrings than a Swedish banquet. Argento always plays his reveals close to the vest, so it’s almost impossible to guess who the killer really is. Even when we revisit Musante’s “memory” of the attack, the obvious misdirection offered by the editing keeps identities in check. Of course, the sadism of the murders and the manner in which they are choreographed suggest their own suspects as well.

Indeed, anyone coming to The Bird with the Crystal Plumage hoping for a fascinating foreign whodunit clearly don’t understand Argento. Some call him a technician, someone more interested than cinematic style over narrative or emotional substance. True, we don’t really care about Sam or his girlfriend. When threatened, we don’t respond with compassion or caring. But as he showed in such other masterworks as Suspiria, Inferno, and Profundo Rosso, we don’t have to identify with the people onscreen to get caught up in Argento’s approach. Instead, the combination of skills - the brilliant camerawork matched with a stunning soundtrack (this one offered by none other than acclaimed countryman Ennio Morricone) and an unusual take on the material or type can literally lull us into an entertainment trance.

Because of the way Argento’s films look, fans have longed for the day when his movies would make the transition from standard home video formats to the latest high definition developments. Blue Underground’s treatment of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has always been stellar - but this new Blu-ray release is something else all together. It’s like stepping back in time and revisiting the film for the first time during its theatrical run. There is plenty of grain and a few flaws in the 2.35:1 anamorphic image, but that’s par for the course circa 1970s Italy. The Blu-ray really enhances both the evocativeness of Argento’s compositions and the hard boiled qualities of the technical limitations he had to work within. Similarly, the differing audio mixes (DTS, TrueHD) and variations (English Dub, Italian translation) reflect the film’s international success. Be wary of the subtitles, however. They do not match the Western version of the film very well.

Blue Underground also treats us to the wonderful bonus features they offered when the title first hit Special Edition DVD in 2005. They include interviews with Argento, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, actress Eva Renzi, and composer Ennio Morricone. All are insightful and quite fun. Then there is a commentary track from journalists Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Informal and rather superficial, the two discuss the influence of Argento and his provocative style as scenes demanding conversation gracefully flow by. This is not a bad alternate discussion, just one that seems to miss the point of most DVD tracks.

For those reviewing The Bird with the Crystal Plumage with a full knowledge of everything Dario Argento can and cannot do, the lack of outlandishness and the conventional nature of the film overall will probably be rather surprising. After all, there’s none of the beautiful violence of later films, or the cold and calculated anti-social sentiment of giallos like Tenebre, Opera, or The Stendhal Syndrome. As with any audition, Argento almost failed (a producer wanted to fire him after his secretary saw some dailies and was truly terrified), but in the end, he used its overriding success to become one of the true Masters of the macabre. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage may not be his most daring or controversial effort, but it certainly certifies the Hitchcock tag. Just like the British moviemaking maverick, there has been no one like Dario Argento - not before or since.

by Bill Gibron

23 Feb 2009


Back in the late 1920s, when the fledgling Hollywood studios were looking for a way to further extend public awareness of their increasingly popular product, the Academy Awards were invented. Unlike the high security scripting of today, winners were determined in a kind of conspiracy theory cabal, with the individual heads of MGM, Warners Brothers, etc. determining who should receive the coveted gold trophies. Backs were indeed slapped and favors forwarded and returned. Over the course of years, executive influence (and the eventual birth of the publicity-based campaign) made Oscar a known necessary evil. You could almost guarantee that certain names would never be acknowledged, while overblown efforts with bloated budgets and high profile stars typically walked away with far too many prizes.

Now, eight decades later, things are back to the way they were. No, we don’t have suits sitting around a table divvying out the coveted accolades. In their place, however, is a series of pre-Academy awards shows that have all but taken the guessing out of the game. Look at this year for example. Of the many trophies handed out on 22 February, only two were a real shock - Okuribito winning for Best Foreign Film (over the considered given Waltz with Bashir) and Dustin Lance Black’s nod for Best Original Screenplay (in what was truly a “you pick ‘em” category). Every other victory, from Slumdog Millonaire‘s many titles (eight in total) to the Sean Penn/Kate Winslet/Heath Ledger/Penelope Cruz domination of the acting categories meant that, as recently as a month ago, the Academy Awards were already pre-determined.

That’s what Oscar means now. It used to signify glamour and a misguided sense of what represented the best in film. The Academy frequently got it wrong, and still does (Penelope Cruz? Really?), but today such erroneous hype judgment is certified by a process that takes every event from May’s Cannes Film Festival to the numerous critic’s and guild awards to whittle down a monster list of possibilities into some kind of consensus. Gone mostly are the days when a wild card like Marisa Tomei can walk away with an unexplained (and much discussed) Best Supporting Actress nod. By the time they get to the red carpet, the new meta-nominees have been positioned, polished, and poised to become yet another name in what is increasingly becoming a meaningless Hall of Fame.

