Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bates Motel: Dark Paradise Review



BATES MOTEL: DARK PARADISE

Curtains up!  Light the lights!  We've got nothing to hit but the heights! 

Bates Motel is saying goodbye, as the merry adventures of our favorite mother-obsessed serial killer come to a close.  Dark Paradise, Season Five's premiere, give us a lot of Norman craziness, but a few really tender moments and what looks like one last solid mystery to engulf our beloved nut-job.

It's been two years since last we saw Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and his 'late' mother Norma (Vera Farmiga).  Since then, Norma's husband, former Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) is still in the slammer for his involvement in the drugs trade, and Norman's half-brother/uncle Dylan Massett (Max Thieriot) is now happily settled in Seattle, with his wife Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke) and their daughter. 

Both brothers are about to have their world upended.  For Dylan, it is the return of his father/uncle Caleb (Kenny Johnson), who is thrilled to be a grandfather.  Dylan, who at heart is very gentle, reluctantly agrees to let him stay with him and Emma, but Emma knows that this is killing Dylan.  She most reluctantly asks Caleb to leave.  If Caleb plans to see Norma, it would do him no good, for neither Caleb or Dylan are aware that Norma's dead.

Or is she?  Norman certainly seems to think that she is very much alive, though in his demented mind they both have to make out that she isn't, but is forced to remain inside the house forever 'to protect Norman'.  To the outside world, Norma Bates is dead, and even Norman says so, but it's clear that to him, Mother is very much with us.

Norman, however, is facing strange problems of his own.  First, there's his attraction to Madeleine Loomis (Isabelle McNally), the hardware shop owner who is beautiful, married but slightly flirtatious with Norman, and bears a resemblance to Norma.  Then there's the case of a man's wallet that Norman finds in his pocket, a man he doesn't know or remember ever registering.  One person he does remember registering is "David Davidson", someone who wants a room for a few hours.  The moralistic Norman won't rent out a room for assignations, but relents when he pays for the night.

Peeping through the hole, Norman becomes aroused at the sexual escapades of "David Davidson", but his own auto-erotic exercises are stopped when he gets a call from Mother.  Mother is displeased that Norman would want to start something with someone, and it is she who reveals a surprising secret: the man whose wallet they have came to the Bates Motel looking for Norman to kill.  It was "Mother" who stopped him, but why would anyone want Norman dead? 

That answer comes easily enough when the dead man's phone rings just before Norman and 'Norma' dump the man's body.  Norman picks up...and hears Romero's voice.


In many ways, Dark Paradise is a return to the beginning, for we end the episode in essentially the same way we ended the premiere episode from Season One (First You Dream, Then You Die...a title now tinged with irony after what happened to Norma Bates in last season's Norman, one of the most devastating episodes in the whole series, but I digress).

Whether this echo of the past was intentional or not, I would say it works brilliantly.  Dark Paradise is an excellent start to this, the final season, giving us just enough mysteries to pull us in, but actually answering the mysteries to build to new plot points.

The identity of the man in the wallet isn't answered until the end, and in such a way that it makes sense.  It also builds on what we know of Norman's totally unhinged state of mind while making clear that we are not going to get bizarre answers.  Norman, when told by Mother about the events that led to the man's death, asks 'logical' questions, such as how she could have come down from the house to the room so quickly.  She tells him "I don't know", which indicates that Norman may be so totally divorced from reality that things that would go against his ideas won't be answered but instead dismissed with non-answers.

We also see that Bates Motel is not skimping on the acting.  Highmore continues to make Norman almost sympathetic, even almost rational in how he behaves with others, but having that internal conflict between desire and despair forcing its way up.  Farmiga, who should have won an Emmy for her turn as the much-maligned Norma Bates, is now creating that idea of the domineering Mother that we all remember from Psycho, but we still see that she remains true to the character she created, someone who is not evil but just incapable of making good choices.

Thieriot is gentle as Dylan, the only sane member of the Bates extended family, and his scenes with Cooke are moments of calm in the storm of lunacy and mayhem Bates Motel unleashes.  It just seems such a pity that Cooke's Emma was given so little to do, since she was one of the standout characters.  Both Johnson and Carbonell had smaller parts, but they were strong in their limited scenes.

Dark Paradise is a great way to start the beginning of the end of this most twisted tale.  It's a pity that we'll have no more Bates Motel when the ten episodes are up, but as Farmiga said in the intro, 'it's time to check out'. 

8/10

Next Episode: The Convergence of the Twain

Saturday, February 25, 2017

2016 Best Picture: Some Thoughts

The Color Purple:
The Film With the Most
Nominations Without a Win
(11, tied with The Turning Point)

The Seventh and Final Part of a Seven-Part Series on the 2016 Academy Awards.  Today, the Best Picture of 2016

The Nominees for the Best Picture of 2016 Are:

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight



Arrival

The first of two films I did not see.  I figure that it is a great honor that Arrival received eight Oscar nominations (though surprisingly, not one for Amy Adams, a perennial bridesmaid).  However, as intelligent as Arrival may be, the Academy is stubborn when it comes to honoring science-fiction films no matter what the pedigree.  It's a credit to the film, but it has no chance.



Fences

Fences is a good film, anchored by great performances by Viola Davis and director Denzel Washington (though to be fair, it's rare when they give bad performances).  My issue with Fences is that Washington and screenwriter August Wilson (who adapted his play but died between his adaptation and the film's production) is that it never broke away from its theatrical roots.  What you have in Fences is essentially a filmed play.  There's really nothing wrong with that if it means Washington and Davis' performances are on film, but it could have been more.



Hacksaw Ridge

The second of two films I haven't seen, though not because I couldn't.  I received a screener for Hacksaw Ridge, but I will not watch any Mel Gibson film, either as actor or director.  I exercise my right to not participate in any production where he's involved.  Now, in a curious side note, I have a friend who accuses me of hypocrisy.  He took me to task for refusing to watch Hacksaw Ridge (which he liked despite his aversion to R-rated films) because of Mel Gibson but for paying to see Elton John in concert.  In other words, while I oppose Gibson for his views I support John and his 'lifestyle', thus my hypocrisy.  Putting aside his extremely bigoted worldview, I fail to see the comparison between the public views of someone and the private life of someone else. 



Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water is a film that I know because these are people I grew up around with, as a son of the West Texas profiled in the film.  It's pretty accurate about this world and a great portrait of morality, loyalty, and desperation among two brothers: the more sensitive one and the more abrasive one.  I continue to maintain that Ben Foster was robbed of an Oscar nomination and that Jeff Bridges, mumbling his way through a variation of his performance in R.I.P.D. stole it.  However, Hell or High Water is a strong film that paints no clear-cut heroes and villains.



Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is my Best Film of 2016, so one can figure that I loved it.  I am not blind to its faults (sometimes the dialogue was a bit too on-the-nose about the obstacles faced by our heroines), but the film was both an excellent exploration of these extraordinary people who faced dual obstacles of being black and female in a predominantly white-male centric world and a portrait of the struggles they faced in private.  It has standout performances by everyone, from relative newcomer Janelle Monae to Taraji P. Henson (shamefully denied a nomination).  It is an excellent mix of inspiration and motivation, honoring these pioneers who now have their place in the sun.



La La Land

Here's the thing about La La Land: it isn't a terrible film.  I didn't hate it, but am beginning to.  I'm beginning to hate it because I'm told, almost bullied, into LOVING it, and if I don't happen to worship it then I'm somehow a Philistine.  The way my fellow critics and certain moviegoers go on about La La Land, one would have thought it overpowered Citizen Kane or Vertigo as THE GREATEST FILM EVER MADE, that no other film will ever top it, that it is better than that now-forgotten musical Singin' in the Rain.  The worship La La Land is getting is now wildly out of hand, and it will be to cinema's detriment.  I'm reminded of the reception Forrest Gump received: so many people were so enthralled with it that when I expressed a negative view of this sugary view of history, I was actually called un-American for NOT liking it.  La La Land is again a good film, but it is not this epoch-changing masterpiece that will be beloved by cineastes for all time.



Lion

Lion is a good film, one that tells its true-life story well, albeit very slowly, and pulls at your heart, which is part of its intent.  I can't bring myself to put it up there with Casablanca or The Godfather, but the film has an emotional impact that will always hit the viewer.



Manchester By the Sea

The agony of unspeakable loss and the struggle to mourn comes through in Manchester By the Sea, one of the Best Films of 2016.  This is among Casey Affleck's best performances, an underrated actor who finally is getting the attention he deserves.  It validates Michelle Williams as among our best actresses working today, and proves to bring a genuine talent with Lucas Hedges.  Ably directed, moving without being maudlin, Manchester By the Sea is a portrait of a grief observed, a haunting film that stays with you long after you leave.



Moonlight

If people describe Moonlight as 'a gay black man story', it is selling the film short.  Moonlight is about a gay black man, but it is also about a man growing into himself regardless of his sexuality.  Chiron is a troubled man, but he grows into a man, perhaps not a model of the community, but given his circumstances, he has grown to an acceptance of himself and his world.  Moving, almost dreamlike in the world it paints, Moonlight is an exploration of one man coming into his own.

Closing Thoughts:  Every year, there is a certain film that is built up into this epoch-changing masterpiece.  This year, that film is La La Land. There is a hysteria around La La Land that is, to me, downright insane.  Again, it's not a bad film, but the adoration, the worship, the adulation it has been getting is far off-balance from the reality of the film.  It's a very slight film about two people who love and lose.  A trifle clichéd, not veering into unchartered territory, La La Land has been built up into some life-changing experience. 

I am reminded of Forrest Gump, of how people built up that film into this beautiful story of how the fool is really wise.  Yes, I was called un-American for not liking Forrest Gump, but now I think people accept that Pulp Fiction was the better and more impactful film that year.  La La Land will, I believe, win Best Picture, but not because it was the Best Picture.  It will win because Hollywood loves itself and wants to believe movies can change the world.  It will win because too many people are pushing the narrative that it is some filmmaking miracle.

However, I predict that in five to ten years, people will pretty much forget La La Land, and it will join such Best Picture-winning musicals as The Broadway Melody or The Great Ziegfeld: films that were absolutely beloved and lavishly praised when first released but that now will have people asking both what are they and how did they win? 

My Prediction: La La Land

My Rankings:

Hidden Figures
Moonlight
Manchester By the Sea
Fences
Hell or High Water
Lion
Arrival
La La Land
Hacksaw Ridge

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Librarians: And the Complete Third Season Review


 
THE LIBRARIANS: AND THE
COMPLETE THIRD SEASON

And with that, Season Three of The Librarians ends.  The Librarians has built up a strong fanbase, a great achievement given that most fans are, I figure, not well-familiar with The Librarian TV movies that spawned a whole franchise.  As I look over the ten episodes that have passed our way, I can say that The Librarians has become one of my favorite shows, one that is perfect family viewing, one that is fun, humorous, witty, and above everything else does not take itself too seriously.

What is interesting about Season Three is that each character got essentially an episode where he/she was the focus without it diminishing the others.  For example, And the Eternal Question was Cassandra-focused, And the Curse of Cindy featured a great deal of Ezekiel Jones, and Jacob Stone had a great deal to do in And the Fatal Separation.  Each wasn't about them per se, but instead it centered around an aspect of them (Cassandra's tumor, Jones' heart, Stone's struggle with magic).

As such, it allowed Lindy Booth, John Kim, and Christian Kane a chance to show their strengths as actors, and each rose to the occasion. They were aided by strong scripts, but they brought their genuine abilities to the forefront.  They kept true to their characters: Cassandra's peppiness, Jones' self-centeredness, Stone's stoicism, but we also got deeper into their characters.  We saw Cassandra's great fears, which weren't around losing her life, but surviving and losing her abilities.  With Jones, we saw a little crack into the idea that he actually is capable of love (apart from himself), and Stone saw that maybe pure intellect isn't the best solution to things.

The little moments where all of them, down to the stuffy Jenkins, bond, where we see them genuinely enjoy each other's company, those for me are the real highlights of The Librarians.  I think it is because in their own way, they've become a family, bound together by affection and respect.  We see this when Jones and Stone squeal like teenage boys at  the thought of going into a submarine, or when Rebecca Romijn's Eve Baird hovers over Cassandra like a mother hen to her chick.



With Season Three, we got a new adversary, or rather two.  We got our supernatural one (the Egyptian god of chaos, Apep), but also the very human DOSA (Department of Statistical Anomalies).  The Librarians kept a good balance between the two, where sometimes DOSA would pop in at the end, sometimes Apep would be the dominant force.  I was concerned we would have perhaps too much of one or the other, or that Apep would be a particularly weak villain (especially given how great both Dulaque and Prospero/Moriarty were...and I'm still pulling for a Moriarty return).  My fears, however, were unfounded, as there were episodes where neither took center stage.  Sure, they may be lurking in the background, but sometimes episodes focused on other matters were just as strong.  To its credit, however, having them eventually tie themselves up worked wonders, rather than have ten episodes with ten separate missions that don't connect.

