Pensées #5: Disney Making Waves

Remakes of classics don’t generally garner much excitement. Curiosity maybe, but think of films like The Truth About Charlie, The Manchurian Candidate (with Denzel), or the shot for shot remake of Psycho starring Vince Vaughn. Those aren’t horrible movies, but the consensus seemed to be, “Who cares?” or “What’s the point?” More successful remakes usually benefit from the original film being unfamiliar to a large number of people. How many people have seen every version of A Star is Born? What superstar diva you think of when I say, “A Star is Born” likely depends on your age, and my point is that Judy Garland’s greatness (in the 1954 version) didn’t affect most of Lady Gaga’s audience (for the newest version), because the majority of them haven’t seen the former. Disney doesn’t have this advantage. Most people across the world have seen Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Mulan, The Lion King, and so on. These movies are universal. I don’t believe any remake, regardless of what they do, can measure up to their animated origins. None of the remakes that have come out so far have even remotely altered my opinion on that, and yet, I’ve enjoyed the lot of them, and more important to Disney, with the exception of Dumbo and Alice Through the Looking Glass, they have made a massive amount of money at the box-office. I suppose it’s a credit to how beloved these stories are that people are willing, and excited even, to see them told again, with the surprise, freshness, and mystery gone.

To this point, the remakes have emphasized faithfulness to the source and that’s paid off. Over the past week or so, however, news of The Little Mermaid and Mulan has caused a stir, because absolute faithfulness is certainly gone from these two. I’ll start with The Little Mermaid because there’s very little known about it except for two interesting casting choices. Ursula, one of Disney’s best villains, will be played by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy is a great actress but the reaction to her casting appeared mostly negative. It’s hard to gauge because Twitter is a fake-outrage machine, but my thoughts are that she’s not scary. She’s proven she can do great dramatic work, but can she be threatening? A lot of times, when an actor is miscast as a villain, they are forced to overact to make up for their lack of natural ability to be intimidating (see: Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor). We’ll see. To be fair, I doubted Heath Ledger and look how wrong I was. Bigger news was made when Halle Bailey (whom I’m unfamiliar with) was cast as Ariel. Halle Bailey looks like this:

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This is interesting. Is it a sign that the new Little Mermaid is willing to be different, or is it superficial? Do we want The Little Mermaid to be different? In any case, the filmmakers, I have no doubt, looked at a countless number of young actresses and found Bailey to be the best one for the job. I’m sure she’ll be great. I’m now very curious as to whether Prince Eric will be black. There has never been a black male love interest in any of these films. Not even in The Princess and the Frog. I expect the support for black Ariel to be strong and, provided that the rest of the film holds up, to lead to huge box-office returns.

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Almost coinciding with The Little Mermaid news, a trailer for next year’s Mulan remake released yesterday. The trailer showed off a live-action Mulan that appears vibrant, stirring, and well-crafted. There’s also a conspicuous lack of singing, romantic interest, and Mushu. Live-action Mulan is apparently going its own route and I’m slowly trying to get on board. I’ve complained about films like Beauty and the Beast being exactly the same as their source, so how can I complain now that one is daring to be different? I am skeptical though. Will Mulan be entertaining? It’s still a Disney movie. No Mushu or cricket leaves a huge hole for comic relief. No Li Shang likely means no romance. No musical numbers is just so disappointing since that music is great, and what they’re selling sounds a lot like pandering to China’s burgeoning movie theater market. What is this new Mulan? A gritty, serious PG war film? I’m not feeling that.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

Pensées #4: Oscar Voting

Since its inception, the Academy Awards have been about more than just the performance someone gave or the job someone did on some film that year. There are all kinds of external factors that decide who goes home with a trophy. When Humphrey Bogart won Best Actor in 1952, it wasn’t because his performance in The African Queen (as memorable as it is) was better than Marlon Brando’s in A Streetcar Named Desire. It was because Brando was the new kid on the block, and Bogart had paid his dues. He should have won three years earlier for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a film he wasn’t even nominated for. Career appreciation is a big factor pretty consistently at the Oscars. I think it will come into play again this year with Glenn Close finally winning. I haven’t seen her film yet, and for all I know, she gives the best performance of the year. She’s a fantastic actor. But even that being the case, you can’t tell me her career and six prior nominations with no win (a record for women) don’t come up at all in voting.

