Jon Cazares

Jon Cazares

Indie darling film director Steven Soderbergh officially “retired” from filmmaking in 2013 but since then has directed HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, Logan Lucky, and now the made in secret Unsane.

 

I mainly want to talk about Soderbergh’s process and less so review the film. This will be spoiler free for Unsane.

 

Soderbergh’s had a few mainstream hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich and the Academy Award winning Traffic but mostly he works on under the radar indie experimental films like Out of Sight, The Limey and the Solaris remake.  

 

He’s actually been quite prolific in the last few decades since his debut feature film Sex, Lies and Videotapes wowed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, winning multiple awards. He’s directed 30 something features since then and produced (which means he actually worked on producing the film) or executive produced (in where he “puts up the money”) another 30 something movies.

 

And he continues to experiment. Sometimes he uses non professional actors, sometimes he releases a movie without a marketing campaign, he was the first mainstream director (that I’m aware of) that released a feature film on the theaters and on VOD at the same time. He is often quoted in interviews saying he’s not a storyteller and he doesn’t make movies because he feels he has a story to tell. He makes movies as an exercise in storytelling form. And form is what he plays around with in many of his films, offering unconventional ways of telling his story.

 

Soderbergh’s 1999 revenge film, The Limey, starring Terrence Malick comes to mind. What could have been a fairly straight forward revenge thriller turns into something quite different with an extraordinary sound design / editing technique employed during the production. The film often uses dialogue clips from previous scenes or flash forward sound clips from future scenes, juxtaposed with the current scene you are watching. This is used primarily to punctuate a scene with emphasis but it also creates a rhythmic sound structure of the film which really has to be seen and heard to fully appreciate. Anyway, my point being - no one else had ever done anything like that and overwhelming critical praise suggests it was quite effective.

 

And, one would assume, if a director finds something that works, why not use the technique again? Because that’s just not what Soderbergh is interested in. He used his sound juxtaposition as an exercise in form for that one film and then moved on to other experiments.

 

Which brings me around to Soderbergh’s latest experiment, his newly released film, Unsane, starring Claire Foy (the Queen on Netflix’s The Crown). Soderbergh decided to shoot the entire feature film on the iPhone 7. Now, I know he’s not the first director to do this (but he might be the first "big name" director to do so). There are a handful of films I can think of shot on an iPhone in recent years, 2015’s Tangerine being the most popular, and also the Oscar winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man.

 

Actually, Searching for Sugar Man wasn’t entirely shot on an iPhone. Some of it was shot on 8mm film but when the director ran out of film he used iPhone app called 8mm Vintage Camera to finish portions of scenes.

 

I can see the appeal of shooting on an iPhone. Inexpensive. No clunky rig set-ups, no apple boxes, no grip tape, no ten crew members just to track and push your dolly. Soderbergh acted as director, director of photography and camera operator. And he was able to just follow the actors around with relative ease.

 

The actors loved it, of course. Without all that excess gear and crew and Soderbergh allowing scenes to go on and on the actors were fully immersed in the scenery and the story.

 

Claire Foy talks about the process in an interview she gave for Entertainment Weekly:

 

"The thing I loved about it was that Steven was in the room, he was operating , so it really felt like he was there, watching everything, being part of it, which felt really amazing. I've never had that before … We shot it in 10 days, and it meant Steven had huge amounts of freedom in where he could put the camera, what he could do with the camera, what he could try and then get rid of … He was just experimenting all the time. We shot it entirely chronologically. It just moved. It just moved a lot. And it had an energy, and a rhythm, and a momentum to it that felt fresh, and unrehearsed, and full of life.”

 

Soderbergh was equally in love with the iPhone shoot telling appleinsider.com:

 

“I have to say the positives for me really were significant and it's going to be tricky to go back to a more conventional way of shooting. The gap now between the idea and the execution of the idea is just shrinking and this means you get to try out more ideas so I wish I'd had this equipment when I was 15."

 

Later saying that iPhone's 4K footage looks like "velvet" and calling the device a "game changer."

 

Well, I’m all for experimentation in art and storytelling. But experimentation doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” And, Unsane, for all its form experimentation - is okay. Unlike 2015’s beautiful looking Tangerine, which does not look like it was shot on an iPhone (but was), Unsane actually looks like it was shot … well … on an iPhone.