Does Ms. Winslet deserve an Academy Award? Absolutely. Was The Reader the movie that should forever be associated with said merit? Absolutely not. For this British beauty, this Oscar was a pay-off, industry graft admitting that past times when the actress was overlooked (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Children) were not really slights. Instead, they were character building lessons in moving up the AMPAS ladder. Of course, not everyone has to travel such skewed paths (right, Helen Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow, or Mairon Cotillard). For years, no one thought Sean Penn would ever receive Academy recognition, let alone stop his political grandstanding long enough to actually show up and claim his prize. Now, with a second gold man to match his Mystic River statue, he’s suddenly one of the artform’s best.

And then there’s Slumdog Millionaire, the little independent exile that apparently could…and did. It’s interesting to look back at the Summer of 2008, to all the press surrounding the “dumping” of the film by Warners Independent - and the 50% stake eventually bought by Fox Searchlight - to remember that this multiple Oscar winner was almost sent straight to video. Naturally, there were issues with money and studio security (WIP has since shuttered), but there was a vocal contingent who thought Danny Boyle’s episodic epic was too slight, too stylized, too ‘foreign’ to represent the best of Western cinema. Yet here it stands, the winner of as many trophies as Gone with the Wind, On the Waterfront, and My Fair Lady. Even without the acting nods, it stands as a monumental achievement for a well-deserving work.

But there is no real surprise in the result. Ever since it became the frontrunner, Slumdog was seen as the answer to many of the Academy’s lingering issues. It was a small film outside the studio system. It was multicultural in cast and approach. It offered a chance for Oscar to recognize another underserved race in its historic cavalcade of inferred (and sometimes overt) prejudice. And, in many ways, it represented the perfect upset fodder. With such an unusual choice in the mix, many felt that a true Hollywood heavy hitter like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or Frost/Nixon could sneak in and steal the limelight. But ever since the end of November, when the snowball started rolling in Slumdog‘s favor, there was no denying its ability to win.

It’s the same with the others. Ms. Winslet walked away with TWO Golden Globes, the double barreled statement daring Tinsel Town not to respond. Some felt that Mickey Rourke, making the comeback route after years in self-imposed banishment, would win the actor trophy. But with the political positioning of Milk, and the recent events of California’s election season, gay rights trumped a personal downward spiral. Only the Foreign Film category remains a puzzle, Bashir‘s animated take on Israel’s occupation of Lebanon in the early ‘80s as searing and visually unforgettable as any war film, pro or con, could be. Many an office pool underperformed thanks to the pre-Oscar spin on that one. Besides, Bashir deserved to be in the Animated category, leaving room for equally stellar entries like Italy’s Gommorah and Sweden’s Let the Right One In.

Perhaps it’s best to remember what the Academy Awards truly represent. This is not the people’s choice, where popularity and commercial appeal almost always overrule talent and timelessness. This is not a critic’s choice either, since getting a group of self-important scholars to agree on anything would be virtually impossible. Over the years, the studios have stepped aside to allow an elite group of past nominees, winners, and invited members to sit back and study the year in film, find a series of nominees, and then vote on who they think is the best. Some categories, like Best Documentary, have consideration rules so arcane and complicated that tax lawyers look over the by-laws and thank God for the IRS code.

It’s all so insular. Go back over the last decade of nominees and winners and mark how many of your favorites made the grade. The Oscars are not a chance for you to share in the glittering prize of motion picture perfection. It’s the annual attempt by an occasionally out of touch organization to put their stamp of approval on the year in film. It’s the last word, the final statement, the frequently whacked out wrap-up of all the politicking, hype, consensus, disagreement, box office totals, international spin, personal vendettas, corporate positioning, PR missteps, and ever-present backlash. That it attempts to address so many of the movie industry’s needs over the course of three and a half hours is somewhat noble. The eventual winners can even outshine such self-serving righteousness.

So here’s to WALL-E and The Duchess. Here’s to the unheralded sweep by Slumdog in many of the so-called minor categories. Here’s to the short films no one saw and the terrific tightrope act of Man on Wire. There will be those who state that the nomination itself is all that matters, and actually, that’s pretty accurate. It’s amazing to look back over the hundreds of films released in 2008 and comprehend that, indeed, these are the five actors/actresses/writers/directors/cinematographers/set designers/special effects technicians/costumers/sound engineers/make-up artists/animators picked to represent the business’s best. They may not get it right, but at least the Academy Awards have remained true to their roots - sort of. They are serving no other needs than their own. We should feel lucky they let us in at all.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

In Defense of the Infinite Universe in 'No Man's Sky'

// Moving Pixels

"The common cries of disappointment that surround No Man’s Sky stem from the exciting idea of an infinite universe clashing with the harsh reality of an infinite universe.

READ the article