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A new consideration has cropped up in recent years with the emergence of #Oscarssowhite. Look at the three years prior to that episode, that backlash, and the three years since. In the Best Supporting Actor category, Mahershal Ali will likely win this year, making that twice in three years. In the Best Supporting Actress category, if Regina king wins for If Beale Street Could Talk, that will be two black actresses in 3 years, with Viola Davis winning 2 years ago. I think this will help Spike Lee potentially pull off an upset, though lord knows he should have won this thirty years ago for Do the Right Thing.

I kind of want the Academy Awards to just reset and do away with the “they should have won already, so let’s make up for it now.” Attempt each year to recognize the best or most impactful job done in each category for that year. Get rid of all the external noise. Won’t happen, and no one will be upset if Glenn Close and Spike Lee win. They’ve been great for a long time.

I’m not smitten with any of the Best Picture nominees. If I could hand out the award, it would go to Hereditary, and most people would be put out because most people don’t enjoy gory horror films. That’s the best film of last year though as far as I can tell, but if I’m voting on what’s on the ballot, I’d vote BlackKklansmen. I’d vote Rami Malek for Best Actor for his incarnation of a music legend. Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting, though he likely doesn’t need my vote, and Spike Lee for Best Director. I’d vote Lady Gaga for Best Actress and leave Best Supporting Actress blank, having not seen The Favourite yet.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

Pensées #3: Oscar Nominations 2019

So it begins. Oscar nominations morning. Always a day of outrage for me. Always a few snubs. Always a few head-scratching nominations. This year is nothing new. I will say, since I’m basically indifferent to all of last year’s crop of films, I’m less upset and surprised than in recent years.

Best Picture

Black Panther

BlackKklansmen

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

A Star is Born

Vice

I’m surprised by the nominations for Bohemian Rhapsody and Vice, which received middling reviews. No one is surprised by Black Panther’s “historic nomination” after the Best Achievement in Popular Film idea fell through. Too much pressure on the Academy to nominate it. There was no choice. No, I don’t think it’s great, nor do I think it’s worthy of the nomination. Think about this: The Dark Knight, no nomination. Black Panther, nomination. That’s absurd. What’s the favorite to win among these films? Green Book seemed to carry some momentum, but then some trumped up controversy surfaced, perhaps hurting its chances. Is it really going to be cookie cutter Bohemian Rhapsody? I’d rather Roma become the first foreign language film to win.

Best Director

Happy to see Spike Lee finally get a nomination for Best Director. Unbelievable that he was snubbed for Do the Right Thing almost thirty years ago. That was my first thought in seeing these results. Second thought: I guess I need to see Cold War now. I didn’t here any experts predict Pawlikowski’s nomination, so that was definitely one of this year’s surprises. So too was McKay’s nomination. With the prominence of anti-Trump sentiment, it feels like politics have creeped into this year’s votes. It certainly looks like it’s Cuaron’s year for another win. The Oscars chose not to nominate Peter Farrelly, director of Green Book, most likely due to news of his flashing coworkers in the past. Is it too callous to say who cares? Not the most egregious of controversies, but enough to keep him off the list, apparently. No female nominees. Someone alert the whiners.

Best Actor

No surprises here. Oh wait, Willem? Love Willem Dafoe, but I’m shocked to see him here. If you wanted to nominate an arthouse performance, it should have been Ethan Hawke. I believe his was the best performance of the year. As for the five nominated, I’d put early money on Rami Malek.

Best Actress

I’d heard rumors, so the nomination for Aparicio isn’t out of nowhere, but I’m not very positive about it. Especially since Toni Collette was left off for her powerhouse turn in Hereditary. Predictable. The Academy just refuses to appreciate anything in the horror genre. Really, any genre. Genre films are the best films. Let’s put these five performances in a time capsule along with Collette’s and see which ones we’re still watching ten years from now. Congratulations to Glenn Close on nomination number 7, I believe the record for most nominations without a win. I’m thinking this is the year for her to take home a trophy.

Best Supporting Actor

I’m happy with this category. It’s consistently the most reliable, least upsetting every year. All fine performances (in my opinion, though my friend’s unhappy with Elliott’s nom), and Mahershala Ali should be a lock for the win. That’d be 2 in 3 years.

