Friday, May 11, 2012

The End. (Probably.)

From: John Krizel
To: Josh Benjamin, Steve Isaac, Joe Kirkwood, Micah Lubens
Date: Monday, September 27, 2010 at 5:48 PM

I've got an idea for a blog that I am developing and would like your input on… I went to see the documentary The Tillman Story today, which really was incredible and you all should see it. Somewhere along the line I got to thinking about sad/depressing documentaries/other movies, the kinds that are on your Netflix queue because you really should see them, but then you never have the desire to once they arrive. Like The Pianist, which I have gotten and sent back twice unviewed because, oof, Holocaust. So I figured I would watch only those kinds of movies, and listen to/read similarly sad/depressing music/books and write about them in the blog, but also about how they affect my overall level of happiness. I guess I would have to give up watching Community and Jersey Shore and shit for a while if this is going to be a scientifically rigorous controlled experiment or whatever. Could be an int idea, perhaps. I'd take input on like what things to watch and stuff. Just throwin’ it out there.

From: Steve Isaac
To: Josh Benjamin, Joe Kirkwood, John Krizel, Micah Lubens
Date: Monday, September 27, 2010 at 5:50 PM

Yeah, just don’t do that and keep watching Jersey Shore and Community.


This is the seventy-seventh post in this blog. I’ve been writing it for almost twenty months. It’s been a lot of fun. (And also occasionally sad, obviously.)

But it’s time to hang it up.

(Well, I’m 99.9% sure it’s time to hang it up. I reserve the right to bring this back for special occasions. Basically, if another Nicholas Sparks adaptation comes out, I’ll probably write about it. That’s about it.)

You might have noticed the two-and-a-half month gap between my last two posts. There’s only so many ways to write about how sad a movie makes you feel, and only so many ways to bash a movie that fails at making people feel sad. I feel like I'm either well past or close to exhausting those ways. So I'm gonna try to do other things and see how they go.

If you’re among the vast majority of people who read this because you know me, then the joke’s on you, because while the blog may be gone, I’ll still be very much around. Sorry, folks. (Plus, if you really miss the blog, we can hang out and watch sad movies together, I guess.)

If you don’t know me, I will still be around the Internet. I’m writing for a cool new sports blog, started by friend of the blog Sam Fox-Hartin, called Someone Still Loves You, Jim Leyritz. I started a Tumblr, although I’m not really sure what to do with it. I tweet often. I wrote a play called In This Economy that I’m producing for this summer’s Capital Fringe Festival here in Washington, DC. (Check out our Kickstarter! Tickets on sale June 18!)

After the play is done, I’ll probably start a new blog about who knows what. I hope you’ll read that, too. Which brings me (after about thirty paragraphs) to the point of all this: thank you for reading. It was good to know that you were out there.

John Krizel

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Lucky One.

The Lucky One (Scott Hicks, 2012)

Category: IIII SEEEE SPARKSSSS FLYYY WHENEVER YOUU SMILEEE. There were six extant Sparks adaptations when I started writing this blog, and over the course of several months I watched them all. It was the kind of self-punishing move that even ardent masochists would find excessive, and yet for the sake of completism I did it. The blog is nothing if not comprehensive.

The Sparks phenomenon continues apace. His next two film adaptations, Safe Haven and The Best of Me, are already in the works, and last year he sold a TV pilot to ABC. Yet despite his vast and growing empire of fluff, I get the feeling that, what with Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey and the other steamy junk-lit that’s in vogue, Sparks is not quite so angrily regarded in the hater community. Maybe he’s the lesser of two evils at the moment. Indeed, Sparks himself has set out to distinguish himself from the pack: “I write real, romantic drama, not romantic fantasy,” Sparks said in a recent interview in the Huffington Post. It was all I could do not to climb through the computer screen and yell at him. The man must be stopped.

My familiarity with this issue: I could write a book. Or just six (now seven) really long blog posts.

On top of all the Sparks stuff, this film features Charlie St. Cloud star Zac Efron, a TMS favorite, and known unknown Taylor Schilling. Here is an almost entirely unrelated story. Recently I came into possession of a fancy-looking silver pen. A girl left it in a room I was sitting in, and I picked it up and kept it as my own. The pen has the words “Mr. Schilling” engraved on the side. (The girl who left it is not named Schilling.) I carry this pen with me everywhere now, in case a stranger in the vicinity should need a pen, at which point I’d swoop in and try out my new character: Mr. Schilling, the generous pen manufacturer.

I just looked up Taylor Schilling, by the way. She appeared in the recent adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Wikipedia says that the movie (which is actually called Atlas Shrugged: Part I, even though II and III may not happen because Part I sucked and made no money) was marketed largely to the Tea Party community, with assists from Fox News’ Sean Hannity and John Stossel. As noted earlier, the film earned less than $5 million at the box office. Are movie tickets taxed? Maybe the Tea Party folks were worried that they were.

I saw this film on a Tuesday afternoon with FOTB Lindsay Filardo. We were the only people in the theater. I was very concerned about a repeat of @lafilardo’s famous reaction to The Last Song.

