The Bully Behind “Bully”

“It gets better”: that’s the anti-bullying message du jour, thanks to a terrifying onslaught of teen suicides that have plagued North America over the past three years. This worrisome trend gave rise to the “It Gets Better Foundation”, an anti-bullying movement that has since been fuelled by the mega-wattage, combined  star power of everyone from Justin Bieber, to Hilary Clinton, to Glee, the superficial musical dramedy that has become the effeminate and perfunctory face of teen gay bullying.

A documentary film has just been released to help aid the anti-bullying movement, aptly titled Bully. Directed by Lee Hirsch, Bully follows the lives of high school students from Iowa, Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma from 2009-2010. The film captures truly horrific evidence of high school bullying and sheds a critical lens on the ways school administrations and parents fail to protect their most vulnerable children.

You might think: what a timely and important little piece of cinema. True dat, readers. True dat, indeed. However, there is one aspect of Bully‘s production narrative that works to mar its socially conscious credibility. This little, independent documentary that could now finds itself acquired by the big movie producer that could, one Harvey Weinstein.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein is one-half of the Weinstein Brothers, a pair of executive movie honchos who have produced some 240 projects including Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, The Aviator, Gangs of New York, Finding Neverland, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The King’s Speech, The Artistand Fahrenheit 911, the latter of which got him canned from his Disney-owned company Miramax, which he originally founded with his brother Bob.

At the Oscars, he’s the obese, balding guy in the front row with rosed face from too much Cristal and ego-inflation, accompanied by a blushing, bedazzled British mannequin. That’s his wifey Georgina Chapman, one-half of design house Marchesa, a.k.a. Oscar couture catnip for Hollywood’s A-list. Her gowns have been worn on the Oscar red carpet by everyone from Anne Hathaway, to Jessica Alba, to Cameron Diaz, to Sandra Bullock on the night she took home Best Actress for Southern Blondes Prefer Black Kids. Talk about a synergistic, match made in marrying-well heaven.

Sure, Harvey sounds like a champion, a 300-pound champion of award shows and rack focus. However, the lumpy Queens kid has garnered himself quite the reputation of being a yep, you guessed it, a big bully. Years of crazy and misguided antics have fuelled this reputation, be it when he threatened director George Hickenlooper with physical harm over the editing work on Factory Girl’s sex scene, when he put a New York Observer reporter in a headlock while throwing him out of a party, when he badgered cancer-stricken director Sydney Pollock on his deathbed over fixing The Reader, or the much hyped screaming matches between himself and Martin Scorsese during production of Gangs of New York. I mean, who fights with Scorsese? He’s like a thickly-browed , giggling and greying teddy bear smelling vaguely of baked ziti.

Harvey’s presence alone is even intimidating enough to overturn NC-17 ratings, cough Blue Valentine cough. Yep. That shit should have never been switched back to R, let me tell you. I no longer believe in love or Ryan Gosling’s ability to age well, thanks to that 2 hour, shaky testament to the rapid expiry of monogamy. But I digress . . .

While even though I find this film to be timely, resonant, effective, and a vital piece of work, I am just so uneasy about Harvey boy’s presence in its credits. How can this film genuinely preach that “it gets better” when for those who have the misfortune of working with this overgrown, rage case, it doesn’t?

Okay, that might be a little heavy-handed. But does Weinstein’s presence within the film’s cultural narrative cheapen the message it works to perpetuate? Or does his superpower, representative of both sides of his character, help to bring new attention and resonance to an important issue that may have recently been forgotten? True, he has a temper. True, he’s any HR department’s worst nightmare. But this man has helped to bring larger audiences to countless independent film projects that might otherwise not see the light of regular distribution. He has impeccable taste, demonstrated with his financial backing of this project. But it just feels hilariously hypocritical.

Just something to consider. Oh and please don’t murder me, Mr. Weinstein. I wish to live to see Harry Potter World.

What do you think? Will Harvey Weinstein’s personal reputation muddy Bully’s message? Will Ryan Gosling age well? Will I get murdered for posting this? Share your thoughts with a comment, whydonchya?

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84th Annual Academy Awards Recap

The 84th annual Academy Awards just went down and while there were a few shockers, it was mostly an unsurprising sweep for Hugo and The ArtistThat’s right, everyone’s favourite black and white, silent film that took Best Picture, Best Actor for Jean Dujardin, and Best Director for Michel Hazavicius. I am only sad that Uggie could not take home some sort of award for best trick by a canine, or best Jack Russell Terrier. Eat your heart out, Cosmo.