Best Supporting Actress

I’m not sold on either of the two nominations Roma received in the acting categories. Regina King appears to be the obvious choice here. That would make it six nominations with no wins for Amy Adams. On a side note, I hate when actors with leading role screen time get nominated in the supporting actor category. It’s ridiculous. Emma Stone is the latest. Think Rooney Mara for Carol, or Timothy Hutton for Ordinary People. If there’s no room for them in their right category, then don’t nominate them.

This year’s results seem more influenced by outside pressures than ever before. I’d go so far as to say the Academy is pandering. Something they should never do. Pandering is the opposite of prestige. I think they checked off all their little boxes besides female director.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

 

 

 

Pensées #2: The Oscars 2019

I’m not sure what to expect from the Oscars this year. We are 9 days away from nominations being announced and a mere month and a half away from the actual show. I’ve been wondering for a while when the producers would pick their new host, but now, through a basic google search, learn that this year’s Oscars will be without a host, and will simply have a series of presenters. That sounds awful, though it’s not without precedent apparently. Another basic google search reveals that the 1989 Academy Awards went on without a host. Looking at reviews of that ceremony doesn’t inspire confidence. Gregory Peck, Julie Andrews, Paul Newman, and Billy Wilder called it an embarrassment.

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*Overreaction warning:* The backlash Kevin Hart received and subsequent resignation from Oscar hosting duties is yet another example of ultra-toxic Twitter ruining the award ceremony. Twitter junkies, people who have no power whatsoever in reality, have found a malignant sense of power on social media, but it only works en masse, and it doesn’t mix well with reason. Why are you, the Academy, listening to them?

Kevin Hart shouldn’t have to apologize for bad jokes made several years ago, especially when he’s already apologized. Whether you’re a fan of his comedy or not, Hart has a considerable fan base, and he’s an entertainer. He’s capable of handling this enormous job, or, I guess, he was.

As only a moderate fan of Hart’s, the bigger issue to me is that I’m afraid we’ve seen the last of edgy comedians hosting the Oscars. Every comic worth his salt has a joke or two in their past that will get them disbarred by the Twitter PC authorities. If it’s true, as has been reported, that no one wanted to host the Oscars before the Hart blowup, then it’s doubly true now.

I’ve already shared my feelings on 2018 as a film year. In a word, weak. Naturally, the Oscar nominations in a week or so will reflect the lack of strong candidates mainly in the Best Picture category (there were many fine performances this year). Bohemian Rhapsody won the Golden Globe’s equivalent of Best Picture. That’s almost absurd. It’s an entertaining film, and I certainly won’t be upset about a Rami Malek victory, but the overall picture is lacking. Since the quality of candidates is down, how about some parity? A grand mystery: what will win this year’s Best Picture. Every year, we’re pretty sure what will win or we know it’s between two films. This year: How about shock and awe?

The Golden Globes granted some clarity in terms of award season favorites. I wouldn’t be upset if the Globe winners in the acting categories carry over into the Oscars. Malek and Ali’s performances I’ve seen, and would like to see rewarded. I haven’t seen Olivia Coleman’s performance in The Favourite or Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk, but those are two films I eagerly anticipate watching.

If Alfonso Cuarón wins his second Oscar this year, that would make it 5 times in the last 6 years that a Mexican director has won Best Director. Quite an impressive run made by three talented artists. A foreign film has never won Best Picture, but what if this was the year? I’d almost be disappointed since Roma is not a masterpiece in my estimation, and I wish something like Pan’s Labyrinth or Talk to Her took the honor.

Actors don’t seem to realize that the Oscars is a show, and as such, needs to be entertaining. I’m crossing my fingers for a sense of pace, some showbiz razzle-dazzle, and a limited amount of self -aggrandizing motivational speeches. Also, I might agree with an actor politically, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear about it in this setting.

RIP to the Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film. You were a horrible idea, and I’m so glad that you will never see the light of day. What does achievement in popular film even mean? If they were going to go through with this award, instead of handing the winner a trophy, they should have them stand in front of the podium as a bucket of Nickelodeon slime flips over and spills its contents all over them. Has any one said yet whether the other horrible idea (technical awards being handed out before broadcast) was scrapped also?

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

 

Pensées #1: 2018 was a Bad Movie Year

Sayonara 2018. You were one of the weakest movie years in recent memory. Fanboys might point to Black Panther (decent) or Avengers: Infinity War (strong, though incomplete), but what truly great films did the year have to offer. 2018 was mired in sequels. Look at the year end top grossers: Marvel, sequels, and remakes.