What FOTB Lindsay Filardo thought of the movie: I tell people I love Nicholas Sparks but have never read his books. In other words, I’m the worst and I’m also his target audience. But this movie didn’t win me over. Don’t get me wrong; Zac Efron managed to deliver on some levels of unf. [Editor’s Note: That word is foul.] Things going for him included: his hulky build, reminiscent of that kid from high school who enlisted and who you rediscovered on a post-midnight Facebook wander. The fuzzy crew cut also did it for me. Also, his boyish way of playing with dogs. End of list.

Things working vehemently against him included his dead eyes and awful, awful acting. If Troy Bolton is my dream guy, then Logan is his weird quiet cousin I lower my standards for. [Editor’s Note: Vague SPOILER ahead:] A final word: If this had been a @lafilardo joint, the role of Blonde Girl’s young son would have been played by Booger from The Last Song and he would have been crushed by the treehouse.

What I thought of the movie/How I related to the movie: Standard Sparks, folks. Cringeworthy, dull, stale, overheated, occasionally infuriating. There were boats, there were tears, there was a tragic death. It’s just paint-by-numbers at this point. The plot is nearly identical to that of Message in a Bottle, and this movie is just as boring.

Before I get to how bad it was, here’s something delightful: Efron’s character’s name is Logan Thibault. That’s pronounced “Tebow.” TEEEEEEEE-BOWWWWWWW. I yelled that at the screen. (Remember, we were the only two people in the theater.) Thinking about how Tim Tebow would have reacted to everything that happens in the movie made it that much more bearable to sit through.

But it only took five seconds for me to start hating it. Efron crams about thirty clichés into a brief voiceover, something about moments in your life or making choices or God knows what. I will send you a shiny new nickel if you can guess what was onscreen during this narration. If you guessed “an overhead shot of a boat on the water,” send me your address. Literally five seconds into the movie and I was already groaning.

We follow Tebow, a Marine, and his fellow soldiers in Iraq. He’s Tebowing standing outside when he sees a picture on the ground over yonder. Wouldn’t ya know it, it’s a pretty lady, and wouldn’t ya double know it, just as he wanders the ten feet to get it, the place where he was just standing got blown up. He’s lucky, that one! Eight months later, Tebow “luckily” escapes death another time before going home, all the while clutching that sexy pic. If he knew who the girl was, I’m sure he’d be sending her some sappy letters. It’s the Sparks way!

Instead, he goes home, staying with his sister and brother-in-law (or brother and sister-in-law, we meet them for like two seconds and learn nothing about their relationship) and their two kids. We learn that Tebow has PTSD, freaking out when the kids play violent video games and surprise him while he’s sleeping. It’s pretty sad, and his sister(-in-law?) suggests that he seek help for his condition. Tebow has a better plan. (And his PTSD is never mentioned again in the movie, not even once.) He notices that there’s a lighthouse in the background of the sexy pic, so he searches some random lighthouse website until he finds it, because that’s a thing. Now Tebow’s in Colorado (AMIRITE BRONCOS?!? NOT ANYMORE J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS TEEEEEEEEEEE-BOWWWWWWWWWW), but the lighthouse is in Louisiana. So what’s a lonely soldier and his trusty dog to do?

Why, he WALKS TO LOUISIANA. This happens. There’s no big montage or anything; it takes like a minute of screen time. We barely even process the fact that he was in Colorado and he walked to Louisiana until he offhandedly mentions it later. This is not a magic realism thing like in Forrest Gump. The movie hands this to us, straight-faced, and expects us to just go with it. It’s one of the craziest things to occur in any Sparks movie. There’s an idea…

The Craziest Things to Occur in Each Nicholas Sparks Movie

Honorable mention: Kevin Costner’s character, while on his last boat ride before moving to Chicago to be with Robin Wright Penn, dying in a storm on the water after saving two people.
The winner: The way RWP handles the initial message in a bottle situation – she has her boss print the letters in the Chicago Tribune, then she and her team researches the bottles and the stationery, tracking the latter to a stationery store in North Carolina who just up and gives her Kevin Costner’s name.

Honorable mention: Mandy Moore’s entire character, a cancer-stricken super-Christian preacher’s daughter/bangs enthusiast who is made fun of by literally everyone in the school.
The winner: The high school musical, which apparently contains only one song and features a mumbly Shane West (who was forced to participate in the show as punishment) starring opposite Moore, who, by the way, wrote the thing. Also, Shane West visibly falls in love with her during the song. Also, it’s a Switchfoot song.

Honorable mention: Tie between Ryan Gosling hanging off that Ferris wheel in order to get Rachel McAdams to go out with her (it’s crazy, yes, but Rachel McAdams is a known stone-cold fox), and his writing her one letter every day for a year with no response (he'd have run out of things to talk about by day five, the latest). 
The winner: Tie between Gena Rowlands’s moment of clarity through her previously-though-impenetrable dementia, and then the thing where she and James Garner die at the same time as they sleep together in the nursing home.

Honorable mention: Richard Gere dying in a mudslide in South America days before he’s about to move back to the States to be with Diane Lane, such that when she opens the door expecting to find him there, she instead finds his son (James Franco) who’s there to tell her about his death.
The winner: Gere and Lane stay in a giant rickety house on stilts that’s literally on the water, which somehow is not destroyed during a huge hurricane. Also they do the do during the hurricane.