Hugo tied The Artist for the most wins: 5. This was largely thanks to the film’s sweep of the technical awards. The 3D epic won Best Original Cinematography, Best Achievement in Art Direction, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Achievement in Sound Editing (really good sound in Hugo, apparently), and Best Visual Effects.

As for the not so shocking moments: Octavia Spencer picked up Best Supporting Actress for her work in The Help. Christopher Plummer took home Best Supporting Actor for BeginnersRango took home Best Animated Feature. Woody Allen’s win for Best Original Screenplay for Midnight In ParisAnd finally, FINALLY, Meryl won her third Oscar for The Iron LadySandra Bullock can clear her conscience now.

Some of this year’s more shocking wins include Undefeated edging out Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, and as previously mentioned, Michel Hazanavicius win of Best Director over favourited Martin Scorsese.

As for the hosting, it was as stiff as Billy Crystal’s prosthetic hip and out of touch recession jokes. (What? The Oscars are excessive and culturally irrelevant in this current global recession? You don’t say! Hilarious and original, Mr. Crystal.) His opening song felt forced, unoriginal, and plain not fucking funny. My favourite portion of it was when they cut o Jean Dujardin and he smiled. Seriously, that was the high point.

Thank goodness the Oscars are over. I am just the worst during this season and therefore, I am needing my own thank you speech for this season; “Thank you to Samantha Hill for seeing every movie with me; many call you my closeted lesbian lover, I call you my celibate life partner. Thank you to my father for bankrolling all of my movie tickets and for nodding when I talked at nauseum about The Tree Of Life. Thank you to wonderful movies: you make my heart happy and continue to excite me year to year. And thank you to my readers, all 6 of you. Snark aside, if that is actually possible, I am grateful to each and every one of you. In the meantime, I’ll see you in line for popcorn.

For a complete list of the 84th Academy Award winners, click here.

Dude Looks Like A Lady

Like Monsier d’Eon or Mrs. Doubtfire before him, the title character in Rodrigo Garcia’s Albert Nobbs takes shelter in the costume of an opposing gender. Played by the powerful and altogether quiet Glenn Close, Albert finds ways of moving us with few words, a lot of makeup, and a surplus of talent.

Adapted from George Moore’s novel titled The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, the film incarnation tells the story of Albert, a quiet, odd-looking, and timid man who works as a waiter at a posh Dublin hotel. As previously mentioned, Albert holds a secret: he is a woman, hiding behind a suit, a haircut, and an aptly-placed tensor bandage. After encountering Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), a handyman who Albert must bunk with for the night, Albert discovers a fellow cross-dresser who might share in his experiences.

Page reveals to Albert that he is in fact married to a woman, and leads a seemingly normal heterosexual life of domesticity. Inspired by Page’s aspirational lifestyle, Albert pursues a maid at the hotel, Helen (Mia Wasikowska). But Helen is involved with the hotel’s furnace repair man Joe, played to charmingly volatility by Aaron Johnson. The young lovers plot to milk Albert for all of his hard earned money, in order to move to America, leaving the tiny, sad man to solitude. In this comedy of errors, gender, and poverty, Albert must struggle to hide his true biology, while attempting to become a man in his own right.

Within Albert Nobbs, we may see a charmingly conventional narrative of oppression told in an electrifyingly original fashion. Using classical stage techniques such as asides and soliliquys, Albert’s often hushed inner-voice is still heard in a authentically clear manner.

As Albert, Glenn Close simply nails the small nuances necessary to make a subtle character readable, relatable, and interesting to an audience. Watch yo’ back Meryl.

As far as its Oscar future goes, this small but powerful film faces stiff competition from some of its louder, more flashy competition. For Best Actress, it could go to either Close for this exciting role, but chances are my beloved Meryl will be finally winning her third. Janet McTreer also faces stiff competition from Octavia Spencer in The Help. It’s very doubtful that McTreer’s exciting yet understated performance can steal Minny Jackson’s thunder. Albert Nobbs’s best chance at taking home that golden statue falls in the Best Makeup Category. Cos’ hey, any makeup artist that can make Close look anything less than stunning deserves an award, am I right?

What did you think of Albert Nobbs? Drop me a little O day commentary, wontya please?

All The Right Moves

What can be said in words about German 3D dance film Pina? As a word lover, it grieves me to say that they simply are not enough to explain the beauty, triumph, and intelligence involved in this film. Motion is not easily captured by type, but I will journey on slightly to do this stunning documentary a microcosm of justice.