 

The Highlights: It certainly has a gritty, voyeuristic feel to the visuals. It’s almost like you’re watching this awful thing happening in real time on security footage. So, that’s creepy. Which, at times is effect since Unsane is a thriller.

 

The Lowlights: A standard iPhone doesn’t allow you to play much with deep focus. You can pretty much only create a flat space look. Another problem is that the iPhone lens can’t handle close ups, sadly, it “fish eyes” the edges of the screen rounding them out. Again, sometimes this works but most of the time it just looks ridiculous. The blacks all get crushed and the lights are overly pixelated.

 

So when Soderbergh says the final product looks like “velvet” I seriously don’t understand what he’s talking about. Unsane, quite literally, looks like your kid brother shot a movie in the basement using his iPhone.

 

Velvet it is not.

 

That being said, sometimes the crushed blacks and pixelated lights work in favor to the story. The movie is, after all, about a woman going insane (or is it?).

 

Unsane is kind of review proof. It’s experimental on so many levels that some folks will just like it for what it is, and some will not. I kind of like a lot of it but I also wish Soderbergh had just used a film camera. Super 16mm would have been perfect for the tone. But using super 16 would have been a story telling choice and not a “form experiment,” which is what Soderbergh wants.

 

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the problems with Unsane have anything to do with what camera was used. The problems, like the problems with many, many horror films, is that there are too many dopey script choices.

 

And by dopey, I don’t mean silly because Unsane, to its credit, goes out of its way to be believable and I appreciate the tone of the film.

 

I could also say bad acting is a problem with many horror films but that’s certainly not anything Unsane has to worry about. All of the actors are quite believable. Even when they’re screeching ridiculous lines.

 

When “form” isn’t getting in the way, Unsane is as effective as it tries to be. And there are lots of things I admire about the film. But “shot on the iPhone,” isn’t one of them.

 

Unsane official trailer.

Craigslist has just announced they will shut down its hugely popular personals section in response to the Senate passing H.R.1865, FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act).

 

Posted this morning to their website:

 

“US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA,” seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

 

Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

 

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!”

 

Basically, this means that websites such as Craigslist could be held legally responsible for whatever kind of illegal sex work interactions users take part on their website. The problem here being is that much of said sex work is between consenting adults and poses no danger to either party. Sex work should not be a crime.

 

Yes, of course there are horror stories to be found. There is no end to the amount of violence against women you can find in the country and online. So I understand the general idea behind the bill - to protect women. But, maybe … also … to control women. A little bit. Just sayin.

 

Best case scenario, this bill is designed to curb the growing online sex traffic industry and some might feel that right there to be a moral victory. And if you feel that way - fine. Have at it. And if it does protect people - that’s great news! Personally, I don’t have a problem with consensual adults engaging in sex acts - paid or otherwise. And neither should the Senate.

 

If FOSTA was a bill fighting underage sex trafficking that would be another story. Underage sex trafficking is a huge crime and often involves kidnapping, slavery and brutality against children & teenage girls and boys. The Senate should be specifically tackling that issue and not generally going after adult sex workers who may or may not be (but probably are) consenting.

 

Much has been written about backpage.com and its blatant sex trafficking and many believe FOSTA to be a direct reaction to this site, specifically. But there has been a lot of controversy that backpage.com participates in underage sex trafficking. Again, underage sex trafficking is a serious crime and those caught working in such a field should go to jail for a long time. Or worse.

 

It does not appear there is evidence that Craigslist was purposely allowing underage sex trafficking on their site. That being said, I understand why Craigslist made the decision they did. They could be held legally actionable if consenting sex workers use their site to find clients. It looks like Reddit altered their “content policy” this morning too, posting:

 

“We want to let you know that we have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including:

  • Firearms, ammunition, or explosives;
  • Drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, or any controlled substances (except advertisements placed in accordance with our advertising policy);
  • Paid services involving physical sexual contact;
  • Stolen goods;
  • Personal information;
  • Falsified official documents or currency

When considering a gift or transaction of goods or services not prohibited by this policy, keep in mind that Reddit is not intended to be used as a marketplace and takes no responsibility for any transactions individual users might decide to undertake in spite of this. Always remember: you are dealing with strangers on the internet.”


For more about fighting underage sex trafficking visit the unicef page here.

UNICEF - the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.