Honorable mention: Tie between Miley Cyrus’s love of the song “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5, despite her edgy outsider status, the whole sea turtles under a shopping cart debacle, and the fact that she and Liam Hemsworth go SCUBA diving in the fish tank at the aquarium (which contains a shark).
The winner: Miley being accepted to go to the Julliard School even though she hasn’t touched a piano in three years. It’s said that the Julliard folks have been watching her since she was five, although they apparently stopped watching when she reached fifteen.

Honorable mention: Channing Tatum’s autistic dad reaching out and embracing him from his hospital bed right before his death.
The winner: Tatum flying back to America like three days after 9/11, then attending a fancy 9/11 party at Amanda Seyfried’s rich dad’s house, during which he is condescended to by rich people telling him how the military will force him to re-enlist now that there’s going to be a War on Terror.
That took a while. So he walks to Louisiana with his dog. It takes a few hours or so. He finds out that the girl works at a “pet motel” (I guess the term “kennel” is too harsh for Sparks). He goes there, intending to tell her straight away that he’s found her pic and it saved his life. But before he’s able to they have some hilarious interruptions (her phone rings twice) and misunderstandings (she thinks he’s there to apply for the job of Pet Motel Lackey). So he doesn’t tell her. There’s no way that that can come back to bite him later on in the film.

It should be noted that Efron is playing this role super-stoic and soldier-y, and so when he tells Mr. Schilling that he’s just casually walked there from Colorado, she gets all weirded out. But after a chat with her grandma (Blythe Danner!), he’s deemed “not a crazy stalker” and is given the job. “You don’t know anything about him,” Schilling complains, to which Danner says, “Neither do you.” Which is not an acceptable answer.

But Schilling’s situation is a little unorthodox, too. She shares custody of her seven-year-old whiz-kid (read: annoying as all get-out) son Ben with her insane cop (we’ll get to it) of an ex-husband. The ex, played by Jay R. Ferguson, looked crazy familiar to me, and I wasn’t able to place him until IMDb-ing him when I got home. It’s Stan Rizzo from Mad Men! You know, Stan of the polo shirts and the misogyny and the occasional office stripping with Peggy Olson. Good to see Stan getting work.

So now that we have the characters all in the same place, the romantic plot begins to unfold. It’s quite a languid unfolding. There’s no urgency here. We all know how it’s going to work. She’s suspicious of Tebow, but he’ll worm his way into her heart after earning the affections of her grandma and son. (Much like how Tebow converted the haters in Denver! OK that’s not similar at all.) If having Stan Rizzo be a villainous, crooked cop who pats down Tebow (ooo hello) for no reason isn’t enough to get the audience to hate him, we also learn that his father is a rich, powerful judge running for office. This allows Stan to hold his ex-wife and son hostage: if she does anything he doesn’t like (like take up with a moody ex-Marine with great abs), then he’ll take away the kid. Not the worst plot device in the Sparks canon, but it is laid on quite thickly.

They also overdo her suspicion of Tebow. Upon hearing that he went to college for one year before declaring for the NFL Draft enlisting, she MAKES FUN OF HIM for his lack of education and challenges him to quote one of his favorite philosophers. (He goes with Dr. Seuss, by the way, which is a nice touch.) Among the many Sparks themes we’ve identified here on the blog, the most troubling might be how many of his characters openly ridicule and denigrate our nation's brave veterans! Maybe people used to spit on returning soldiers back in the Vietnam era, but this is the 21st century! You can’t say anything bad about the troops these days unless you’re a character in a Nicholas Sparks book.

And what makes her overreaction to him all the more puzzling is the fact that we learn that her late brother was also a Marine (and obviously the recipient of the sexy pic, although it’s now weird that I’m calling it a sexy pic, isn’t it?). The movie shamelessly uses this as a tool to crank the plot along: on the anniversary of his death, she has a major freakout in the yard. Tebow comforts her as she tells him that the investigation into her brother’s death was inconclusive, although there have been rumors of friendly fire. But the real point of the scene is for him to be there for her so they can inch closer to doing the do. It’s uneasy.

At this point in the film, Schilling starts acting like a middle-aged housewife reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Apparently only now noticing Zefron’s superhunk status, she stands at the sink watching him unload a truck through the window, and AUDIBLY MOANS as he exerts himself. And when Stan Rizzo starts getting grabby on her in the yard and Tebow steps in to defuse the situation, it’s all Schilling can do to not jump him on the spot. Easy now, Taylor! You’ve got a kid and your grandma in the house!

They finally kiss, and she says it’s been a long time since that’s happened, and he says, “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute,” which, Jesus Christ Sparks, just kill me already and get it over with. After some more complications that I can’t be bothered to explain, they finally do it. Lindsay said “unf” aloud, and while I maintain that word is foul, it did apply. Hey now.

Since, as mentioned, the plot of this film is the same as Message in a Bottle, the same stupid question lingers over this whole affair: when will she find out about how he knew who she was? (Sub-question: why hasn’t he taken one of the DOZENS of opportunities he’s had since he got there to tell her about it?) Stan Rizzo forces the issue by breaking into Tebow’s shack and finding the pic. He plants all these ideas in Schilling’s head that maybe Tebow feels guilty for friendly firing on her bro, and maybe that’s why he pulled a Vanessa Carlton just to clean out her dog cages (euphemism very much intended).