With the great joy of Pina’s breath-taking movement comes an underpinning of sorrow. Director Wim Wenders began this film to chronicle the life and work of choreographer Pina Bausch, the iconic master of Tanztheater. However, Pina died suddenly during production, and Wenders wanted to terminate production. However, the corps of Pina’s company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, pushed Wenders to continue the film in order to honour Pina’s outstanding creations. The result is just that: an outstanding creation.

And the dancing truly is outstanding. I won’t waste my time or yours waxing on my usual self-indulgent prose, as it will have little comparison to the joy in the image. All I will say is that the film rehashes some of Pina’s most prominent pieces, and mixes these gorgeous movements with rehearsal footage, interviews with the dance corps, and with Pina herself. This is one of the few 3D experiences that I really felt the medium was necessary and well used. All I can say of this film is that it must be seen to be believed.

As far as its Oscar future goes, this visually staggering documentary has some serious competition, namely from Grunge-boy favourite Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. That’s right, it’s all about the West Memphis 3, and if it bleeds it leads. Also if Johnny Depp shows up to your appeal – that leads too. However, maybe the Academy will be as dazzled as I was by this utterly astonishing display of artistry, athleticism, beauty, and love. “Dance, dance; otherwise we are lost”.

What did you think of Pina? Are you a dance fan, or are you more into Johnny Depp? Drop me a line or two in the comments section below.

Since You Been Gone

Like the elusive heart-shaped key held by the title character in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the anti-boy hero Oskar in Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close holds a key and a mission all his own. Also like Hugo, Oskar’s key presents a link to his deceased father, one that he hopes will somehow connect the pair passed mortality and time. But the difference maker between Scorsese’s stunning narrative of broken machines and people, and Daldry’s post 9/11 world is the latter’s post-modern understanding that the “bad guy” isn’t so easily identified by his black dog and his scowl, and that the true evil is pervasive, faceless, and random.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, here. Look at me, jumping right into Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’s thematic heart like an iiidiot. Anyway, starting from the beginning . . .

Based on the 2005 novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tells the story of Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), an 11-year-old boy with social autism who lives in New York City. Abrupt, brutal, and eerily intelligent, Oskar is terrified of the busy, loud, chrome city around him and of most children his own age. His undisputed best friend is his father, Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), a jewelry store owner who through his “expeditions” with his son tries to take Oskar out of his namesake “Schell”. His quiet, loving mother Linda Schell (Sandra Bullock) sits by admiring the bond, but is never fully invited off the sidelines.

But of course this is a paradise lost. We know immediately within the film’s opening sequence, as Oskar sits from a limousine at a gravesite, that his father has died in one of the towers during 9/11. Oskar, unable to cope with the unexplainable cruelty of his loss, or of his own unexplainable cruelty towards his mother, finds the aforementioned heart-shaped key in a vase, hidden in his father’s things and simply labeled “Black”. Oskar feels it is a clue left from his father and begins one final expedition, searching through thousands of Blacks in New York City to reach his father once more.

With films such as Billy Elliot and The Reader, director Stephen Daldry has shown somewhat of a knack for directing young, fresh talents. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is no exception. With former Jeopardy champion Thomas Horn, Daldry has parlayed the boy genius’ frantic, often erratic energy into a truly electrifying performance. Although the emotional scope of the film is jarringly vast, leading to an exhaustive pace, Daldry does well to choose and direct an actor who may keep up with the steady sprint of emotion.

But Horn is just one of a cast of many talented performances. As the mute character simply known as The Renter, Max von Sydow does more with his face, body, and silence than most actors do with an entire script of prose. As Abby Black, Viola Davis adds another stunning and simultaneously brief performance to her resume. She also got the snot going again. That broad just refuses to buy Kleenex.

If there is one criticism to be made, it is that much like Oskar himself, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is just far too aware of its own tragedy. It relishes in it, enjoys every tear and ache of its heart. It indulges in every 9/11 cliché out there, as if it has just seen the same stock 9/11 footage on loops: trying to put an identity to the faceless man falling from the 103rd floor, seeing bitterness and heartache in every “I (heart) NY” souvenir, and screaming at the top of ones lungs against the Western world’s post-empirical fate. Perhaps these are over-played tropes of 9/11 tragedy, or perhaps I am just personally tired of them. But either way, the intellectual and emotional wasteland of Daldry’s post 9/11 New York feels like previously marked territory. Its trajectory does little for this post traumatic shock narrative, and leaves its characters to succeed in spite of it. Most of the characters do in fact succeed, but their backdrop of faceless, cruel high rises does little to support their emotional originality.