Apep is gone, but will DOSA reappear?  It would be interesting if Vanessa Williams guest-starred as an ally to The Librarians as opposed to an antagonist.  The possibility is there.  The possibility is also there for Noah Wyle's Flynn Carsen to be a more integrated part of the show.  One of the great issues with Seasons One and Two was how Flynn was inevitably shunted off somewhere (always to search for something) to pop up now and again.  I found this to be a tiresome, repetitive situation that had to be addressed sometime.  Season Three had some of that, but by the end Carsen worked well within the series where he neither overwhelmed the show or was diminished.  Hopefully Season Four will keep that momentum going.

As I said, The Librarians is a pretty strong family show, one that both children and adults can watch together without worrying too much about something being objectionable.  There were a few moments that did surprise me (seeing someone fall into a tub of wax for example).  Fortunately, those were few and far between.  The Librarians, on the whole, has a lot of fun with its premise, never takes things so deathly seriously (despite facing monsters and mystical creatures, there's always a bit of humor), with a strong cast and smart yet light scripts, this has been a pretty winning series since the beginning.

With things firmly established, it will be fascinating to see where Season Four will take us.

Next Episode:

2016 Best Actor: Some Thoughts

Peter O'Toole:
Record Holder for Most
Best Actor Nominations
Without a Win (Eight)

The sixth of a seven-part series on the 2016 Academy Award nominees.  Today, a look at Best Actor.

The nominees for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for 2016 are:

Casey Affleck: Manchester By the Sea
Andrew Garfield: Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling: La La Land
Viggo Mortensen: Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington: Fences



Casey Affleck

I've long argued that when it comes to the Affleck Brothers, Ben is the director and Casey is the actor.  Whenever one of them tries the other (Ben in acting, Casey in directing), the results are pretty disastrous.  I think the Academy agrees with me, as it is Casey who has received two acting nominations, while Ben hasn't (winning only for either writing, which I don't think he should have, or producing).  As Lee Chandler, this working-class man who has shut down after a horrifying tragedy, Affleck gives one of his best performances, a study of grief unbearable that he has to bear.  His best moment is when he speaks to the police. Most people would have made it an overwhelming scene of tears and agony, but Affleck made it one of shock and numbness, a powerful moment.



Andrew Garfield

I have not and will not see Hacksaw Ridge due to my firm opposition to Mel Gibson, but having seen the trailer, I am not impressed with Garfield.  Now, I think he was robbed of a nomination for The Social Network (even if I think the film itself was wildly overrated).  However, since then I've soured on Garfield as an actor, and not just because he was a pretty lousy Spider-Man.  I heard Garfield's Southern accent (or what I figure is supposed to be a Southern accent) and thought it a lousy Southern accent.  It's hard to judge what kind of performance he gave, but I don't think I would have voted for it in any case.



Ryan Gosling

Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling's last good performance was in Drive.  Since then, he has done nothing that has particularly impressed me.  In fact, he seems to have gotten worse, ACTING with a Capital A, always showing how he practices his 'craft'.  Whether it's a 'comedy' with Crazy, Stupid, Love or heavy 'drama' with Only God Forgives, Avant-garde actor Gosling always shows us that he is ACTING.  Only God Forgives was an absolute horror, where Avant-garde actor Gosling was indulged in his worst instincts (the silent type full of angst).  La La Land, from what I gather, is a comedy, a romp, but I wouldn't figure that from Avant-garde actor Gosling's performance.  He never made me believe he was a passionate young man when it came to jazz.  All Avant-garde actor Gosling showed me was that he was ACTING, never believing that he was anything other than a snob, elitist, smug, and worse, not giving a performance but an impersonation of a human.



Viggo Mortensen

Another film I haven't seen.  I cannot comment on whether Mortensen was good or bad in Captain Fantastic, but I know some people love it, some people hate it.  Another past nominee, Mortensen is highly respected, but the film was nowhere a big-enough hit to make his chances realistic.



Denzel Washington

Washington knew Troy Maxson well, having played the part on Broadway (and winning a Tony Award for his performance).  As a director, I think he was unable to open up August Wilson's play, which was a real shame.  As an actor though, the mix of wisdom and foolishness of Troy, a deeply flawed but compelling man driven by his own demons and his war with Death, Washington gives yet another standout performance.  No one I know who has seen Fences has said anything bad about Washington the actor, though no one I know who has seen Fences has said anything particularly good about Washington the director. 

Closing Thoughts:

Remember Nate Parker?  Some time back, Parker and his Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation was highly touted as being a front-runner for Best Picture and both Best Director and Best Actor for the film.  Then came allegations of rape from his college days, his lukewarm answers to those charges, and the ensuing controversy sank his Oscar chances.  When The Birth of a Nation was released, audiences were indifferent and whatever the merits of the film the failure of the film and the controversy surrounding Parker blew his chances.  Do we see the same thing when it comes to former front-runner Casey Affleck?

For the longest time, Casey Affleck was almost assured of a win, his major competition being left in the dust (that major competition being either Avant-garde actor Gosling or maybe Garfield and Mortensen).  Then Came Denzel, and soon youth found itself facing a fierce challenge from experience.  It's a curious thing that Washington finds himself in a similar situation from a decade-plus back, when few gave him a chance to beat Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind.  Crowe, upon accepting another prize, opted to do some poetry reciting, and when he learned his poem was cut, assaulted the producer of the awards show.  Despite profuse apologies, the Academy went on to shift their allegiance to good-guy Denzel, who has never been attached to any scandal.

Now, it's Affleck who faces his own charges of sexual harassment, charges he vehemently denies.  Though not as damaging as those against Parker or as embarrassing as Crowe's antics (which I believe did cost him the Oscar), will the Academy once again turn to good-guy Denzel to save them?

Ultimately, this is a fierce two-man race, and for once the biopic will lose (Garfield having virtually no chance to win).  Avant-garde actor Gosling may be loved by critics, but he has never managed to put himself in major play (as far as I know, he hasn't won a major award for La La Land, especially against either Washington or Affleck). 

A good performance will win, but now the momentum has shifted from the young man to the older man.

My Prediction: Denzel Washington

My Rankings:

Casey Affleck
Denzel Washington
Viggo Mortensen
Andrew Garfield
Ryan Gosling

Thursday, February 23, 2017

2016 Best Actress: Some Thoughts

Deborah Kerr:
Record Holder for Most Best Actress Nominations
Without a Win (Six)


The fifth of a seventh-part series on this year's Academy Award nominees.  Today, the Best Actress nominees of 2016.

First, a look at the five nominated actresses in this category, then some thoughts as to how we got here and who will win.

The Nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role Are:

Isabelle Huppert: Elle
Ruth Negga: Loving
Natalie Portman: Jackie
Emma Stone: La La Land
Meryl Streep: Florence Foster Jenkins



Isabelle Huppert

Haven't seen it, but from what I gather Elle is a very divisive film.  Almost everyone seems to love Huppert's performance as a rape victim who goes after her attacker, yet many detest the graphic nature of Elle.  Again, not having seen the film I'm in a bit of a disadvantage, but given that few have said anything bad about Huppert herself, her surprise win at the Golden Globes, and the Academy's general reluctance to even nominate non-English language performances, Huppert cannot be dismissed so quickly.



Ruth Negga

Another film I haven't gotten around to.  Loving is the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginia interracial couple whose marriage got them arrested in their home state.  They sued and the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Virginia's miscegenation law was unconstitutional, allowing for interracial marriages to be legal in all fifty states.  While I haven't seen Loving, I suspect that its release now, so soon after same-sex marriage was made legal and after we had our own biracial President, was not entirely coincidental.  Yet I digress.  Negga was the surprise nominee in our list (Huppert not a big surprise), most people expecting Amy Adams to be in the list.  As such, the critical and popular acclaim for Negga cannot be ignored either.




Natalie Portman

The first of two nominated performances I have seen,  Portman is absolutely devastating in Jackie.  She has to do two things.  The first is to make us believe she is Jacqueline Kennedy, and Portman gets everything right about the former First Lady: her voice, her mannerisms are all spot-on.  Mimicry is one thing, and you do get Oscars for that (ask Eddie Redmayne), but Portman doesn't just imitate Mrs. Kennedy.  She also plays a grieving widow: shell-shocked by being next to her husband when he's assassinated, attempting to keep her sanity as the world watches her.  The grief, the spiritual torture, the agony, the heartbreak, even the cold calculated manner which she will control both the state funeral and John F. Kennedy's place in history are all there in her simply impeccable performance.



Emma Stone

"Cutesy" is the term I keep coming back to again and again when I think both of La La Land and its leading lady, Emma Stone.  The second of the two nominated performances I have seen, I do think well of both the film and Stone.  It is a hard thing to do: act and 'act' whenever she has to audition for a role.  She also, unlike her costar, Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling, can sing (albeit not as well as say, Amy Adams). That being said, I'm getting pushed into hating both La La Land and Stone's performance precisely because so many are so passionate about them.  Too many people are pushing this narrative that La La Land is some sort of cinematic miracle, a turning point in cinema, the Millennials' Singin' in the Rain, a movie that maybe even outdoes Citizen Kane or 8 1/2 in terms of brilliance.  It does not.  As for Stone herself, it's a good performance, she's a good actress, but this is nowhere near the best performance.



Meryl Streep

Thank President Donald Trump for this nomination.  I'm one of millions who didn't see Florence Foster Jenkins, and while I trust Streep gave a great performance (she rarely gives bad performances), I think she would not have gotten the push to a nomination if not for her fiery 'brave' speech at the Golden Globes.  On a personal note, I was not amused when she oh so smugly went after football and Mixed Martial Arts fans, sneering that without her (or Negga, Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling, Amy Adams, or Dev Patel), we'd be stuck watching nothing but football and MMA.  Oh, the HORROR!  I know many, many people who'd be thrilled to watch nothing but football and MMA, and they are not stupid or uncultured.  Perhaps because I happen to be one of them.  One weekend, I went to the El Paso Symphony and a UTEP basketball game.  #ForgiveMeMerylStreep.  Next time, I'll skip the Super Bowl and watch She-Devil and Death Becomes Her instead.
  
Closing Thoughts:

It's been a long strange trip for Natalie Portman.

When the Oscar race began, her turn as former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in Jackie was seen as a lock, with no one able to dethrone her.  However, like another former First Lady with grand ambitions, if Portman wins, it will look almost bizarrely like an upset.

Things were going swimmingly for Portman.  Then came the Golden Globes, where everything began to go wildly wrong.  Not one, not two, but three women managed to, in their own way, take the wind out of Portman's sails.

Emma Stone won Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy for La La Land.
Isabelle Huppert beat out Portman for Best Actress in a Drama for Elle.
Meryl Streep gave a speech that made her beloved in the leftist world of Hollywood, spurring her into a nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins.

From that point, Portman's once-inevitable march to a second Best Actress has all but collapsed.  The slack has been picked up in particular by Stone, whom everyone is enchanted with as the very cutesy Mia in the obsessively adored La La Land.  Stone's own march now looks more secure: she's been beating out Portman at every turn.  The Academy tends to favor younger actresses in this category, particularly if said actress becomes the 'It Girl', and films that are about actresses are almost catnip to Academy members.  Normally, biopics are a good way to win Oscars, but that tends to favor men than women: females don't win as many Oscars for playing real-life figures as males. 

Cutesy will beat out devastating this year, I fear.

My Prediction: Emma Stone

My Rankings:

Natalie Portman
Ruth Negga
Isabelle Huppert
Emma Stone
Meryl Streep

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Librarians: And the Wrath of Chaos Review


 
THE LIBRARIANS:
AND THE WRATH OF CHAOS

Well, we close out Season Three of The Librarians with And the Wrath of Chaos, which ties a lot of threads together from this season into a pretty solid bunch.  Many twists and turns within the hour, with hope that Season Four will be as bright and clever as this season.

Has Eve Baird (Rebecca Romijn) turned traitor?  It looks that way when she's found leading DOSA Agents, headed by her mentor General Rockwell (Vanessa Williams) into the Library.  It's all part of a plan to keep the actual Librarians safe in exchange for DOSA taking the artifacts.

Among those artifacts is Jenkins (John Larroquette), who is turned to stone when Baird pulls out Medusa's head (as he is immortal, he cannot be killed).  Meanwhile, the other Librarians: Jacob Stone (Christian Kane), Cassandra Cillian (Lindy Booth) and Ezekiel Jones (John Kim) are too late to stop DOSA from taking the Library after they realize they've been led on a wild goose chase to get them out of the Library.

Flynn Carsen (Noah Wyle), meanwhile, is desperately trying to keep the artifacts in the Library, a harder and harder task as DOSA sweeps in.  As DOSA takes more artifacts, Baird suggests that perhaps it isn't the safest place.  Rockwell attempts to ease her mind by showing her technology trumps the Library's magic, but Apep, having bided his time, escapes from his sarcophagus and takes over Rockwell's body. 

