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Captain Canada's Movie Rodeo

Chris Rock, who will host the 88th Academy Awards on February 28th (Image © AMPAS). 

Chris Rock, who will host the 88th Academy Awards on February 28th (Image © AMPAS). 

I may not bother watching the Oscars this year—just don’t call it a boycott. I do not have the courage or interest in boycotting anything. I’ve never really understood the concept of a boycott. Then again, I’ve never really had to understand. So there’s that.

But I suspect I’m not going to watch the show this year. At the very least, I know I don’t really want to. The only reason why I might is because the film department is planning to live tweet the whole silly telecast, and god knows I need to use my stupid Twitter account more often.

Either way, my reasons for not really wanting to tune in are fairly simple. When people talk about the lack of diversity at the Oscars for the second year in a row, I’m on board with that. I agree completely. It does make me a little angry, but ultimately, it just makes me sad.

If I couldn’t think of a single performance from a non-white actor or actress this year that was Oscar-worthy, I could probably get on board with the current field of admittedly excellent contenders. Since I can think of several performances that warranted significant awards nominations, I just can’t get on board with the nominees. That in of itself depresses me a little. It’s great to see Stallone nominated for his (final?) performance as Rocky Balboa. Bryan Cranston deserves the nod for Trumbo. Brie Larson in Room is nothing short of breathtaking. Every single one of them is going to be overshadowed by the fact that once again, the Academy has made it clear that their voting members are extraordinarily behind the times. That’s sad, but it’s not as sad as the latter portion of that fact.

It comes down to this: I can name every single black actor or actress who has won an Oscar. I don’t even have to think about it. What I can’t do is name every single white actor or actress who has won an Oscar. In an 88-year-old awards ceremony, that’s unfortunate.

In the end, the Oscars have a long history of snubbing actors, actresses, directors, films, and everything else that is part of the industry the ceremony claims to cherish. That list does include whites. However, when you consider the number of POC actors who have even been nominated, the glaring omissions becomes something that is far more upsetting, particularly in terms of Hollywood’s long, racist history.

The Oscars is not an entity unto itself, as much as some people within the industry seem to believe it is. Rather, it is a large representative of a much bigger artistic universe. When that large representative is again and again shown to be narrow-minded, self-important, and endlessly, comically arrogant, it’s hard to argue with anyone who doesn’t give a damn about the Oscars to begin with.

For all my bitching about the Oscars through the years, I still like the notion of recognizing exemplary artists. More specifically, I just like the silliness of the whole Oscar carnival of bullshit. However, as I dwell on the fact that the Oscars shut out black actors/actresses and other minorities for the second year in a row, I really can’t have the stupid, stupid fun that I wind up having. I can’t be dismissive over the triviality of an awards show. Rather, I find myself focusing on the fact that the Oscars casual racism is systematic of a much larger problem that continues to dominate Hollywood and beyond.

It’s a shame. I really wanted to watch Leonard DiCaprio have his heart crushed yet again.

However, as the Academy scrambles to institute measure designed to increase the diversity of the voices behind its stature, it’s tempting to be ever-so-slightly optimistic.

The Martian (2015): B-

Matt Damon would really like to meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds (Image © 20th Century Fox). 

Matt Damon would really like to meet us, but he thinks he'd blow our minds (Image © 20th Century Fox). 

 Let’s get past the absolute fucking absurdity of the Golden Globes awarding The Martian a Best Comedy award. We have to. It’s not fair to this exceptional science fiction film to focus on the fact that apparently, the Golden Globes people know comedy like I know how to survive on Mars for an extended period of time.

Let’s just deal with the film on its own terms. Under that light, Ridley Scott has directed one of his best in at least a few years. Adapted from the novel by Andy Weir, The Martian is indeed a moderately amusing movie. It has to be. When your manned mission to Mars goes tits up, and you’re stuck on a hostile planet for a little while, it helps to be able to chuckle a little. The Martian does have comedic elements to its makeup, particularly in terms of how Matt Damon deals with his situation. Damon can carry a scene all on his own. The fact that he can is one of the essential elements to the success of this film. There are lengthy patches of The Martian in which very little is happening. That’s not to say the movie is boring. It’s simply a very low-key film, even during moments of significant danger. Whether or not the science behind this film is factual is one thing. There is nonetheless a realism to the way the lengthy story unfolds. This realism continues in the range of strong performances, particularly Matt Damon as the “Martian” in question.

People expecting a fast-paced blockbuster might be disappointed. Everyone else is bound to be impressed by a movie that maintains interest, even when it’s seemingly just spinning its wheels.