 

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World's last known male rhino dies

The last male white rhino has died. For a long while Sundan, the 45 year old gentle rhino lived in captivity at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. He, his daughter Najin and his granddaughter, Fatu are guarded 24 hours a day because they belong to a subspecies of rhinoceros on the verge of extinction.

 

Rhinos, you see, are targeted by poachers who believe that the horns cure various ailments. According to www.savetherhino.org:

 

“Rhino poaching has escalated in recent years and is being driven by the demand for rhino horn in Asian countries, particularly Vietnam. It is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine but more and more commonly is used as a status symbol to display someone’s success and wealth.”

Later when talking about the “ailments” rhino horn cures:

 

“According to traditional Chinese texts, such as Li Shih-chen’s 1597 medical text Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu, the rhino horn has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years and is used to treat fever, rheumatism, gout, and other disorders. It also states that the horn could also cure snake bites, hallucinations, typhoid, headaches, carbuncles, vomiting, food poisoning, and “devil possession.” (However, it is not, as commonly believed, prescribed as an aphrodisiac).”

Whether it is true or not that rhino horns can cure ailments (but, probably not), the belief they can has brought the species to its knees. Conservationists have spent decades trying to save the white rhino but now, with the death of the last known male the future for their species is doubtful.

Dr. Steve Ngulu, the veterinarian in charge of Sunday told reporters that they collected sperm from Sudan and other long dead males but the problem is that the only two surviving female white rhinos have medical problems of their own - one is sterile and the other is not able to carry a calf to full term.

 

Dr. Ngulu told reporters, "The only other option that we have to have a pure northern white rhino baby is to retrieve or to do something we call ovum pick-up, collect eggs from the females."

 

Which brings all sorts of medical complications and doesn’t even guarantee that new born calf would be male or that it would survive as it would have to be implanted in the non sterile female and delivered mid term.

 

Extinction of the gentle white rhino seems imminent.


Click here to learn more about Save the rhino.

 

In China, government censors are struggling to keep up with an incident that occurred this week at the National People’s Congress (NPC). Shanghai based reporter, Liang Xiangyi, could not contain her eye rolling disgust at a fellow reporter’s softball question.

As a quick reminder, China is a communist republic. And the state has strict control over what news outlets (and internet outlets) may or may not do or say.

The National People’s Congress is a staged, scripted event where Chinese politician pretend to vote on policy in order to “fool” the world into seeing how democratic they are. The event is carefully choreographed and reporters are specifically selected to ask prepared questions that the delegates can easily answer. Many Chinese are sick to death of state run fakery.

Enter, Zhang Huijun, who works for American Multimedia Television (AMTV), an L.A. based company with ties back to China’s state media. And then, at the NPC, she is called on to ask her question. So, first of all, she is clearly just being called on to make it look as if China is ceding the floor to a “foreign” journalist. So, already - barf! But then, things get a little crazy when delightful Miss Xiangyi, standing right next to Huijun can’t take it any longer.

Liang Xiangyi, can not believe the ridiculously long, softball question posed by Huijun. Seriously, it goes on for forty five second! Which is a ridiculously long time for a live question to linger! (As a note, the carefully scripted response was only half as long as the question). During Huijun’s question, Liang, wearing the blue jacket, looks Huijun up and down like, “Wait! Who the F are you even?” Then, towards the end of Huijun’s tedious and not terribly relevant question, Xiangyi just -  can’t - even. Quickly followed by the epic eye roll, head turn! 

The problem here is that Chinese reporters are required to … well … obey. And Xiangyi’s eye roll was captured live on television to a huge audience. And Chinese censors couldn’t have anyone expressing disgust at their fake parliamentary proceedings. They had to do something!

I mean, God forbid anyone see right through their fakery and express disgust.

Well, Chinese censors went to work to scrub any and all bits of the eye roll, but they had a hard time keeping up. Videos of the epic eye roll were seen and shared by millions. Thousands of memes, GIF’s and parodies flooded China’s internet and Miss Xiangyi was bombarded with online support as many Chinese offered a collective, “Yes, we’re sick of state run lies, too!”

I do not speak Mandarin but the NT Times has a nice piece on the event including a full translation of the question.

But still - that eye roll, man.

Well played!  