I guess the SPOILERS begin now, but ugh give me a break. So Tebow agrees to leave, because she can’t trust him, but then he comes back for some reason. He does so right after Stan Rizzo shows up, pledging to be a better dad, which causes the kid to run away through the dark woods to his treehouse, which is conveniently located over a rickety bridge. Yada yada yada, the bridge collapses, Stan’s trapped under the treehouse with the kid, Tebow saves the kid and is going back to save Stan when the treehouse falls on him and he dies. That scene, by the way, was the “honorable mention” in this film’s list of craziest things.

And so conveniently, if awkwardly, the first major obstacle to Schilling and Tebow getting together is gone. The second is still the whole thing about her brother, and after seeing a picture of him, Tebow conveniently remembers that he did meet the guy and actually witnessed his brave, non-friendly-fire death (the first scene of the movie). I call BS on that. When the military investigates possibly friendly fire incidents, they interview everyone who was there, right? So Tebow would have been interviewed, and thus would have known the guy’s name, etc. But then of course the whole movie wouldn’t have happened.

So they have a meaningful chat about it, he leaves, she chases him, they embrace. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that Schilling had a boat that Tebow fixed (OF COURSE), so they go on that. Efron voiceovers, “Everyone has their own destiny. Not everyone makes the choice to follow it.” It makes no sense. But it’s just part one of the standard Sparks ending: clichéd voiceover, meaningful song, boat ride, exeunt, flourish.

How I felt after the movie ended: Sparks wants these movies to be about Big Ideas (hence the voiceovers), and it’s really awkward when, at certain points in the film, Taylor Schilling’s character becomes a mouthpiece for those Big Ideas. For instance, after she finds out about Efron finding the photo, she has an emotional talk with Blythe Danner about it. Danner says, “I think he was meant to find that photo,” and Schiling, who for some reason is all caught up in her theories about the nature of destiny and predestintation, accuses her grandmother of believing that her brother was “meant to” die so that Efron could find it.

What does that have to do with anything? First of all, she didn’t say that. And secondly, no one thinks like that in the moment. You just found out the guy you’ve been sleeping with had this photo of you that belonged to your brother. You’d be thinking about the logistics of the issue. Did this guy know my brother? How would he have gotten it? Can I trust my insane ex-husband, who brought all this to my attention? Do I love this guy enough to get over this weird coincidence? And so on. You wouldn’t be pondering the nature of predestination with your grandma.

This is why Sparks is so wrong when he says he writes “real, romantic drama.” Aside from the fact that his plots are often so torturously contrived as to inflict the maximum amount of emotional damage on the characters/audience, the fact of the matter is that he’s not even going for realism. He's trying to aim for something higher. He traffics not in the actual things that are true and meaningful and realistic about love, but rather in tears and lessons and those clichéd Big Ideas so that we will feel transformed. Nowhere among the many thousands of words I have used to describe the Sparks ethos will you find the word "real." Except as part of the phrase "real bad."

And so the seventh Sparks film has come and gone, and somehow I’m still alive. I am The Lucky One. Clichéd voiceover, meaningful song, boat ride, exeunt, flourish.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Second Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza.

The Second Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza.

Welcome, FsOTB, to the second annual Taste My Sad Oscar Sadstravaganza. Last year’s edition was one of the longest things any human being has ever posted on the Internet. I’m virtually certain that no one read all of it. Why are we back? Because we just can’t believe it ourselves.

For those of you who are new to the blog, here’s what I wrote last year by way of explaining what this is and why in God’s name this is happening:

I’ll be going through every category and picking my winners, but I’ll leave the decisions on the 'best' in each category to the actual Oscar voters (you’re welcome), and stick to a distinction that I feel uniquely qualified to bestow: 'saddest.' And if you can’t wait to see how I determine which film had the saddest sound editing this year… well you’ve come to the right place. 
So sit back, relax, crack open a beer or seven, and LET’S GET SAD.

Saddest Short Film, Live Action
The Shore
Time Freak
Tuba Atlantic

It’s for these short film categories that I’ll be doing the most research. And by research, I mean reading their IMDb plot summaries.

I rejected three of the films out of hand. The Shore, directed by Hotel Rwanda director Terry George, seems like a shoo-in from its pedigree, but is described as “equal parts hilarious and moving.” Can’t have any hilarity here! Time Freak (not starring Criss Angel, as I had hoped) is a comedy about time travel. Next. And Pentecost is about a mischievious Irish altar boy who has to serve Mass correctly or else “never watch his beloved Liverpool play again.” First of all, I was an altar boy. It’s not that hard. Second of all, what’s an Irish kid doing rooting for Liverpool? And third of all, as a devoted Everton supporter, I can’t get behind this. Pentecost loses.

The runner-up in this category is Raju, described on IMDb as follows: “A German couple adopts in Kolkata an Indian orphan. Their child suddenly disappears and they realize that they are part of the problem.” India + losing a child = quite sad. But I did giggle at the phrase “part of the problem,” which I’ve famously used to describe employees of Residential Property Management at the George Washington University. (Don’t worry about it.) But so anyway I can’t laugh during the plot summary and pick that movie to win, I don’t think.