As far as its Oscar future goes, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close got, shall we say, incredibly lucky to receive one of the nine Best Picture nominations. I doubt very much it can outshine or out-buzz early Oscar favorites The Artist or even The Descendants, but there is always the possibility of an eleventh hour upset. Max von Sydow, the recipient of the film’s only other nomination for Best Supporting Actor, will have to pick up some steam if he’s going to out-old fellow senior citizen nominee Christopher Plummer. But hey, where there’s a will, there’s a sweet old man trying to steal your Oscar. Put them dukes up, Max.

What did you think of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? Did you read the book? Do you like old guys competing for awards? Share your thoughts with a comment or two.

The Sound And The Fury

Not since Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singing In The Rain has a film so daffily observed the introduction of sound, or “talkies”, into cinema. Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist revisits this territory with new-found melancholy and touching heart.

The Artist tells the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), silent film superstar who appears to have a limitless range, channeling roles from pirate to Colonial adventurer, all with his trusty Jack Russell Terrier by his side and in every frame.

Through a chance encounter, George meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a fan who channels the press from her meeting with the screen star into extra work in George’s newest film. The pair have instant chemistry. But as George is an unhappily married man, the two part ways without so much as an extramarital transgression.

But a reversal in fortunes sees George fired from his film studio in order to make way for fresh, talking meat. Sound is being introduced into moving pictures and George’s big studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) wants new talent for the thunderous future of film. Peppy is able to capitalize on her charming, loud exuberance and becomes an overnight talking sensation.

George, clinging to his pride and the past, bankrolls his own silent film that quickly flops. Soon he is divorced, in the midst of financial ruin during the Great Depression, and out of work. His only companions in his dingy flat devoid of Valentin’s hallmark decadence are his loyal Jack Russell Terrier and his driver Clifton (James Cromwell). The latter will not leave Valentin’s side, even as the eclipsed star fails to pay him.

Although Peppy is part of the clamorous new age of cinema, she cannot get George out of her mind. Desperate to pull the fallen star out of his alcohol and nostalgia fuelled depression, Peppy searches for a way to help George find his voice.

Charming and jovial, The Artist is a deeply moving and entirely original picture. Glitzy, dazzling, and full of life, the French film is in black and white, and almost entirely in silence, (save for a few well-placed noises of innovation). The genius of Hazanavicius’s meta world lies in its contravention; the silence is a nostalgic progression and noise is old news. The result of introducing the smallest of sound, be it an exhale of breath or the clambering of a water glass on a table, feels as if cinema is reborn; it is an experience that is entirely reminiscent of the transition from black to technicolor  as Dorothy steps into Munchkinland in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz.

Cast perfectly as the two young stars are Dujardin and Bejo. The pair seem like 20s actors plucked out of dusty film spools and transported into a theatre from the wrong decade. Dujardin’s Valentin is a lothario infusion of Clark Gable and the aforementioned Gene Kelly. His natural charisma is only matched by his heart-wrenching depth in solace. Bejo is stunningly beautiful and altogether wacky. Each performance, though mugging and large to adhere to their silence, also contain subtle, gentle nuances that speak louder than words ever could.

The result of these performances, the glitzy, innovative throwback, and that Jack Russell Terrier is an entirely exhilarating rebirth of cinema. Like a refreshing glass of water, or a warm hug on a freezing day, The Artist is a welcomely cheery high-point to the routinely dreary awards season. Hazanivicius has crafted a picture of somewhat shallow depth that still manages to evoke a genuine swell of investment from an audience of new believers. With timeless themes come revisited invention. The result is a must-see film.

As far as its Oscar future goes, The Artist has quickly and surely become the one to beat at this year’s Academy Awards. Raking in some big wins at this year’s Golden Globes including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for Jean Dujardin, this little French film that could shows little signs of slowing down. Although I believe this film is bested by The Tree of Life, Melancholia, and Take Shelter, I am still pleased to see such an inventive and all-and-all charming film take some spotlight.

I predict a Best Picture nomination and subsequent win, along with a nod and win for Best Actor for Jean Dujardin. Michel Hazanivicius has stiff competition from Martin Scorsese for Hugo, a directorial performance that stole the Golden Globe. However, with the big bad Weinstein wolves blowing at the Academy’s twig doors, I can see a possible underdog win for the French director.

What did you think of The Artist? Was it all about Cosmo, the Jack Russell Terrier, or are you more of a Uggie from Beginners fan? Make it rain cats and dogs in the comments section, whydontchya?

