At this point, I basically get all my news, good and bad, from Twitter hashtags (of course, it’s mostly bad). When a celebrity’s name pops up under the trending header, I hold my breath until I investigate and make sure it isn’t connected to death or scandal. Twitter can be used for some cool things. I’ve discovered a large bracket of people on Twitter who share my love of film, and am constantly finding new obscure movies to watch thanks to fellow buffs I follow. Outside of this context though, I find Twitter fairly toxic, mostly in that it seems to be giving more and more power to the type of people who spend large doses of time on the platform (meaning trolls). All of the sudden the movers and shakers of Twitter can jumpstart movements and pile on disgraced celebrities. Mob mentality rules on Twitter, and that would be fine if we could go back to the days of important people ignoring their followers, or, more to my point, important institutions ignoring individuals. The Oscars is an award given by an institution to a select number of people deemed worthy by that institution. The only thing that makes it special is that it comes from a remote group of people, an institution with mystique. If the number of opinions that matter in determining winners grows, than the award is lesser for it, and if actors can start complaining and effecting the decisions to benefit their best interests, than it will soon be equivalent to the People’s Choice Awards. Nobody cares who I think the Oscars should go to beyond it being an interesting conversation starter. The only people whose decisions matter are those mysterious Academy members.
In recent years, however, starting with #Oscarssowhite, twitter members have risen up in swarms of amusing posts to, in my opinion, have a real impact on Academy Awards nominations and winners at the ceremony. I’ll grant that there has always been some cultural politics involved in the voting process-Humphrey Bogart getting the trophy over Marlon Brando’s performance in A Streetcar Named Desire was surely a legacy vote-but it had heretofore been behind the scenes where it was less egregious. Complaining about awards is tacky, even if that actor has an important point like Natalie Portman calling out the “All-Male” nominees for Best Director at the Golden Globes. That moment became a Twitter sensation, and bam! Greta Gerwig is nominated for Best Director. I really believe the Academy was terrified of what the response would be if she wasn’t included. Same too with Octavia Spencer playing the exact same role in The Shape of Water as she’s played in a half dozen other films. And then there’s James Franco being blackballed for alleged misconduct, alleged unproven misconduct. Enter Denzel Wshington being nominated for a film that falls below the fresh line on Rotten Tomatoes. How many actors in history have been nominated for films that weren’t well-reviewed. It’s an insult really. These silly hashtag movements still put the onus on a trophy rather than the execs in Hollywood, also known as people who actually matter. The Academy needs to stop answering to random bums, and at least feign an air of infallibility. Even when they’re wrong, they have to hold their ground or risk losing the prestige.
Starring Glenn Ford, Ron Howard, Shirley Jones, Dina Merrill, Stella Stevens, Jerry Van Dyke, Roberta Sherwood
A recently widowed father, Tom (Ford), raises his precocious son (Howard) with the help of his housekeeper (Sherwood) and neighbor (Jones). Soon Tom gets back in the dating world, falling for the wealthy socialite, Rita (Merrill), but his son doesn’t think she’s right for him. A hallmark of Minnelli’s work, this is a lively, colorful film. The central performances are quite good. Glenn Ford makes for a steady, solid father and Ron Howard was a very good child actor. He has a lot to do here, and is really the key to the whole picture. There isn’t much in the way of romantic tension, though Ford and Jones are antagonistic towards each other. This film is more about the father-son relationship.
Starring James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Robert Young, Robert Stack, Ward Bond, Dan Daily
Kindly, revered professor Viktor Roth (Morgan) lives a small, idyll German town with his loving wife, beautiful daughter, Freya (Sullavan), young son, and two step-sons. On the night he celebrates his birthday and the engagement of his daughter to the passionate, Fritz Marberg (Young), radios announce that Adolph Hitler has taken power. Roth’s two step-sons and Fritz eagerly join the Nazi movement, but family friend, Martin Breitner (Stewart), stands against the party, and secretly pines for Freya. Outstanding drama. The performances are stirring, and the story gripping. Expecting to watch a well-meaning, dated and preachy early Hollywood take on Nazism, I was blown away by how powerful this film remains.
Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Nina Foch
Jerry Mulligan (Kelly) is an American painter trying to find his inspiration in romantic Paris. He has one friend, fellow American and misanthrope, Adam Cook (Levant), a shabby apartment, and a damp space on a street corner for hustling his work. Things start looking up when a wealthy heiress from Baltimore decides to take him under her wing (we sense it has more to do with his smile than with his art), but then he sees and instantly falls in love with a perfume salesgirl, Lise Bouvier (Caron). Minnelli and Kelly are expert craftsmen. Innovative, spectacular, colorful, exuberant song and dance numbers. Indelible songs (“Our Love is Here to Stay” “I’ve Got Rhythm”) by Gershwin. There’s a lot to recommend and enjoy. Falls short in my eyes of the kind of greatness I usually associate with a Minnelli or a Gene Kelly picture mainly because of the lack of plot and the degree of unpleasantness involved in the scenes with Kelly’s jilted lover, Milo. It’s worthy entertainment to be sure, but not nearly as much fun as Singin’ in the Rain or The Band Wagon.
Starring Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Dennis Franz
An out of work actor, Jake Scully (Wasson), catches a break when a friendly near-stranger (Henry) offers him a job housesitting for a short period. While there, Jake discovers, through a telescope, a beautiful woman doing a striptease in the window of a nearby house. Soon the erotic window peeping leads to Jake witnessing that woman’s murder, followed by an obsessive need for him to solve it. Like the best of De Palma’s work, Body Double is like an R-rated Hitchcock film. With obvious ties to Vertigo (Scully suffers from claustrophobia) and Rear Window, De Palma uses many of Hitchcock’s old plot devices for his own dazzlingly stylish and enticing mysteries. Many won’t appreciate his lack of subtlety or his propensity for schlock, but I think it’s fantastic. Melanie Griffith has a small but scene-stealing role as a famous pornographic actress. Also really enjoyed the slightly random inclusion of Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
So far, February 2018 has given us the abysmal Winchester, Fifty Shades Freed, Peter Rabbit, and 15:17 to Paris (as awkward as it is well-meaning). Fifty Shades Freed (I don’t understand the title (and I don’t want to)) arrives just in time for Valentines Day, for couples with bad taste in movies or a healthy sense of humor. Peter Rabbit starring Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne offers something for families looking for something to see at the multiplex, though I would point out that Paddington 2 is still available, equally British, and much better. 15:17 to Paris, 87-year-old Clint Eastwood’s latest about three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a train heading for France 2 and a half years ago, is a bad effort by people you feel funny criticizing. All in all, it’s been a bad two weeks at the movies. Thankfully, next Friday brings Black Panther. Currently sitting at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, Marvel seems to be getting better each time out. Black Panther is, however, more than just a big-budget spectacle. It’s the first big-budget spectacle with a predominantly black cast. Those two factors have made the superhero flick an event, and I’m eager not just to see the film, but to see what effect it has on pop culture and the future of moviemaking.
Starring Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson
Don Diego (Hopkins), the once proud vigilante for the people known as Zorro, has been imprisoned for twenty years. His wife murdered. His daughter raised by his mortal enemy. Diego sees his opportunity for revenge in the younger Alejandro (Banderas), himself eager for revenge on the man who killed his brother, and so the two train and plot together, behind the mask. Top-notch swashbuckler. Anthony Hopkins, though doing little to mask his Britishness, is charm personified, and Banderas and Jones are en fuego together. No CGI, just outstanding stunt work and choreography to bolster a good revenge story.