The Librarians manage to outwit DOSA's defenses by essentially playing dumb, rescuing Jenkins.  All of them are enraged at Baird, but now we get the truth: Baird and Flynn had cooked up this scheme in order to draw Apep into the Library and defeat him.  Baird, however, did not know it meant Flynn having to sacrifice himself to do so.  They all race to save Flynn from Apep, who has freed himself from Rockwell and now is gaining more power.  Baird begs Flynn not to sacrifice himself, but Flynn's mind is made up. 

It's up the Librarians to save Flynn while simultaneously destroying Apep.  Using their combined intelligence, they manage this seemingly impossible task, and an accord with DOSA is reached.  The artifacts are restored, and things return to normal.

Things move fast and furious in And the Wrath of Chaos, so much so that we might wonder whether slowing things down just a touch would have helped.  We go from knowing Baird's détente with DOSA to the surprise of taking Jenkins to discovering that everything was 'all part of the plan'.  We got just enough bits of information to not be completely in the dark, but just enough to keep the mystery going.

A strong scene is when the Librarians are rescuing Jenkins and making a right mess of it.  It takes a while for them to figure out that the clues to unlock the super-vault actually uses their talents against them.  Perhaps it's me, but the idea of using the reverse of their knowledge (Stone, for example, uses "water" rather than the correct answer to the riddle, "fire") sounds a bit simplistic.

Still, perhaps it is I that is now overthinking things.

One of the best performances is by Larroquette, who is allowed to show real anger and rage when he finally meets with Baird, unaware of her and Carsen's intricate plan.  Larroquette also has solid moments of humor, when he remarks that he cannot allow DOSA to take the Library, referring to Colonel Baird and DOSA as "you and your backup singers".

For me, And the Wrath of Chaos shows that all the actors/characters are able to work together so well.  Whatever fear or concern there might be in having Wyle's Flynn Carsen there should be abated.  He works so well as both mentor and partner, so if he chooses to remain there for a full season instead of having him disappear for episodes on end it will work.

It is both interesting and smart to have various elements from past episodes figure in the resolution to the problem, a resolution that was logical (always a plus in my book).  It looks like they are using what has been done in the past, but use it well.

It is a pity though that Bob Newhart, who was instrumental in The Librarian television movies, is allowed only a wordless cameo.  Whether it will lead to him maybe guest starring in future episodes or not I don't know, but it is a shame.

Still, And the Wrath of Chaos was fun, zippy, and a wild way to end the season.

9/10

And the Complete Third Season

2016 Best Supporting Actor: Some Thoughts

Claude Rains:
Most Nominations for Best Supporting Actor
Without a Win
(Four, tied with Arthur Kennedy)

The fourth of a seven-part retrospective on the 2016 Academy Awards nominations. Today, the Best Supporting Actor.


The nominees for Best Supporting Actor of 2016 are:

Mahershala Ali: Moonlight
Jeff Bridges: Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges: Manchester By the Sea
Dev Patel: Lion
Michael Shannon: Nocturnal Animals




Mahershala Ali

It is a small part.  Juan is there just in the first part of a three-act film.  However, as the drug dealer who is a mentor to a troubled young man, Ali brings that mixture of kindness, even love, to a person who is also, perhaps wittingly, bringing misery to Chiron's life.  The wisdom that Juan gives to Chiron, the kindness, speaks to the desperate need for mentorship and fatherhood for all men, not just African-American men.  It's a brilliant, heartbreaking performance.



Jeff Bridges

What is THIS doing on the list?  Bridges has been essentially giving the same performance he gave in Crazy Heart.  Bridges in Hell or High Water is the same as he was in such clunkers as The Seventh Son and R.I.P.D.  (particularly R.I.P.D.).  It was essentially the same performance in a variation of what he's been doing for many, many years.  It was hysteria that got Bridges a nomination over his Hell or High Water costar Ben Foster, who was robbed of a rightful nomination.  Out of all the nominees, I stubbornly maintain that Jeff Bridges was the worst and weakest of them all.



Lucas Hedges

Hedges is starting out his career, and this is a strong calling card to bigger and better things.  As the son and nephew who finds his life upended by the death of his father and his uncle's closed manner, Hedges is not the typical grieving teen.  He can be selfish, moody, even unpleasant.  However, Hedges also brings those moments of pain, of anger, of confusion, and of a desperate effort to hold on to what he knows.



Dev Patel

I read somewhere that Patel is essentially cursed to play the adult version of traumatized Indian children (in Slumdog Millionaire and now in Lion, which earned him his first Oscar nomination).  It is a hard performance, to express a lot of Saroo's confusion and regret without verbalizing them often (though at one point he did lash out).  Patel did best in the quiet moments, when he has to speak to his adopted mother.  He's done bad work in bad films (I offer Chappie as evidence), but give Patel credit for doing a good job in Lion



Michael Shannon

The somewhat surprise nominee in the bunch (his Nocturnal Animals costar Aaron Taylor-Johnson having temporarily overshadowed the previously nominated Shannon).  I haven't seen Nocturnal Animals, so I cannot say whether Shannon is good or bad.  However, actors love Michael Shannon, and it would be foolish to dismiss his chances.

Closing Thoughts:

I will maintain that Jeff Bridges shouldn't be on this list.  It's a curious thing that three of the five are first-time nominees, and this category really is a competitive one.  I think Patel's win at the BAFTAs doesn't indicate a sudden groundswell of support for him.  Right now I see it as a battle between Ali and Hedges, with Shannon as potential spoiler.  I think Bridges is essentially an also-ran.  Again, Shannon's nomination isn't to be dismissed, but I still hold that the winner will win on his first Oscar nomination.

My Prediction: Mahershala Ali

My Rankings:

Mahershala Ali
Lucas Hedges
Michael Shannon
Dev Patel
Jeff Bridges

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

2016 Best Supporting Actress: Some Thoughts

Thelma Ritter:
Record for Most Best Supporting Actress
Nominations Without A Win 
(Six Nominations)


This is the third part of a seven-part retrospective on the 2016 Academy Awards.  Today, I look at the Best Supporting Actress of 2016 nominees.

The nominees are:

Viola Davis: Fences
Naomie Harris: Moonlight
Nicole Kidman: Lion
Octavia Spencer: Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams: Manchester By the Sea



Viola Davis

Davis has had a long time with Fences, having played the part of Rose on Broadway (and winning a Tony for it).  It's not a big or showy part really.  More often than not, she is a silent or supportive partner to Denzel Washington's Troy.  However, Davis' strong performance comes from communicating Rose's emotions, her anger, her grief, and her love for her man with her face and her eyes.  Davis is a national treasure, and she makes Fences a wonderful thing to watch, even if it doesn't break far from its theatrical roots.




