Monday, February 25, 2013

Wheel of Torture Turns Interminably

Ted Talks For Dummies - Kodakotype by Pants (2013)

It's Oscars week. Excitingly, this year there is more than one Oscar scenario in the dramatic mix. As the Pants crew assembles to mix drinks and trade inexpert opinion, we're somewhat divided about whether to forensically track the known known of the stiletto-spiked red carpet or the MacGuffin of the unfolding Pistorius family saga.

No sooner is Oscar Pistorius granted bail on the grounds that a man without legs could hardly be expected to run, than we learn that brother Carl is facing manslaughter charges relating to a road accident back in 2008. We at Seat of Pants have not heard of such a marvellous coincidence since the nomination of Daniel Day-Lewis for a third Best Actor Oscar in as many public sightings. If the Pistorius family could produce a third suspicious death before the red carpet unfurls ... It was a big ask.

So, here we are again. Pants as the voice of whatever reason can be mined from an event for which the word tawdry might have been invented, The Question Why as stalwart interlocutor and Barney, after last year's ill-advised pronouncements on the values of binge drinking at the Elton John Post-Oscar Party is back chilling Chardonnay to perfection for his betters and whipping up a batch of his very excellent Eggs Vladivostok. None of us have seen any of the films this year which makes for an interesting approach. 

The glory talk has all been about Lincoln and Argo and is trapped in a torpor that makes predictable seem fresh. After the Best Picture for 2011 Oscar went to a French, silent, black-and-white film and to a British bio-pic of a stammering monarch the previous year, the white American patriot had to know the sun was back in his corner of the sky. Zero Dark Thirty was an audacious attempt by Kathryn Bigelow, the only woman ever to win a Best Director Oscar, to do a Hilary Mantel and win with the same main course and fresh lettuce. Not in Hollywood. That token has already been spent.

The most interesting matter arising from Zero Dark Thirty is the argument it's provoked about the depiction of graphic torture served up without the ameliorating dressing of a disclaimer and link to a donation site. The Question Why has just stirred from his pre-Oscars/postprandial meditation to pose a signature rhetorical question. If the systematic extermination of the Jews by the Nazis had been filmed and those films widely distributed via social media, would it have been stopped or would people have simply set up discussion groups about the ethics of showing people being gassed in films?

We'd all so love to go there but our annual cringe-fest is about to begin. Our new Oscar host appears. He claims to be Seth MacFarlane. We know this name like we know the names Trey Parker and Matt Stone and the mother of all Matts - the great Groening. We know them as text attached to beloved animated sit-coms. But, has anyone ever seen these guys? Come on that's Casey Affleck with a nose job. 

Seth/Casey whatever proclaims that for the first time, the Oscars will have a theme. Really? What could it possibly be - films? 'No,' sayeth the master of ceremonies. It will be music. 'Haven't we tried that before?' The Question Why and I share a moment of biliousness as we call to mind Hugh Jackman lap-dancing his way into the stuff of permanent nightmare in 2009.

There follows a fifteen-minute sequence of unfathomably confused ghastliness involving Captain Kirk, Charlize Theron taking her first dance lesson and a ditty about titties. All charmingly sub-Butlins but hardly worth Vera Wang's toil at the Janome. Aren't all actors supposed to be able to hoof? Or, is there a too-clever-by-half double bluff going at the irony factory? Or perhaps it's that irony makes a great cloak for nasty sexist and racist jibes.

Finally, we're away. First up it's Best Supporting Actor. 'Ever noticed,' poses the Question Why, 'that actors come in waves of popularity? You have Ryan Gosling in everything one year and then it's Shia LaBeouf and Ryan Gosling again and then Bradley Cooper then Ryan Gosling again.' Hey, variety is the spice of life.

And there also seems to be a lot of crusty old men with grey beards. Christoph Waltz wins with grey hair and no beard, although he did sport a magnificent grey facial thatch in Django Unchained. Jack Nicholson has no beard but does appear to have gone blind so perhaps is not aware of the current grooming code.