The clear winner here is Tuba Atlantic, which I had hoped was about FOTB and tubaist (tubaer? tubasmith?) Erin McLean. I’ll just leave with you with the plot summary to explain why it wins: “Everybody is going to die one day. Oskar (70) is going to die in 6 days. He is now ready to forgive his brother for a disagreement years ago. Will he reach his brother, who he believes live on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, before it is too late?” Good LORD. It starts off with the phrase “Everybody is going to die one day.” Someone’s been reading Taste My Sad! (Note: I seriously don’t know if anyone has been reading Taste My Sad. Like, literally anyone. It’s very possible that no one will read this.)

Saddest Short Film, Animated
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
La Luna
A Morning Stroll
Wild Life

I didn’t bother reading the plot summary of one of these. Guess which one. I refuse to type that stupid title out again.

Sunday is about a boy who puts a coin on the train tracks (UGHH DON’T DO THAT), which apparently has “unfortunate and bizarre results for a passing bear.” I don’t know. It’s a French movie. Let’s just move on. La Luna is about a young boy on a boat ride at night with his grandparents and AYYYYYYYYY PAISAN CHE BELLA CANZONE. A Morning Stroll’s plot summary made me mad: “When a New Yorker walks past a chicken on his morning stroll, we are left to wonder which one is the real city slicker.” I feel like I would hate that movie.

Wild Life is our winner. “Calgary, 1909. An Englishman moves to the Canadian frontier, but is singularly unsuited to it. His letters home are much sunnier than the reality. Intertitles compare his fate to that of a comet.” Comets are the saddest of all the celestial objects. Bonus points for being set in a city that is also the title of a Bon Iver song. It’s a shame that that other acclaimed short animated film, Dingy Cabin in the Woods of Wisconsin, was not nominated.

Saddest Documentary, Short Subjects
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
God Is the Bigger Elvis
Incident in New Baghdad
Saving Face
The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Alright here we go. Documentaries are always sad. I’m already crying just looking at the titles!

We’ll dispense with God Is the Bigger Elvis, winner of the Most Ridiculous Title of Any Movie Ever award. It’s about Dolores Hart, an actress who quit acting to become a nun. Like the opposite of The Sound of Music, if Fraulein Maria had become an actress. The Barber of Birmingham’s title is pretty self-explanatory; it seems like a cool movie about a cool dude. 

But then the other three are just the saddest things I’ve ever heard. Incident in New Baghdad centers on an American soldier recounting the story of “the slaying of two Reuters journalists, along with a group of mostly unarmed men, on the streets of Baghdad by American attack helicopters in July 2007.” Yeesh. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is, as you’d expect, about Japanese people picking up the pieces of their lives after the tsunami. Oof. (It’s also about cherry blossoms, which is topical for us DC residents, amirite?)

But oh my good Lord does Saving Face sound sad. I thought, oh it’s about someone who committed a faux pas and tries to “save face” afterwards! So it’s a delightful comedy of manners that is also somehow a documentary. NO. It’s about women in Pakistan who have ACID THROWN IN THEIR FACES. WHAT. And I bet none of them turned to coin-wielding villainy like Harvey Dent did! I believe in Saving Face.

Saddest Documentary, Features
Hell and Back Again
If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory

Some of these I’ve heard of. I saw a trailer for Undefeated the other day, which looks like a real-life Friday Night Lights and therefore I’m going to see it and cry. But high school football, while quite emotional, can’t match some of the other entries in this category. Pina, directed by renowned sadmonger Wim Wenders, is about the choreographer Pina Bausch. I’ve seen some sad dances in my day, but, again, some perspective here. If A Tree Falls is about “the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's ‘number one domestic terrorist threat.’” Clearly the FBI hasn’t met my buddy Chich.

This is a two-horse race. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is about the West Memphis Three, wrongfully imprisoned for nearly twenty years until their recent release. Very sad. But on the other hand… they were just released! And also this is the third in a series of docs about them. What’s the last good threequel you saw? The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift is the correct answer. 

And so Hell and Back Again, about soldiers going to and returning from the war in Afghanistan, wins. Is this a makeup call from the last category, where I snubbed the war doc? That’s not for me to say.

Saddest Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Bring on the BIG-BUDGET FILMS. Oh by the way, how will we judge which film’s visual effects are the “saddest,” you ask? As arbitrarily as we do everything else on this blog.

All five of these films have legitimate claims for this award. The continued existence of the Transformers franchise is quite sad. And Hugo is about an orphan, or something, and maybe he saw mystical visions of his parents or something. Side note: I have not seen Hugo.

I also have not seen ROTPOTA, but I did consider it for this blog (“sad film about animal cruelty”). So it’s close. Real Steel is close too, because I cried during that movie. (Don’t worry about it.) But our winner is Harry Potter, because I can only imagine how sad-looking the visual effects were in the scene where Harry dies. Side note: I have not read the Harry Potter books.

Saddest Sound Editing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

Drive. If only because it’s really sad that this is the only category it’s nominated in. C’mon, Academy. (Also, many, many people are killed in that movie. Killing sounds = sad.)

Saddest Sound Mixing
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

A two-horse (GET IT) race between Dragon Tattoo (rape sounds are sad) and War Horse (war sounds are sad). I’ll go with War Horse, because horse whinnies, already sad on their own, must be way sadder in the context of war.