Naomie Harris

Give Harris credit: she never makes you doubt she's anything but this troubled, lower-working class drug addict as opposed to the glamorous British woman she is.  She is generally unsympathetic as Paula, who is horrible to her son (though whether she's horrible because of her addiction or because she suspects he's gay I'm not sure).  Her moment comes at her last scene, where a clean and sober Paula begs forgiveness.  Seeing the mix of repentance and regret within her, and the fact that there are no easy, pat resolutions to the chaos she created, tears at you.



Nicole Kidman

For a while, Kidman was lost in a mix of glamorous parts or just bombs.  One of two previous Oscar winners on our slate, Kidman looked as if she was relegated to perpetual also-ran, a figure known as a star but not an actress.  Good for her for turning that around and delivering a strong, heartfelt performance as Sue Brierley, adoptive mother of our main character.  She was a regular person, one who loved her two boys even when they caused her pain.  Again, we have another tear-filled moment when she informs her oldest son why she chose adoption when she was perfectly capable of bearing children.



Octavia Spencer

The second returning Oscar winner (and the only one to return to the same category), Spencer was the only performer singled out for Hidden Figures.  Spencer also makes history as the first black Oscar winning actress to be nominated again after her win (Hattie McDaniel never was renominated, and as of today neither Whoopi Goldberg, Mo'Nique, or Halle Berry have received another nomination).  As Dorothy Vaughn, one of the real-life African-American women whose work at NASA during the Space Race helped get men to reach the stars, Spencer balanced a quiet strength with strong determination.  Not as retiring as Taraji P. Henson's character, not as forthright as Janelle Monae's character, Spencer made her presence known, becoming a role model for all regardless of race and/or gender.



Michelle Williams

Whoever dismissed Williams for starting out in the tawdry teen drama Dawson's Creek is a fool onto him/herself.   Williams has been the only member of Dawson's Creek to have moved long past the series to establish herself as one of our top actress.  As Randi, the grieving mother and wife who attempts to build her life again after a horrible tragedy upends her if not idyllic at least accepted life, Williams again shows her extraordinary range and talent.  This, her fourth Oscar nomination, shows that Williams continues to be among our best younger actress working today.

Closing Thoughts:

It's a strange thing that Supporting Actress is both a tough competition and the last surviving lock for one nominee.  Every one of these nominees would be worthy of winning.  Each gave a strong performance, each in a searing drama (with the exception of Spencer, none of them had any light moments in their roles).  It's a heavy-drama slate, but it's one that is rich in performances.  Still, there can be only one, and almost from the get-go Viola Davis has been ahead and no one has ever proven themselves to be a serious challenge.  Unlike other categories where once-certain winners found themselves collapsing, Davis has not faced anyone to threaten her dominance.  While I wish there were other nominees, like Spencer and Harris' Hidden Figures and Moonlight costar Janelle Monae, I think the winner is almost a given.

My Prediction:  Viola Davis

My Rankings:

Viola Davis
Octavia Spencer
Michelle Williams
Nicole Kidman
Naomie Harris

Monday, February 20, 2017

2016 Best Director: Some Thoughts

John Ford:
Four-Time Best Director
(Most of Any Director)

The second of a seven part retrospective on this year's Academy Awards.  Today, I focus on the Best Director nominees.

The nominees for 2016's Best Director Are:

Damien Chazelle: La La Land
Mel Gibson: Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins: Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan: Manchester By the Sea
Denis Villeneuve: Arrival



Damien Chazelle (La La Land)

I loved Chazelle's work in Whiplash, a bold, thrilling debut.  La La Land, his ode to the Hollywood musical of yesteryear mixed with his Millennial sensibilities, has made him the man of the hour.  At 32, he will be the youngest Best Director winner should he win, tying Norman Taurog, who was also 32 when he won for directing Skippy (though given Chazelle was born in January and Taurog in February, I think Taurog would still be the youngest if perhaps you go by days and months).  Personally, I was not overwhelmed with his directing of La La Land.  Again, the hyperventilating the film has caused among my fellow critics pushes me to almost mark down my original view of the film, but now that I ponder things, I wonder whether I can say he directed people versus moving characters around.  With Whiplash, the characters were real, motivated by their emotions.  With La La Land, they were cute but not real, particularly Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling, who always struck me as being too forced in his performance.




Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)

Haven't seen Hacksaw Ridge, won't see Hacksaw Ridge.  I'm still personally reviled by Gibson's anti-Semitism and homophobia and cannot bring myself to support him in any way.  His nomination shows that he has come back into the good graces of at least certain members of the Hollywood community, but I find it most curious that all these actors, who bemoan American xenophobia/homophobia/Islamophobia et al. of the President can turn around and laud someone like Gibson.  Perhaps Hacksaw Ridge is a great film.  However, I reserve the right not to watch it.  Curiously, Gibson is the only person nominated who has been a nominee and winner before for Braveheart.



Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

There has been a dearth of African-American Best Director nominees. Think on it: in the history of the Academy Awards, there have been only four black directors nominated: John Singleton (the youngest nominee ever at 24), Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, and now Jenkins (McQueen, being British, makes it hard to call him 'African-American').  Best Director has already gone to a woman (Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker), but it's in directing that the glass ceiling has yet to be broken when it comes to black directors (Chinese director Ang Lee already having won two).  Could Jenkins be the one to do it?  I certainly think so.  Moonlight was a hypnotically filmed picture, and Jenkins got his cast (a mixture of trained and untrained performers, most of them unknown) to give moving performances, to keep the story going, and to create a mesmerizing film experience.



Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)

First, I should say that I was not impressed with You Can Count on Me, well, apart from Laura Linney (but then I pretty much love her in anything).  Manchester By the Sea, this portrait of a grief observed, had excellent performances all around and was as real as anything I've seen this year.  These were real people in intense sadness, with no pat answers at the end.  A moving experience, albeit one that will not leave people leaving the theater in a jolly state of mind.



Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)

I skipped Arrival, though hope to see it before the actual ceremony.  I didn't boycott it like I did with Hacksaw Ridge.  I just didn't get around to it.  Going strictly by reputation, I figure this is an intelligent science-fiction film, a rarity in the genre. 

Closing Thoughts:

Damn La La Land

This incessant push to declare it a hallmark in cinema is endangering the chance for two better directors to win.  I simply won't consider Gibson: not only does he have a Best Director Oscar already, but there's that whole 'he's either insane or a vicious human being' business.  Villeneuve will have to content himself with the nomination, as the Academy has been fiercely resistant to science-fiction, even intelligent sci-fi (this is the same group that denied Stanley Kubrick a nomination for 2001: A Space Odyssey). 