Paul Rudd appears with Melissa McCarthy. She's wearing, what is that, the drapes from the theatre where Lincoln performed his last slow handclap? They attempt to reprise some classic Ben Stiller weirdness but don't pull it off. There's just no courage in Hollywood anymore. Brave wins Best Animated Film and is collected by a geezer in a kilt. He even apologises for the kilt. And that's about as plucky as it comes at this chartered accountants' convention.

An hour passes in a glaze of taffeta and Botox. Life of Pi wins for Best Cinematography. The prize is collected by Gandalf the Grey. Confusing. Surely this was all more fun when there were tables and bottles of bubbly and more obstacles to trip over than just bony knees. There's a school of thought that says this whole school speech-night format is to give the impression that movie people do not live lavishly but sit earnestly and humbly waiting crammed into velour theatre seats to take their well-deserved turns as firsts among equals. I say it's enough to make one pine for Rob Lowe's Snow White jape from 1989.
 
One rogue from an uncountable team of suits collecting the Visual Effects trophy for Life of Pi gets cut to the accompanying crescendo of the Jaws theme after rabbiting on about a friend being in financial difficulties. That friend will thank him, I'm sure, for spreading the story of his personal woes to one seventh of the world's population including every single individual who was ever likely to consider engaging him in a business transaction in the future. Still, it lifts our flagging spirits for a few minutes.

That is until the next musical interlude. This time it's  'Fifty Years of Bond' in music, punctuated by pictures of lots of things blowing up. Shirley Bassey demonstrates just why we haven't heard anything from her in the past forty years. I don't know what she's been doing but daily vocal workouts don't seem to have been a factor. It's diabolical but she gets a standing ovation. Bless Hollywood and Oscars night. It's the only time and place left on earth where great age and even greater incompetence are celebrated.

Another hour of awards for films that don't matter to anyone except the people who make them and the families and friends who finance them. Liam Neeson enters to the music of Shindler's List. Shows you how much he's been doing lately. There are many pictures of and jokes about Ben Affleck. That is definitely Casey up there. Boring strapless stick-insect sheaths in muted colours. Yawn. Jennifer Garner proving that the world is much smaller and a good deal duller than it looks. No wait, she has a bustle. Oh joy, now we can spend a few minutes speculating on who she may have hit in the face with it exiting her seat. Seriously, where is Sarah Jessica Parker these days? She could always be relied upon to look shocking.

It's at least an hour and a half after Seth/Casey cracked an appallingly offensive Kardashian joke and, finally, we get a shot of a scowling Kardashian. Better late and all that, and rather comforting to know that there is a tipping point to shamelessness in everyone. 

Oh no, ten more intolerable minutes of musical tributes. Jennifer Hudson sounds dreadful. Did no one think to bring the box of Fisherman's Friend? And now the cast of Les Misérables performs. No quantity of Fisherman's Friends could coax a melodic note out of Russell Crowe but he does have a very impressive grey beard.

Mark Wahlberg appears with 'Ted'. This is the lowlight and a cue for some heady anti-Semitism. It was the only territory ripe for causing offence left unexploited. Can't be having that. A toy is an even better cloak for bigotry than irony. And what is that backdrop? Recycled Wheel of Fortune meets Q-Tip sales campaign?  Les Misérables wins for Sound Mixing. So, Russell's singing wasn't a deal breaker then. Sound editing is a tie. A what? Out of five films, you couldn't pick one? The second, for Skyfall is gathered up by a pair of Gandalfs. It is nice to see men looking a bit scruffy after all that precision grooming. Where the fuck is Mickey Rourke?

Christopher Plummer, with his wonderfully plummy voice, displays a dazzling ability to complete a comprehensible sentence. In the Supporting Actress category is Australia's Jacki Weaver. She is very good at playing the bad-seed Mom but Anne Hathaway gets it - she deserves it for dedicated method dieting and she can sing.

Academy President, the alarmingly monikered Hawk Koch, appears to announce a new Museum of Motion Pictures, apparently blissfully unaware that he is standing in one. Embalming fluid plays havoc with the memory, apparently. Jennifer Lawrence appears wearing a sugar mountain. 