Saddest Original Song
The Muppets, “Man or Muppet”
Rio, “Real in Rio”

Muppets duh. That song is DEEP. “If I’m a man, that makes me a muppet of a man.” Words I can relate to.

Saddest Original Score
The Adventures of Tintin
The Artist
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
War Horse

The first nomination we’ve seen for The Artist, which is just way too happy-go-lucky to gain much traction here at TMS. Sorry, Frenchies. Hope all the Oscars will keep you warm. Also I have not seen any of these, except for The Artist, which I slept through the first half of. I am a model moviegoer. Give it to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, because the other movies’ scores are probably either whimsical or inspiring, and Tinker Tailor’s all Cold War-ish, right?

Saddest Makeup
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
The Iron Lady

The Brits love their makeup, apparently. Albert Nobbs is all repression and cross-dressing before it was in style, but I hear from reliable sources that The Iron Lady is very dementia-heavy. Dementia’s hard to beat around here.

Saddest Costume Design
The Artist
Jane Eyre

I hate that W.E. has as many nominations as Drive. UGHHH MADONNA GET OUT. Again, the foreigns dominate this category (three films set in Britain, one in France, one in Hollywood but made by a bunch of Frogs). I didn’t see it, but, in the previews for Jane Eyre, Jane looked a bit dowdy. Let’s go with it.

Saddest Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

These are all just blending together right now. What the hell constitutes sad art direction? Why am I doing this. Harry Potter again. Snape dies, right? I'm pretty sure I'm right about that one.

Saddest Editing
The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I define this one as “movie with the most cuts to sad things.” By that standard, The Descendants is our winner for sure. That dying wife got A LOT of screen time.

Saddest Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

I really wanted to see The Tree of Life, but I haven’t yet. I heard there were dinosaurs in it. DINOSAURS. Crazy shit. And I hear it’s melancholy and all that. But we’re long overdue for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Lots of shots of cold, bleak Sweden. Also, I think there’s been a rape up there! Side note: I have not seen or read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Saddest Foreign Language Film
In Darkness
Monsieur Lahzar
A Separation

Another one where I have to look up what they’re about! RESEARCH. And this category always features stiff competition. (As we all know, foreign people have things much worse off than we Americans do.)

The lightest of the five is Footnote, an Israeli film about a father and son who are both professors in Talmudic studies and have some sort of confrontation. Eh. It’s decently heavy. But this category has a high bar, and that ain’t cuttin’ it. Nor is the plot of Monsieur Lahzar, about an Algerian immigrant hired to replace an elementary school teacher who died tragically. Tragic deaths, yes, but apparently that happens before the main plot does. Sorry, Canadians.

The three remaining films are all TMS material. Bullhead is a Belgian film described as “an exciting tragedy about fate, lost innocence and friendship, about crime and punishment, but also about conflicting desires and the irreversibility of a man's destiny.” HEAVY. A Separation, which I hear is excellent, is about Iranian folks who have to decide whether to stay in Iran to take care of one of their parents (who has Alzheimer’s), or move to create a better life for their child. This is one of those films that’ll make me feel guilty for taking an hour to decide what to eat for lunch.

But step aside, folks: we’ve got a Holocaust film on our hands. In Darkness: a Polish film that tells “the true story of Leopold Soha who risks his own life to save a dozen people from certain death.” In the immortal words of Dirk Nowitzki: “Shut it down. Let’s go home.” (I could watch this video a hundred times in a row and laugh every time. Unreal. Take dat witchu.)

Saddest Animated Film
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots

Obviously Kung Fu Panda, right? No? It’s not sad? OK then. 

The two non-mainstream films duke it out for this one, and I think the winner is Chico & Rita. It’s about Cuban star-crossed lovers! Cuba is way sad. And plus A Cat in Paris just sounds like the name of an adorable YouTube video where they insert cats into scenes from Midnight in Paris.

Saddest Adapted Screenplay
The Descendants
The Ides of March
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Gotta be The Descendants. As mentioned earlier, Clooney talks to the dying wife a lot. It’s sadder than some computer reciting newfangled statistics, amirite Joe Morgan? (Zing.)

Saddest Original Screenplay
The Artist
Margin Call
Midnight in Paris
A Separation

A Separation, nosed out earlier by that Holocaust flick, takes this award. (See FOTB Joe Kirkwood’s guest post on Schindler’s List for discussion of phrases like “Holocaust flick.” THROWBACKKKKKK.) I’ll even overlook the fact that it’s not written in ENGLISH. I THOUGHT THIS WAS AMERICA, PEOPLE.

Saddest Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

Technically this award is for “Best Directing,” not “Best Director,” but I’m tweaking this a bit:  here we tackle the question of which film’s director is the saddest person. I will not allow the fact that I have never met any of these five men to stand in the way of judging how sad they are.

Scorsese is just a jolly old Italian man, having a great time, making 3D movies about French kids. He's lovin' life. The Frenchman’s probably going to win the actual thing, so he’s doing well too. And Payne’s a young guy, and while he’s made some sad movies in his day (i.e., About Schmidt), he got to hang out with George Clooney in Hawaii for several weeks. There’s no way they didn’t get up to some crazy awesome shit.