 

 

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RIP: Dr. Stephen Hawking

Beloved physicist Stephen Hawking passed away early Wednesday morning. He was 76 years old. Hawking long suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), aka, “Lou Gehrig's disease.” He was diagnosed in his early twenties and doctors gave him 3 years to live. The neurological disease affects the nerve cells responsible for controlling voluntary muscle movement. And the disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse as time passes. There is no cure and it is known to ravage bodies quickly. So when doctors told Dr. Hawking that he had 3 years to live, that was a pretty fair estimate.

 

Instead, Dr. Hawking lived with ALS for 55 years even though it reduced his muscle control such that he could only blink his eyes and twitch a finger. He retained his mental faculties and became a giant in his field. How did Stephen Hawking live so long with ALS? According to King’s College clinical neurology professor Nigel Leigh, it was probably because D. Hawking was diagnosed so young. In the British Medical Journal Leigh states, “We have found that the survival in younger patients is strikingly better and is measured in many years - in some cases more than 10.”

 

From my limited understanding of the medical research behind ALS it sounds as if most of those with ALS become symptomatic in their 40’s or later, and then don’t live long. The younger you become symptomatic the longer you can survive. That being said, living 55 years with ALS seems like something of a miracle.

 

Hey, wasn’t that ice bucket challenge thing all about ALS?

 

It was! I’m glad you remember. I’m sure many of you recall the ice bucket challenge (IBC) from 2014. A challenge where you pour an icy bucket of water over your head OR you donate money to ALS research OR you do both. It quickly went viral with celebrities piling up to perform their version of the IBC.  Patrick Stewart’s was my favorite.  The viral challenge was deemed a colossal success and raised $115 million for ALS research. Here is the video of Stephen Hawking and his family participating in the IBC.

 

Much has been written about Professor Hawking, movies have been made, documentaries have been produced, he’s authored best selling books, he’s been published in many, many science journals and magazines. I will leave it up to you to find them.

 

ALS ravaged Dr. Hawking’s body but thankfully left his mind intact. And what a great mind it was. Dr. Hawking, I will always remember you, as yourself, on Star Trek: TNG.

 

Rest in peace.

 

A few words from his friends and colleges from their twitter accounts:

 

Dr. Bill Nye (Science Guy):

 

While here on Earth, Dr. Hawking made pondering the cosmos and our place within it commonplace. The extraordinary became everyday. Although his time was brief, his work changed the world.”

 

Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson:

 

“His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it's not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.”

 


Matt Selman, Executive Producer The Simpsons:

 

View image on Twitter

 

“Farewell to Stephen Hawking, the most intelligent guest star in the brief history of The Simpsons.”

 

Official Big Bang Theory account:

 

“In loving memory of Stephen Hawking. It was an honor to have him on The #BigBangTheory. Thank you for inspiring us and the world.”

                       



More about Stephen Hawking. 

 

Learn more about ALS.

 

Donate to the ALS Association.

 

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump said that if I voted for Hillary Clinton - I’d be stuck with a criminal president under constant federal investigation from day one! Turns out he was right! I voted for Hillary Clinton and now I’m stuck with a criminal president under federal investigation since day one!  - viral meme, 2017 - author unknown.

 

Republican President Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the conservative christian vote and yet we find him neck deep in another infidelity scandal. He was married to his first wife Ivana Trump from 77-92. Donald cheated on her a bunch (including with upcoming wife number two) and the rocky marriage came to a harsh ending. And it wasn't just about the cheating. Let’s not forget that in Ivana's 91 deposition she accused Donald Trump of physically abusing her up to and including one case where he ripped out fistfuls of her hair (for disobeying him) and another where he sexually assaulted after they had separated.

 

Wife number two: Marla Maples (92-99)

 

Shortly after his divorce from Ivana, Donald Trump marries his long time mistress. Of course, right before the wedding he tells People magazine he would “never marry Maples” because he has “too many other girlfriends” to look after. Well, I’m sure you will be shocked to learn that, reportedly, Donald Trump was extremely unfaithful to Maples. Then, in a moment of extreme hypocrisy, Trump decides to divorce Maples when he finds her “together” with one of their longtime bodyguards. Message clear - Donald is allowed to cheat, Donald’s wife - is not.

 

Third wife: Melania Trump. 2005 - present.  

 

It’s recently been revealed that porn star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 to hush-hush her affair with Donald Trump while his wife Melania was pregnant with their son Barron. A second story has now come out that Donald Trump had a 2006 several month long affair with another porn star, Karen McDougal. Ronan Farrow broke the story for the New Yorker on Feb 16, 2018.  