You Can’t Go Home Again

Ever wonder what happened to your high school’s “It Girl”? You know, the one that seemed to have everything: looks, personality, appeal? (Well I’m right here, blogging and living the dream. Jk.) Diablo Cody, Academy Award winner for her pun-tastic script Juno, touches base with the high school pretty girl in Young Adult.

Reuniting Juno director Jason Reitman with screenwriter Cody, Young Adult tells the story of Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), the beautiful yet aging former high school It Girl. Despite her vastly successful high school cool career, Mavis had  great aspirations of getting out of her small town and making something of herself.

To all intents an purposes, she achieved her dream, and perhaps lost it. Mavis moved away after graduation, married, landed an author’s gig ghost writing a popular teen series, and then divorced. To cap off the fall from grace, her book series Waverly Prep has fallen out of favor with the fickle, vampire-crazed teen audience. Living in a personality-less high-rise in Minneapolis, or “the big city” to those in her hometown of Mercury, Mavis experiences massive creative block in writing the final instalment of Waverly Prep. As a result, she spends much of her time avoiding writing by watching endless hours of Kardashians, dating unappealing men for free dinners, and eating fast food. Sounds familiar.

Escape comes when Mavis receives an email from former high school flame Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). Buddy has become a new father with his wife Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), and emails pictures of their new offspring. Somehow, Mavis sees this as some sort of perverse sign that she is to reunite with Buddy, by any means necessary. She packs up her tiny, fluffy dog, her array of Hello Kitty graphic tees, and transplants herself into Buddy’s life in Mercury.

The only voice of reason in Mavis’s ridiculous scheme comes unexpectedly from Mercury resident Matt (Patton Oswalt), a former high school dweeb from Mavis’s graduating class. Much like Mavis, Matt has had equal trouble moving on from high school. He lives with his sister, works a thankless managerial job, and seems entirely fixed on a damaging high school incident. He and Mavis reunite in a bar, and Matt becomes perhaps the only character to tell Mavis how truly delusional and warped her plan is. Despite Matt’s objections, Mavis is unable to move on from the happiness she achieved in high school and on Buddy’s arm.

Perhaps the gutsiest aspect to Young Adult is Ms. Cody’s choice of protagonist; it takes a truly masterful writer to craft a successful film, such as this, around a character that the audience so dislikes and ultimately roots to fail. Mavis is through and through one dark, narcissistic little girl, trapped in a 30-something’s body. Obsessed only with herself, while paying little attention to the consequences of attaining her goals, Mavis seems altogether strong and weak, enlightened and defeated.

Ms. Theron does an absolutely stellar job at portraying every dead-pan, charmingly selfish quirk to her devious character. It takes an actress with ungodly amounts of natural beauty and charm to fill out Mavis’s pink sweats without total audience alienation. Her performance, both rude and disarming, is the cornerstone at which this film operates successfully.

Patton Oswalt rivals Ms. Thereon’s pitch-perfect execution, providing a flesh and blood characterization of the bitch slap so necessary to the counter-balance of Mavis’s wretchedness. As a thoroughly damaged character, Oswalt’s Matt operates in the acutely dual head-space of both the disgusted witness to Mavis’s perverse schemes, and the teenaged misfit still taken by her hair, her boobs, and her delicious cruelty.

Positively dripping with early 90’s nostalgia, Young Adult is Ms. Cody’s response to the hopeful, 90’s power-ballads by the Replacements or Teenage Fanclub, all of which left its adolescent audiences hanging on every promise of fulfillment. Ms. Cody presents the filmic idiom of what happens to the listeners, such as Mavis, who cannot move on from the wish-fulfillment wonder that their high school careers offered in spades. The result is a vastly sad, darkly funny, and entirely painful portrait of an It Girl whose promise never cashed-in.

As far as its Oscar future goes, I predict the sole nomination to be Ms. Theron’s for Best Actress. Well deserving as Ms. Theron is, she is not the only brilliance at work in Young Adult. Patton Oswalt’s performance is deeply moving and very in need of a Best Supporting Actor nod, one that I fear will not come. As for the screenwriter so schooled in 90s references and black comedy, I believe Ms. Diablo’s work is in desperate need of a Best Original Screenplay nomination. Again, I fear that Ms. Diablo will not receive the proper accolade.

What did you think of Young Adult? Do you think Diablo Cody deserves an Oscar nomination, or is this the punning end of the line? Drop me a word in the comment section, won’t you please?