Pocket Money (1972): C-

 Paul Newman and Lee Marvin teaming up for a comedy/drama about two losers trying to herd 200 cattle through Mexico, quite frankly, sounds amazing on paper. Throw in the fact that Terrence Malick wrote the screenplay, with Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke) directing, and it’s fair enough to be confident in what you’re going to get.

Sadly, the elements don’t quite come together here. If you want a leisurely movie, something in which virtually nothing happens for two hours, you’re going to be okay. If Newman and Marvin bantering about nothing in particular for two years is something that strikes you as a good time, you’ll be pretty interested in the proceedings from start to finish. There is no question that Malick likes to ramble in his storytelling. He likes to wander across the weird landscape, show you a few thousand tiny details, and then leave it up to you to make sense of things. That energy is very much in play here. The problem seems to be that Rosenberg isn’t quite the right director for something like that. There is a clear, quiet clash of personalities between these two men, and it winds up sinking Pocket Money’s potential to be one of the best films of the 70s.

Still, it’s far from a complete mess. There is something inherently, instantly appealing about Newman and Marvin trading lines. The time capsule quality of Texas and Mexico in this era has a modicum of charm, as well. It’s just too bad that Pocket Money can’t make more of its talents.

Seduced and Abandoned (1964): A+

Pietro Germi's  Seduced and Abandoned  (Image © Continental Distributing Inc.) 

Pietro Germi's Seduced and Abandoned (Image © Continental Distributing Inc.) 

 Pietro Germi (who also contributed to the screenplay) directs one of the most vicious satires of a specific culture and time that you will ever come across. Seduced and Abandoned is a great example of post-War Italian satire cinema. This is particularly true, in the sense that even as the movie becomes an increasingly wacky comedy of errors, the commentary itself on customs, family, and marriage is absolutely bleak. As Agnese (Stefania Sandrelli) is forced into marriage by her hopelessly short-sighted, arrogant father (Saro Urzi), in the wake of an affair with her sister’s fiancé (Aldo Puglisi), things naturally go out of control very quickly. Things go to hell for everyone, and it only gets worse from there.

Seduced and Abandoned is going to be a weird experience, if you’re generally not in the habit of watching old foreign films. However, if you’re eager to begin an education in such an arena, you could certainly do worse than this. Personally, it’s one of my favorite Italian comedies of all time. Then again, I’m a sucker for deeply subversive, unrelentingly silly movies.

Trumbo (2015): C+

 While this biopic of writer/activist Dalton Trumbo is pretty by-the-book, it is nonetheless a well-told, essential story. Although Trumbo’s life and career was certainly varied and rich, the movie naturally chooses to focus on Trumbo’s experiences as a member of the infamous “Hollywood Ten.” As you may or may not know, these were men who chose to fight McCarthyism, the Red Scare, and Hollywood’s fearful practice of blacklisting anyone who was accused of being a communist.

It didn’t go well for them, although Trumbo would eventually come back from it all. The movie more or less captures the atmosphere of dread and uncertainty that dominated the area. It achieves this atmosphere most significantly in the performances. In particular, Bryan Cranston excels as the man himself, while Helen Mirren almost runs off with the whole film as Hedda Hopper. The acting ultimately keeps Trumbo from being ordinary. Cranston makes for a pitch-perfect centerpiece to this notion, while supporting performances from John Goodman, Alan Tudyk, Diane Lane, Louis C.K., Dean O’Gorman, and Michael Stuhlbarg add to the potent energy of the era the film tries to encapsulate.

In strict writing, directing, and editing terms, Trumbo is somewhere in the vicinity of average. When you factor in the acting, things pick up considerably. Cranston’s best film work to date is most certainly deserving of an Oscar.

Moonwalkers (2015): C-

Make no mistake: Moonwalkers isn’t really very good. It wants to tell a fairly ambitious story, in which a dour, war-scarred CIA agent (Ron Perlman) accidentally comes together with a shady band manager (Rupert Grint) to develop a film that depicts America landing on the moon. It certainly casts well, and Grint and Perlman play off each other so well, you’ll want at least more of that aspect of the film. However, a very promising script collapses under the weight of its storytelling goals, with a weak ending, uninspired characters, and an inability to hit the right satirist notes.

Even with all of this in mind, the script and film still establishes a decent-enough foundation for a good time. It gets a lot of mileage out of Grint and Perlman. It just could have been so much more in the satire/insanity-of-the-era department, especially when you remember that Dean Craig is a really good writer.