 

But that’s not all! Nineteen other women have come forward alleging stories of sexual harassment and / or sexual assault by the current president. That’s nineteen women alleging that from the 80’s up to as late as 2013 Donald Trump forced them into non consensual sexual encounters.

 

Right now I really want to say - do you know how much Fox News and Republicans would have lost their shit on President Obama had he been on his third marriage, had multiple stories of cheating against him and then had nineteen additional women alleging sexual misconduct against him?

 

I mean, seriously? Can you imagine? There would have been conservative rage aneurysms like the world has never seen.

 

Of course, obviously - I don’t need to say “what do you think conservatives would have said if Obama did it”  because - President Obama wouldn’t have done anything like that!

 

President Obama: one spouse, zero sex scandals, zero assault allegations against him, zero abuse allegations against him. Conservative christians - hate him!

 

President Trump: third spouse, dozens of sex scandals, multiple assault allegations against him, multiple abuse allegations against him. Conservative christians - love him!

 

Multiple cases of fraud have dogged president Trump for decades, there are federal investigations into him for election tampering and an endless backlog of fraudulent business dealings weigh him down, gross nepotism has created a WH that multiple sources report is “chaotic” and “nonfunctional” and a cabinet so corrupt they are dropping like flies.

 

How many over all scandals has President Trump had in year one of his presidency? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? I honestly can’t remember. It’s too hard to keep up. I am scandal weary and he still has another three years.   

 

I know my conservative allies across the aisle really want to believe that President Obama was a foreign Muslim spy in charge of the Illuminati. After all, you read it on www.hateragemoronsforever.com - so it must be true! And go on ahead and continue to pretend that the reason you hate him is because he is a foreign Muslim spy coming after your guns! Because we know it's probably that other reason - something about the color of his skin? Maybe?

 

Anyway, what is actually true is that we currently have a President with ties to a real and legitimately evil foreign power. A foreign power that actively works against the best interests of the United States. That's true news. As opposed to fake news such as "Obama is a Muslim spy" and "Clinton family uses local pizza parlor to sell underage sex slaves."

 

But, you know - thankfully, we didn’t end up with Hillary in office - what what that email scandal of hers! We sure dodged a bullet there! (Note the sarcasm).

 

Of course, turns out -  Gov. Pence was doing the exact same thing!

 

And Pence was hacked by parties unknown!

 

And Pence shared all sorts of sensitive matters and homeland security issues in those emails.

 

On his unsecured AOL account.

 

At this time my conservatives allies are all uttering the battle cry they learned so well during the 16’ election campaign - Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up! #amiright?

 

That’s totally what they’re saying.

 

Right?

"I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider."

 

Frances McDormand’s closing words to her Best Actress acceptance speech left many folks, including me, to wonder - what the F! is an inclusion rider? So I looked it up!

 

The idea comes from Stacy Smith during her 2016 TED talk. Smith is the founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the U of So. Cal and has studied data on diversity (and lack there of) in films produced in the US from 2007 until today. Her fifteen minute speech is well worth watching although the results will probably not shock you.

 

Diversity in US films is - well - doesn’t exactly represent the diversity of the country. In fact, it’s not even close. Her data shows that a very small margin of speaking roles, crew members and directors are women, people of color or members of the LGBT.  

 

From Smith’s talk:

 

Across the top 100 films of just last year (2015), 48 films didn't feature one black or African-American speaking character, not one. 70 films were devoid of Asian or Asian-American speaking characters that were girls or women. None. Eighty-four films didn't feature one female character that had a disability. And 93 were devoid of lesbian, bisexual or transgender female speaking characters.”

 

And later, talking about the ethnicity of the directors in the several hundred top grossing films from the last eight years,

 

“…800 films, 2007-2015, 886 directors. Only 4.1 percent are women. Only three are African-American or black, and only one woman was Asian.”

 

One of her solutions is to hire more women behind the camera and, as her data suggests - women are just better at hiring a diverse cast and crew. Another solution is to have A-list actors demand an “inclusion rider,” which is a clause in the actor’s contract that demands that the crew and the cast be more equally represented in regards to women, people of color and LGBT folk.