Adele is in an all-that-glitters tussle with her background. She starts out okay but then looks and sounds like something very important has just dropped out of her ear. I'm beginning to wonder if I've done Shirley Bassey and Jennifer Hudson a disservice. There may be something seriously amiss with this sound system. That doesn't explain Russell Crowe though. Nicole Kidman ably demonstrates that there is such a thing as far too much Botox.

Barbra Streisand comes out humming The Way We Were in tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, who left the building this year past. After a few mawkish words she bursts into full voice, reminding of us why we haven't seen her with a microphone in her hand for a few decades. Even accounting for the near surety that there is something wrong with the sound system or a worldwide shortage or Fisherman's Friend, it is an appalling showing.

It's hard to credit that it's ten years since Chicago won Best Picture, or for matter, that it won  anything at all. And then Richard Gere hobbles out carrying a spacey-looking Renee Zellweger and it becomes clear where those years have landed. Richard Gere has apparently brought the wrong glasses so passes the open envelope to Renee Zellweger. She didn't bring her glasses, which may explain why she had to be zimmer-framed into place. 'There may be another explanation,' suggests the Question Why, passing the Chardonnay bottle. Queen Latifah clearly wears contact lenses so someone was able to announce a winner. 

Nearly three hours that none of us are getting back have elapsed and none of the major awards has come around. Quentin Tarantino wins for Best Original Screenplay. He looks refreshingly louche with his tie all undone and his hair rakishly mussed. Oh, bless, and he's rambling and self-congratulating. There is a ripple in the space-time continuum. Evolution no longer feels like a process in reverse gear. 

That is, until Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas arrive. Fonda is unmissable in cadmium yellow and can almost certainly be seen from space. Must be a legacy of The China Syndrome. Ang Lee wins Best Director for Life of Pi, completing the grand celebration of the colour yellow.

Jean Dujardin now has a grey beard. What do they put on the invite - black tie/grey face? Favourite Jennifer Lawrence is up against Emmanuelle Riva whose 86th birthday coincides with the ceremony and who hasn't been at all well and nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis who seems in fine health but is black and her name starts with a 'Q' which the Question Why assures me is a good omen. But Jennifer Lawrence wins it. As if to kick merde in the face of a poor old lady facing another long plane journey, they're playing My Cherie Amour. It's nice to see that sugar mountain dress again though. And ... she falls. So worth it.

Meryl Streep either has an itchy bottom or a dodgy hem. Joaquin Phoenix is very good at playing a drunk and he has a promising beard. But Streep makes no pretence at suspense. Without even opening the envelope she gushes, 'Daniel Day-Lewis.' So much for drum rolls. He makes the best joke of the day. He was set to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl was Spielberg's first choice for Lincoln. How difficult can it be? Now Seth/Casey, what you need is method. You have to think yourself into funny. The day is saved. But he's shaved off that impressive Lincoln beard.

Jack Nicholson ambles out. There is only the big one left and a last, and frankly overdue, surprise, well, two actually. Michelle Obama beams in from The White House to make the big announcement. She's surrounded by service men and women in formal dress uniforms, either that or the White House staff have a compulsory Duke of Edinburgh awards programme. At least they haven't done anything really silly this year like make the people who haven't won anything for a while act out the plots of each of the nominated films with shadow puppets. 

And it's Argo. Only half a surprise. That is definitely Casey Affleck up there. There's nothing like a sore winner now is there? Ben Affleck rants about how he couldn't get work for, like, years. Now who could credit that given his creative choices? One only needs to draw to mind his memorable turn as the blind superhero in Daredevil, (which recalls Al Pacino at his best in Scent of a Woman), to conclude the snubbing could have been nothing but naked envy. Remember that old saying, 'be careful who you fuck over on your way up? If you're someone who slammed the door in the Affleck mush after Gigli and/or Jersey Girl and/or Pearl Harbor, and/or... (sorry but that list of misfires is formidable), you might want to think about retraining. I hear they're looking for fly-in-fly-out miners in far north-west Australia. Hey, if it's good enough for Josh Lucas - and word has it that a Pistorius or two might be headed that way soon...