That leaves Malick, the notorious coot, and our man Woody. And in something of a surprise to those who love Woody’s movies, particularly the early, funny ones, the answer is clearly him. The man doesn’t give that many interviews, but in every single one he’s given for the past thirty years, his subject of choice is his intense, overwhelming fear of death, and his belief that all art is ultimately meaningless. Take it from someone who’s seen nearly all of his movies and read everything there is to read about the man: he’s probably not a hoot at dinner parties.

Saddest Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

Here we’re going by the performance, not how sad the people are. That was fun for one round, but I don’t really have any insight on Melissa McCarthy’s view on the human condition. I did enjoy the scene where she took a shit in the sink, though.

We’ll go with Janet McTeer. The Help ladies cancel each other out, like the two sides of a black-and-white cookie (racist?), and the other two are full of lolz. McTeer’s film is all about repression, and while I’ll probably never see it, I’m happy to (possibly wrongly) assume that her performance is fraught with sadness.

Saddest Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, Smash My Week with Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I don’t care that we covered EL&IC on the blog. Von Sydow was sadder in Hannah and Her Sisters (#WOODY). Christopher Plummer wins, for playing someone with cancer. I have not seen that movie yet and I desperately want to.

Saddest Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michele Williams, My Week with Marilyn

Some good candidates here: Viola Davis loves crying in movies, Rooney Mara gets raped, Michele Williams goes on to die tragically. But this is where it gets political: having just Nobbsed out in the Supporting Actress category, I’m gonna have to go with the coolest lady of all time, Meryl Streep. Again, I hear there’s a lot of dementia in that film, and we at the blog do love us some dementia.

Saddest Actor
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

I’m mainly sad that FOTB Michael Fassbender didn’t get a nod for his dongtastic performance in Shame, which, all dong jokes aside, was truly remarkable. The actual candidates each have their sad moments: Pitt, when his scrappy A’s keep losing the playoffs (SORRY BRO GO YANKEEEEEEEES); Dujardin, when he’s washed up and sets his apartment on fire; Bichir, when he’s reminded by reporters daily that he’s by far the least famous one in the group; and Oldman, when he doesn’t get there fast enough to save Rachel from being blown up by the Joker. But Clooney really got it done in that movie, a movie that devotees will recall I did not love, but featured a fine, sad performance from one of the sexiest men of all time. (I’m referring, of course, to Matthew Lillard. Oh, and George Clooney was good too.)

Saddest Picture
The Artist
The Descendants
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
The Help
Midnight in Paris
The Tree of Life
War Horse

Obviously, this award won’t go to the movie that made me saddest this year (that movie was Fast Five, which made me sad that it wasn’t five hours longer). It’s the saddest of these nine, two of which we’ve covered here on the blog. And despite Clooney’s best efforts, it’s extremely/incredibly difficult to beat a 9/11 picture in the sad department. (Yes I know that, not five minutes ago, I wrote the words "I don’t care that we covered EL&IC on the blog." Just leave me alone already.)

Congrats, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I didn’t like you, but I just gave you an arbitrary award.

I’m gonna go sleep for ten hours. Enjoy the Oscars, everyone!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Vow.

The Vow (Michael Sucsy, 2012)

It’s Valentine’s Day, folks, which means it's time for a new contest that I thought up literally one minute ago: y'all have the rest of the day to comment on this post or email us or Facebook us or tweet at us (good Lord I have a lot of outlets) and tell us why you should be the Official Valentine of the Blog (VOTB)! The winner will receive a shoutout in the next post and a signed picture of me crying.

Category: Sad Valentine’s Day Weekend movie. This movie made over $40 million at the box office this weekend. The price we men pay for the possibility of a little post-film business. Smh.

This is, of course, a sad film about amnesia. I think I’ve written about my fear of amnesia on the blog before, but I can’t remember. I know, right? Anyway, if I did, it would have had to do with The Muppets Take Manhattan and how that movie is terrifying to kids who don’t know that amnesia exists. It’s no big deal. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.

My familiarity with this issue: At last, we are finally getting the full taste of sad that we merely nibbled at when the trailer for this film was released back in November. I don’t know how we made it here alive.

My favorite part about this whole thing is the fact that everyone seems to assume this is a Nicholas Sparks adaptation. FOTB Ben Vipond sent me a blog post about the film and its hilariously bad reviews that basically just assumed that the movie was based on a Sparks novel, and referred to it throughout the post as such. (Here it is, BTW – it’s since been updated to correct the error.)

It’s an easy mistake to make, for a bunch of reasons: the marketing of the film, as detailed in our NMS take, which totally played up its leads’ Sparks bona fides; the Valentine’s Day Weekend release; and the fact that the title is a singular noun after the word “The” (The Notebook, The Rescue, The Guardian, The Wedding, The Choice, and that’s not even mentioning The Lastsong). I think even the real people on whose lives this film is based will forgive us for making that mistake. It’s like fake butter in the butter aisle. The difference is negligible.