 

Smith’s exact wording on the inclusion rider stipulation:

 

“Second solution is for A-list talent. A-listers, as we all know, can make demands in their contracts, particularly the ones that work on the biggest Hollywood films. What if those A-listers simply added an equity clause or an inclusion rider into their contract? Now, what does that mean? Well, you probably don't know but the typical feature film has about 40 to 45 speaking characters in it. I would argue that only 8 to 10 of those characters are actually relevant to the story. Except maybe "Avengers." Right? A few more in "Avengers." The remaining 30 or so roles, there's no reason why those minor roles can't match or reflect the demography of where the story is taking place. An equity rider by an A-lister in their contract can stipulate that those roles reflect the world in which we actually live.”

 

And so that, ladies and gentlemen is exactly what Frances McDormand meant in her speech.

 

The 90th annual Motion Picture Academy Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, March 4th, with show host Jimmy Kimmel leading the way.  Here is list of all the nominees. As someone who graduated from film school and freelanced in “the biz” on and off for twenty years, the Oscars once held a special place in my heart. I never cared for the glamor of it all, and “What are you wearing?” is the most vapid question I can think of. No, it was my pure love of cinema that drew me and forty million of my closest TV watching friends to Oscar night. And for a long time I believed that the Academy Awards always - got it right!

 

But now, “meh” - I don’t really care that much. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch them. And then, like so many years past, will be unable to recall who won best actor, best picture, best adapted screenplay in, like, three months.

 

Perhaps the failing memory of age is why I can’t remember recent Oscar winners. Perhaps it is the dumbed down formulaic construction of Hollywood movies that make them all mediocre and there for - quite forgettable. Maybe it’s a combination of both.

 

I used to think the Oscars would go to - you know - the actual best actor, actress or movie - in each category. Isn’t that the idea? It’s just not true though, Academy voters rarely vote for “the best” of anything. Instead they vote for their friends. They vote for sentimental reasons. They get too get caught up in politics and targeted marketing campaigns sway their minds. Many voters don’t even watch all the movies that are nominated despite getting free screener copies of all of them. Many older voters don’t “get” movies that young folks make. The Oscars is nothing more than a popularity contests where, occasionally, and quite by accident - voters select the best choice in any given category.

 

Do you know how many times movies win the “Best Screenplay” award because voters are like, “I should probably vote for this for Best Picture but I’m not going to so I’ll just give it a screenplay prize.”

 

Do you know how many times an actor loses for a performance that should have earned them an Oscar only to win the following year for a lesser performance because voters go, “Whoops. I really should have voted for him last year - guess I’ll just do it this year.”

 

About fifteen years ago,  maybe longer, the Hollywood Reporter started a “Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot” column. Usually they would find four voting members of the Academy - an actor (or actress), a producer, a writer and a director. And, given total anonymity have the four voters say who they are voting for and why.

 

Here is this year’s, “Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot.”  A few samples:

 

Dunkirk looked great, but it was a little confusing, there wasn't enough of an emotional thread, and the drone of the airplane through the whole fucking movie just drove me crazy. For me it just didn't fully work.”

“... I grew to dislike Lady Bird because of its fucking social media campaign. They pounded the drum too much. They put a magnifying glass on everything — like, how they shot the scene at the airport in one take. They shot the scene at the airport in one take because they fucking stole it!” (“Stole it” means they didn’t have permission to shoot there and did it quickly before getting caught).

 

Talking about best director:

 

“Christopher Nolan got involved with a huge undertaking [Dunkirk], but he made a confusing film, so he failed. [Jordan Peele's] Get Out is well done, but let's not get carried away.”

 

And so on and so forth. To be honest, this one is a bit tame by previous standards. There is usually more swearing, racism, sexism, finger pointing and laughing at ridiculous nominations. I remember one year a long time ago a voter saying they flat out hate Jim Carrey and would never vote for him in anything he ever does. Ever. No matter what. Probably in reference to Man in the Moon, or Truman or Eternal Sunshine...

 

Um. Okay. But that kind of invalidates the idea that the Oscar goes to the “best of.” Sure, a lot of voting for a “best of” is subjective and your “best of” might be different than my “best of.” But much of it is objective. Consider this - who is the better actress - Meryl Streep or Paris Hilton?

 

You can argue subjectivity as much as you want but there is a quantifiable difference between the two and we know it. Now, if I were to ask you - who is the better actress - Tilda Swinton or Cate Blanchett - well, um … that’s a little more difficult.  And now who gave a better performance - Tilda in movie A or Cate in movie B?