That leaves three men with a realistic chance, or at least two, since I see Lonergan's chances fading.  Chazelle seems to be the odds-on favorite for the trifle that is the celebratory La La Land, but I would not discount Jenkins for Moonlight.  The Academy tends to prefer drama over trifles, so Jenkins isn't completely out of the running.  However, La La Land's excessively rhapsodic acceptance in Hollywood is hard to overcome.  Youth, I fear, will win out, and when it comes to Best Director, it's still #OscarsSoWhite.

My Prediction:  Damien Chazelle

My Rankings:

Barry Jenkins
Kenneth Lonerman
Denis Villeneuve
Damien Chazelle
Mel Gibson

Sunday, February 19, 2017

2016 Best Original Song: Some Thoughts


The first of a seven part series on seven categories for this year's Academy Awards.  Today, the nominees for Best Original Song.

I can't explain why Writing's on the Wall, a song written in twenty minutes and generally reviled by critics and Bond fans, became the second Bond Song to win Best Original Song.  Truth be told,  I disliked Skyfall too, but that's for another day.  Yet I digress.

First, let's cover the five nominated songs for Best Original Song, then some general thoughts.

The nominees for Best Original Song of 2016 are:

Audition (The Fools Who Dream): La La Land
Can't Stop the Feeling: Trolls
City of Stars: La La Land
The Empty Chair: Jim: The James Foley Story
How Far I'll Go: Moana


Audition (The Fools Who Dream): Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

I think I might change my view on Emma Stone's singing.  It's not the greatest.  Having heard it, Audition is a nice ode to those who have big ideas, but as I hear it, I'm not overwhelmed with it.  Further, for a film that touts itself heavily as a musical, Audition isn't integral to the overall plot.  Granted, I'm shifting into a La La Land backlasher, sensing that my fellow critics have gone overboard with their anointing the film as the greatest musical of all time.  Even before the hoopla went bonkers for La La Land, Audition was the song most built up...but left me slightly cold.




Can't Stop the Feeling!: Music & Lyrics by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster

The most ubiquitous of the nominees, Can't Stop the Feeling! was in constant rotation long before Trolls was released.  Justin Timberlake certainly thinks he's a musical genius, and I'm not going to lie: I do enjoy some of his music.  The fact that it was a big hit long before the film was released is both a good and bad.  Good in that it's probably the song most of the viewers have actually heard.  Bad in that Can't Stop the Feeling! isn't all that different from any other Justin Timberlake song.  Perhaps I'm a bit at a disadvantage since I haven't seen Trolls yet, but while it's peppy and fun, I don't see it as particularly memorable.



City of Stars: Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Again, while Stone isn't a terrible singer, Avant-garde actor Ryan Gosling is.  How he ended up on the Mickey Mouse Club with Timberlake leaves one scratching their head, but I digress.  I admit to liking City of Stars, finding a bit of melancholy behind what is supposed to be this generation's Singin' In the Rain.  Part of me now thinks, if you removed the songs from La La Land, would the film be an actual musical?  After all, my training when it comes to musicals is that songs are meant to be sung to either further the plot or express a character's emotions.  The opening song from La La Land, Another Day of Sun, is certainly in that tradition: as big a number as has been seen in film.  However, the songs get toned done, and when I think of City of Stars, it looks like our characters are writing the song rather making it a true duet. 



The Empty Chair: Music & Lyrics by J. Ralph and Sting

The big shocker when the nominees were announced, documentaries are now a good way to get songs into contention.  Melissa Etheridge won for I Need to Wake Up from the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, the first documentary song to win.  Since 2006, five other documentaries have been in the running for Original Song, four of those courtesy of J. Ralph.  Curiously, he and his collaborator Gordon Sumner are the only returning nominees.  The Empty Chair, if anything, will depress viewers, it's mournful quality matching the tragedy of James Foley.  Perhaps J. Ralph just gravitates to dour subjects: his previous nominations are all for slow, mournful songs.  Despite Sting's participation, The Empty Chair, if it is played during the ceremony, will leave viewers wondering what it's all about (if it doesn't leave them hopeless miserable).




How Far I'll Go: Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Again, I'm at a disadvantage in that I haven't seen Moana.  I can guess where it fits into the film (the line about trying to be a good daughter makes me think this song is before she sets off on her adventure).  How Far I'll Go is no Let It Go, a big showstopping number is almost built for a Broadway show.  It isn't even a Happy, a song that you can sing along to.  It's not a bad song, but given that it was written by Miranda, still on a high kick with Hamilton: The Musical, one wonders if How Far I'll Go is even the best song in Moana, let alone of all the five nominated.

Closing Thoughts:

I'm not impressed with our slate of nominees.  I think the Academy made a lousy decision to exclude either Runnin' or I See A Victory from Hidden Figures, both songs that I think are frankly more memorable, even more upbeat (with the exception of Can't Stop the Feeling!, which is really peppy). Regardless of which song actually wins, none of them will be mentioned with Over the Rainbow or High Hopes or Lose Yourself.   I think the winner, whichever one it ends up being, will be relegated to the likes of In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening, Sweet Leilani, or more recent winners.

Writing's on the Wall.  Skyfall.  We Belong Together. Man or Muppet.  All those won Best Original Song this decade, and yet I doubt anyone really remembers them, let alone can sing them or even remember what film they came from.  In this decade, I think only Glory from Selma and Let It Go will carry on to immortality.  This year, we're going to get another Skyfall: a song people thought was good at the time, but that will fade into obscurity.

As I look at the nominees, there is one that I do like and think will win, and one that maybe might prove me wrong.  However, I don't hold out much hope for it. 

My Predictions:

Winner: City of Stars

Rankings:

City of Stars

Can't Stop the Feeling!
How Far I'll Go
Audition (The Fools Who Dream)
The Empty Chair

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Mistress of Songs: Gigi Review



GIGI

What truly astonishes me about Gigi isn't its elegant confection of color and music, a beautiful concoction of fin-de-siècle wardrobe and morals.  It's the fact that a story about a courtesan could not only be made past the censors, but that it could be considered a delightful, even charming musical comedy.  Did the censors not see that this was a tale of gleeful Gallic infidelity, of cute courtesans, of whores and the men who pay them?  Yet, perhaps because this somewhat sordid tale of unwedded bliss and the training of a nymphet pre-Lolita is couched with such wonderful music by Lerner & Lowe, a lot can be forgiven.  I'm not sure it winning Best Picture is one of those that can be forgiven, but more on that later.