  1. Black Panther
  2. Avengers: Infinity War
  3. Incredibles 2
  4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  5. Deadpool 2
  6. Dr. Seus’ The Grinch
  7. Mission Impossible: Fallout
  8. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  9. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  10. Venom

This wouldn’t be much of a problem if Oscar season hadn’t been so underwhelming. What are the big Oscar contenders this year? I don’t even know what the favorites are at this point, because nothing really stands out. A Star is Born was a good film. Roma was a good film. What else? There are a few films I still need to see: Green Book, Widows, and If Beale Street Could Talk. Hopefully, I’ll be blown away by one of these. Then, of course, I’ll eventually get to see some of the big foreign films of the year.

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In any case, I couldn’t be more ready for 2019 with the potential of being a tremendous year. Right out of the gate, we get Glass (the conclusion to M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant trilogy), and How to Train Your Dragon 3.

In 2019, Disney will be Scrooge McDuck, jumping off of a diving board, into a pool of money. Look at their lienup: The Lion King CGI remake, Aladdin live-action remake, Toy Story 4, Star Wars: episode 9, Dumbo, Avengers: Endgame, Frozen 2, Artemis Fowl, and Spiderman: Far From Home.

My most anticipated films of the year are: Us, Jordan Peele’s new horror flick, Wonder Woman 1984, Glass, the Star Wars finale, and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

 -Walter Tyrone Howard-

 

 

 

Christmas Film Challenge

I’ve failed. My goal was to watch and review 25 Christmas movies before the big day, and I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I thought I could climb that mountain. Writing the reviews in time proved the challenging part. I came within seeing distance of my watching 25 movies goal. Here are the ones I saw. Let me count:

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  1. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  2. A Christmas Prince
  3. Home Alone
  4. Four Christmases
  5. Christmas Inheritance
  6. The Man Who Invented Christmas
  7. The Princess Switch
  8. The Christmas Chronicles
  9. Elf
  10. Arthur Christmas
  11. The Santa Clause
  12. Frosty the Snowman
  13. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  14. A Christmas Prince:The Royal Wedding
  15. It’s a Wonderful Life
  16. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  17. Santa’s Surprise
  18. Santa’s Workshop
  19. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
  20. Angela’s Christmas
  21. Twas the Night Before Christmas

Of the films I viewed, It’s a Wonderful Life remains the best. I’m a traditionalist, so seeing this classic in its original black and white form every Christmas is a must. The Nightmare Before Christmas is also a great movie, but these are both films I’d seen before. Most of the new movies I watched this year were Netflix originals, and pretty basic. The Man Who Invented Christmas is probably the best new Christmas movie I had the opportunity to see. The twenty minute, amateurish short, Twas the Night Before Christmas is the worst film I watched. The animation is very poor, and even working from the classic poem, the reading of it felt stilted. Anyways, I’ll have to try this again next year.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

25 Films for Christmas (2018)

Think of all the Christmas classics: It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, Jingle All the Way. Alright Jingle All the Way is not a classic, but I still end up seeing it every Winter. There’s a solid half-dozen Christmas films put out each year, but becoming a perennial holiday favorite is rare and elusive. What makes a Christmas movie endure? It’s a Wonderful Life quite famously wasn’t a hit in its own time, only achieving its towering status as an All-American Christmas masterpiece much later, through reruns on television. It takes a certain kind of magic that I’m not sure can really be qualified or broken down into anything tangible. Perhaps that could be something to ponder as I start my self-directed challenge. To the point: I plan on watching 25 Christmas movies over the next 55 days, and writing a review, as well as adding some personal details about how I watched it and my experience, for each one. Like most people, I have my Christmas favorites that I’ll likely mix in, but I would like to focus on ones I either haven’t seen or have only seen once. It’s my way of getting into the spirit of the holidays. Yes, it is a bit early, but I’ll need the extra time if I want to achieve this goal. Fifty five days gives me basically two per film and review, which I think is lofty enough to keep myself motivated, but also manageable. Here’s a short list of Christmas films I’ve made. These are ones I’m less acquainted with, if at all:

The Christmas Prince (2017)

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The Polar Express (2004)

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A Christmas Carol (2009)

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This Christmas (2007)

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Four Christmases (2008)

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Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

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The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)

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Scrooged (1988)

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The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

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Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

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Any other suggestions? Watching these with my regularly slated lineup of films should put me over my goal of 25. It starts now.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-