Devotees will know my love for the female lead of this film, the lovely Rachel McAdams, but it’s important to note that the blog’s view on male lead Channing Tatum is evolving. (FOTB Pat Ambrosio, who may soon be developing a spinoff of the blog, to be entitled Taste My Tatum, will no doubt be overjoyed at this fact.) At first I dismissed Tatum as a ‘roided-out freak with the widest neck I had ever seen. And I’m not wrong about that, but… he is fairly charming! I thought he did a fine job on SNL, and 21 Jump Street looks like it might be pretty good. (He will also be in every other movie released this year.) Sure, maybe the man should enunciate more, but at a certain point it doesn’t really schlubcsusushahsbcsbs.

So! Two stars I either really like or kind of like. A silly trailer involving hijinks in a museum. A secondtrailer featuring the song “Enchated” by FOTB Taylor Swift. What’s not to like? I’ve got high hopes, folks!

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A car accident puts Paige (McAdams) in a coma, and when she wakes up with severe memory loss, her husband Leo (Tatum) works to win her heart again.”

What I thought of the movie: Here’s what sucks. I write the first parts of these blog posts before I see the movies. Sometimes I set up a little joke there, like a cliffhanger, before the plot summary. It’s one of my bits. And y'all see what I just did there, right? I was gonna say something like, “Yeah no that didn’t work out,” because obviously I didn’t actually think it was going to be any good.

But it wasn’t that bad. And that just ruined everything.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I liked The Vow. But I liked certain things about it, some of them way more than I thought I would. (I can only blame this on the fact that I have already written a blog post ridiculing it. But of course I was only ridiculing the way the film was marketed, and not the film itself. Which is an important distinction, all things considered.) Anyway. It was a bit simplistic and occasionally howl-inducing, but all in all it was just another mediocre film. Not nearly the calamity I was hoping it would be. (Plus, Channing Tatum's bare ass is involved. And I gotta tell you, it's a nice ass. I couldn't even get mad about it.)

It wasn’t awful because the story was not as conventional as I expected it to be. The tension in the film comes less from Rachel McAdams losing her memory and more from her PRE-FILM TRANSFORMATION: we learn that her character was once a rich whitey-white girl law student from the Chicago suburbs, and that she was engaged to some haircut played by Scott Speedman. At some point, she broke off contact with her folks, dropped out of law school and moved into the city to be a hipster artist type with Channing Tatum. But when she wakes up from her accident, her most recent memories are from the aforementioned rich whitey-white girl days, and so basically she has to choose between Channing Tatum, who she doesn’t remember, and her comfortable pre-hipster life. (We’ll talk about the hipster stuff later.) As plot contrivances go, it’s not all that objectionable.

The problem is that Rachel McAdams’s character is thoroughly unlikeable. For a while, we sympathize with her, because, you know, of the amnesia and all. But the choices she makes as the film progresses are just really annoying and dumb. If it weren't for the fact that I love Rachel McAdams, despite her recent proclivity for playing unsympathetic characters (see also: Midnight in Paris), I’d have been loudly rooting against her and rooting for Channing Tatum, who is just legit and cool for most of the time, to find some new hip girl to bed. Like, even Lana del Rey would have been preferable at certain parts of this movie.

But I don’t know! Somehow it kind of almost works. It’s not great, and it’s not deep, but it held my interest. It was better than your standard Sparks, to be sure.

How I related to the movie: OK the hipster thing. I’m not a fan. I feel like the hipster thing was in the script long before Tatum was attached, like when they were hoping for Joseph Gordon-Levitt to be in this. Or at least someone considerably more pencil-necked. So they have these three friends who wore stupid hats and clothes and acted dumb and I wanted them all to die. And that presented an issue, because McAdams’s choice, therefore, was between a soulless, Stepford Wives suburban nightmare, and an episode of New Girl. Which is a choice none of us should have to make. Luckily, they basically wrote out the friends as the film continued and focused more on Tatum’s earnestness, which was nice.

Here are some other things that were annoying, but somehow didn’t lead me to think that this was the worst film of all time as I had expected to:
  • This is the hat that Channing Tatum wears when he and McAdams meet. I don’t even have anything to say.
  • After she’s released from the hospital and reluctantly comes back home with him, he throws her a big surprise party with all of their hipster friends that she doesn’t remember. First of all, maybe having a bunch of people lie in wait to yell “SURPRISE” at someone who’s recovering from a massive head trauma isn’t the best idea. And second of all, UGHH GET THESE HIPSTERS OUTTTTT.
  • In the hospital, Rachel McAdams says to Channing Tatum, “I just wanted to verify a few things about me.” Which made me burst out laughing.
  • They make it very, very easy to hate the characters from McAdams’s past. Too easy. Sam Neill was just barely less evil than Chris Cooper’s character from The Muppets.
  • There’s some really terrible voiceover narration (covered in the post about the trailer). And I know I’ve said it dozens of times, but it’s worth nothing again how mumbly Channing Tatum is. He makes Tom Waits sound like the Cake Boss.

How I felt after the movie ended: God this is one of those where it seems like I hated it much more than I did. But I swear, sitting in that theater, I was able to overlook a lot of this shit. I can’t rationally explain it.

This all raises a lot of questions. Am I beginning to think that Channing Tatum is the next Stallone (like good early Stallone, basically Stallone in Rocky)? Am I still crushing hard on Rachel McAdams even as she actively tries to make me and the rest of America mad? Am I losing my edge? That’s not for me to say. All I can say is that I almost liked The Vow. Almost.  I'm not sure what I should do now.