 

We are now arguing degrees of 1% and in that scenario, coming up with "who’s better" is, frankly, kind of silly. But that’s precisely what award shows do. Year after year. Sometimes Academy voters get it right. Often times they don’t. I don’t remember who else was nominated for Best Actress in 2010 and I don’t need to look it up because - I guarantee you that each and every one of them gave a better performance than Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.

 

And it’s not because Sandra Bullock is incompetent. She’s not. She’s a very adequate actress. She has a lot of skill. She knows how to hit marks and find her light and says her lines. I certainly wouldn’t call her talented. Meryl Streep is talented. Sandra Bullock is adequate.

 

And Bullock should not be an Academy Award winning actress. But she is because she is very well liked amongst her peers. And when they saw their charming, lovely friend Sandra Bullock on the ballot, they overwhelmingly voted for her. Not because she gave the best performance of the year by an actress. No. They voted for her because they personally like her. A lot (and she really does seem to be a stand up person. I mean, did you even see her acceptance speech at the Razzie Awards for worst actress of the year?! You should). Anyway, her friends voted for her to win an Oscar because they universally thought, “When is dear Sandra ever going to get another chance?” Which means all the other great actress performances that year both nominated and un-nominated lost out to Hollywood nepotism.

 

So, while I moderately enjoy the much too long Oscar awards, and I’m occasionally surprised by a few excellent nominations and wins, I’m usually underwhelmed by the final result.

 

That being said, this year there really is no clear front runner. The Shape of Water has the most nominations and that usually means it will win the most awards. But the various end of the year movie awards shows have divided up the movies, actors, directors and screenwriters to multiple films and people.

There are also a lot of milestones to be seen at the Oscars this year:

  • The first woman to be nominated in the cinematography category - Rachel Morrison for Mudbound. (Although, hopefully Roger Deakins finally wins for Blade Runner 2049. Sorry Rachel).
  • The first transgender director to be nominated - Yance Ford for feature documentary Strong Island.
  • First black writer / director / producer to be nominated for all three in the same year - Jordan Peele for Get Out.

 

All great! Baby steps in the right direction!

 

And maybe this is the year where Academy voters honestly cast their vote without pride or prejudice. Maybe this is the year where they get it all right!

 

But I won't hold my breath. I’m now "Oscar cynical" enough to just expect that Academy voters will, you know - disappoint and get it wrong.

 

And I still do not fucking care what they are wearing.

 

On Monday, while speaking about gun control to a gathering of US governors at the White House, President Trump claimed he would have rushed into Stoneman Douglas High School (FL) to stop shooter Nikolas Cruz from attacking his former school and killing 17. “I really believe I’d run in there, even if I didn’t have a weapon, and I think most of the people in this room would have done that too,” Trump told the governors.  

 

*sigh*

 

Rich, safe, white man Donald Trump would SO NOT have run into that school. The very comment makes me eye roll to Pluto. Donald Trump actually had a chance to show combat bravery during the Vietnam war. He was in the draft. And now he’s being called “Five deferment draft dodger Donald Trump” by military members, some of whom now serve in Congress and the Senate.

 

If you are unfamiliar with President Trump’s case, he, like many other (mostly white) middle to upper class men had plenty of legal ways to opt out of the Vietnam draft. President Trump received four student deferments while he attended University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and a fifth medical deferment for “bone spurs in his heels.”

 

Um, okay. His recent White House medical examination, which passed him with flying colors - don’t mention any bone spurs in the President’s heels but, whatever.

 

Rich, white male easily dodges draft - nothing new.

 

In a 2017 interview with the ladies of The View, Sen. John McCain threw some shade at President Trump’s deferments saying that Trump, “found a doctor that would say that he had a bone spur,” to avoid the draft.

 

Later in the interview he followed up, “I don’t consider him so much a draft dodger as I feel the systems was so wrong that certain Americans could evade their responsibilities to serve the country.”

 

In a separate interview a few days after, McCain further clarified. “One aspect of the conflict, by the way, that I will never ever countenance is that we drafted the lowest-income level of America, and the highest-income level found they had a bone spur. That is wrong. That is wrong. If we are going to ask every American to serve, every American should serve.”

 

Obviously, Donald Trump is not the only person to take student deferments but the point being - he was not going to go to a war zone and risk his life and so he found a legal way out of the draft.

 

And yet, for some reason - we should expect he would rush - unarmed - into a school during an active shooting?