Narrated by bon vivant and elder playboy Honore (Maurice Chevalier), he sings about how we should Thank Heaven For Little Girls (which, I understand, is Roman Polanski's theme song, but I digress).  The focus is on one particular little girl, our title character of Gigi (Leslie Caron).  She's a sweet but uncultured girl, fun-loving but not interested in the lessons in culture and breeding her Grandmama, Madame Alvarez (Hermione Gingold) and her fearsome Aunt Alicia (Isabel Jeans) give.  Unbeknown to her, these lessons are vitally important.

Enter Madame Alvarez's friend and Honore's nephew, Gaston (Louis Jourdan).  He is fond of "Mamita" and of Gigi, in an older brother type of way.  However, the Belle Epoque holds no beauty for him, as the constant whirl of Parisian lovemaking is one he finds A Bore.  He'll go through the motions, even having a mistress, Madame L'Exelmans (Eva Gabor), but he wishes for something true.  He finds that only in the gleeful innocence of Gigi. 

Things take a turn for everyone when Gaston dumps his mistress publicly for schtupping on the side with her skating instructor.  She 'commits suicide' (or rather, attempts it), but this is all part of what is expected among the higher echelons of the City of Lights, as is a devil-may-care attitude by Gaston.  He goes through the motions, but he's bored with it all.  Despite whatever good sense he may have, he has Gigi and Mamita come to the sea with him, where he laughs thanks to Gigi's joie de vivre, and Madame Alvarez and Honore have a reunion, where these two old lovers each say how I Remember It Well.

Aunt Alicia is horrified at her sister's clumsiness at allowing Gigi to go with Gaston with no promises to make Gigi his mistress, and now both sisters see that it is best to get Gigi all settled into her life as a courtesan.  Both Gaston and Gigi are not thrilled with this idea, but Gaston finds that he is in love with Gigi, and Gigi finds it hard to be without Gaston, so we will go through the motions.

Gigi's debut as his mistress (minus the sex, which for some reason we don't see) is a smashing success, with Gigi showing all the breeding required to be a great courtesan.  However, when Honore appears at Maxim's with his newest conquest and finds Gaston is with Gigi, his delight (not to mention perhaps the suggestion that Honore might like to take a crack at Gigi himself once Gaston moves on to someone else), is too much for Gaston.  Dragging poor Gigi back to her and Mamita's flat, Gaston asks permission to make Gigi, not his mistress, but his wife.



It's pretty incredible, as I said, to imagine that a tale that involves the training of a young woman to be someone's piece of ass can be thought of as a charming film, but it's a credit to two or three principle figures that makes Gigi work at being cute without being almost perverse.

The first is to the songwriting team of Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Lowe.  Gigi has at least four remarkable songs that expand on characters and are just some of their best work.  For me, their best song in Gigi is the duet between Honore and Madame Alvarez, I Remember It Well.  The back-and-forth between Chevalier and Gingold is lyrically so perfect (Honore's faulty memory to Alvarez's, but both acknowledging their fondness), and musically there is a mix of romance and melancholy.

We met at nine/We met at eight
I was on time/No, you were late
Ah yes, I Remember It Well...

Through the rest of the song, it goes back and forth like this, with Honore's memories not matching Alvarez's.  However, I don't think it's the fact that Honore has the details wrong, but that Alvarez was the one woman he wishes to remember that gets at the listener.  There's a sense of love still there, hazy memory and all.

The second is the joyful The Night They Invented Champagne. The delight and joy in this pure romp expresses not just happiness found in bubbly, but in company (in this case, between Gigi, Gaston, and Alvarez).  A third number, not as well remembered but still one I enjoyed, was Chevalier's solo I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore, where we see why Chevalier was so popular: a Gallic gaiety, with his signature dance moves (down to his hat at a jaunty angle).  The last, albeit perhaps the creepiest, is the aforementioned Thank Heaven For Little Girls.  It's a lovely melody, but the thought that a man as old as Honore would be singing about the joys of little girls, perhaps today, comes across as almost pedophilic (unless you're a twelve-year-old who likes to lick the fingers of someone twice your age that you're sexually attracted to).

The other songs were good but not something I figure are up to that level, and that includes the title song.  I could remember some parts of Gigi, but don't understand why that song was singled out when either I Remember It Well or The Night They Invented Champagne were better (and more memorable).  I can remember the melody of Gigi, but not the words, while with the other two, I can remember both.


The second person responsible for making Gigi into a treat and not a bore is director Vincente Minnelli.  Give him credit: he not only knew how to keep things flowing (I hardly noticed how the time flew) but brought great performances out of his cast.  Chevalier was a delight as the rakish Honore, unapologetic about his desires and pursuits, with a wry twinkle in the eye.  Caron was beautiful and enchanting as Gigi, this mixture of innocence and elegance (the transformation from tomboyish figure to sophisticated courtesan breathtaking).  Minnelli also made the world of Gigi just real enough without it being bogged down with too much logic.

As a side note, give credit also to Cecil Beaton, whose costumes and sets made things so much more posh and beautiful.

Finally, the third figure is producer Arthur Freed.  He was the master musical producer at MGM, and Gigi is as lavish and elegant a musical as any in his catalog (which includes another Minnelli directed-Caron acted/danced production, An American in Paris).

Now perhaps we come up with problems.  Gigi suffers a bit from being too similar to yet another musical, My Fair Lady.  Both were written by Lerner & Lowe, and both revolve around a woman being transformed into something else (a Cockney in one, a courtesan in another).  It follows a similar story arc and one wouldn't be blamed for thinking songs from one could have been used in the other (which is not off the mark, since Say A Prayer For Me Tonight, sung by Gigi before going to Maxim's to debut as Gaston's mistress, was meant for My Fair Lady's Eliza Dolittle before going to the ball to debut as Higgins' creation). 

Lerner & Lowe even have a similar 'debate' song in each, where the male character argues with himself about his feelings for the title female character; in My Fair Lady, Higgins debates what he feels in I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face, in Gigi, Gaston debates what he feels in Gigi.

As much as Gigi creates this world of dalliances and elegant, almost delightful decadence, I don't get why so much humor was meant to be derived from a failed suicide attempt.  Granted, they mention that she's tried it before (and deliberately failing every time, almost like a ritual to be done to keep the game going).  However, I found that (and Honore's slight lechery) a bit surprising. 

Gigi is very pretty, with some wonderful songs and a cheery exterior.  I'm not convinced that it is a great film.  It's entertaining, it's delightful, but a bit shallow, and I figure that's all it set out to be.

One thing, at least for me, is that I'll Remember It Well.

DECISION: B-

1959 Best Picture: Ben-Hur