 

I call bullshit.



I mean, did you hear that there was an actual “good guy with a gun” at the school? Apparently, there was an armed sheriff at the school while the shooting was active. The sheriff took up position outside the building, but never entered.  The trained, armed, armored sheriff who was stationed at the school didn’t run into the building during the attack (he has since resigned)! That’s right, the oft repeated, “All you need to stop a bad buy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” took a slap to the face.

 

If trained armed folk won’t rush into a building while an active shooting is happening, I find it doubtful, and frankly, insulting to my intelligence, that President Trump expects us to believe he would rush into a building where bullets are flying.

 

Don’t get me wrong - I’m not surprised President Trump made the claim! He is, after all, by self admission - pretty much the best at everything. And stable. And really intelligent. And we know this because he reminds us every chance he gets. Again, I'm not surprised he made the claim - but there is no way in hell he would ever actually do it.

 

Anyway. The sheriff on site is being vilified as a coward. Anyone with reason and common sense knows exactly why that sheriff didn’t enter the building - fear. Yes, he should have gone in to help! That’s exactly why he was stationed there. But he feared for his life. And perhaps he thought about his family and he didn't want his own family to grow up without a father / husband. And so he didn’t go in.

 

President Trump, armed or not, would feel the same fear - and run the opposite direction.

 

Any by the way, did you know that the police do not have a constitutional duty to protect you? True story, man. Google that sad news up. The police do not have to help you if you are in danger! Which means said sheriff, who did not enter the building to assist those kids - did nothing illegal.

 

Despite that, I’m willing to suspect most of us are on the same page, - the sheriff on site should have gone inside and killed the hell out of the shooter. Or died trying.

 

But that’s easy for us to say from the comfort of our couch.  

 

The law may not require police to assist people in danger but they should do it anyway, and many of them do - because it’s moral, and just and right.

 

And those kids needed help. The onsite sheriff failed them. And President Donald Trump wouldn't have helped them, either.

International sensation Fergie has apologized for her sultry, jazzy, downtempo take on the National Anthem - opening the NBA All-Star Game. If you have not heard it, you should take a two minutes and listen. Fergie took a beating on social media for her version of the Star Spangled Banner. Even stars didn’t hold back. SNL’s Leslie Jones tweeted, “Meanwhile back in the states... I leave for a couple of days and y’all lose your muthafucking mind!! Why did this happen? Not everyone supposed to do this y’all! You might as well should have ask me to sing. Wtf?!”

 

I must admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of Fergie’s version, either. But then I thought - hell, at least she took a chance. And that’s awesome, because you can’t make great art without taking chances. So, good for her. That being said - her rendition is still awkward. I’ve read that she was, perhaps, trying to emulate Marvin Gaye’s 1983 version of the Star Spangled Banner.  I just listened Gaye’s take on the Anthem. Gaye’s version is also odd and not for me.

 

I’m not really going to go into if the Star Spangled Banner is racist, or not. Much has been written about that and if you want to learn more, you are one Google search away (but verse three, which is seldom sung, is pretty racist).

 

The Star Spangled Banner has a specific musical tone. Stray too far away and people get angry. Stray really far away and people get really angry. But, again, art can never be great art unless it has the capacity to anger, or frighten people. So, at the very least, I get what she was trying to do.

 

Fergie has since apologized, saying, “I've always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem, and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA. I'm a risk-taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn't strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best."

 

Her apology is also getting roasted but honestly, I’m fine with it. It’s just a song. And it was only a basketball game.

 

Though, to be honest, I actually thought Rosie O'Donnell's 1990 HATED comedic take on the song was … well, kind of funny. Not super funny. But kind of funny. And, obviously - not for everyone. She sang it at a baseball game. Her performance lampooned how fans behave during baseball games. And after all, they hired fucking Rosie O’Donnell - to sing! You know - professional comedian, satirist and performance artist Rosie O’Donnell. Honestly, what the hell were they expecting?

 

Look, all I’m saying is, I get there is a history to the Star Spangled Banner. And a tradition. And some folks want that history and tradition to be taken very, very seriously.

 

Fair enough.

 

But … it’s only a song, after all. Fergie’s version of the song was fine. So was Marvin Gaye’s. So was Rosie’s. Maybe not for everyone. Maybe not for you. Maybe not even for me.  

 

But just fine.

 

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