Monday, February 29, 2016

White bread, cheese and black pudding

Kodakotype by Pants

It's Oscars Sunday again. Or, as we say here in Larrikin's End, Oscars Monday as it is, in fact, Monday. By a peculiar quirk of planetary placement, Australia's ubiquitous claims to 'lead the world' are actually true for once. We arrive everywhere before everyone else and we'll trash the place if you give us half a chance.

'Ubiquitous is a word with three yous in it,' remarks Barney as he pours the first of what we hope will be many a Chardonnay.

'You just get on with those Eggs Vladivostok,' I snipe with a good deal less empathy than my ubiquitous deployment of words resplendent in the letter 'u' might imply. You just can't get the staff.

Yes, the Barnster is back. The Question Why too. Our long summer break is over and it's time to get down to some serious sledging. We begin the day with our ritual reading of the LA Times and discover six ways in which we can boycott the Oscars.

'Why would we do that?' TQW quips with the sort of disdain he usually reserves for whoever happens to be prime minister of this country at any given moment. He's right. The Oscars are the most fun a trio like ours can have on a February afternoon. Besides, we don't have Netflix or a ticket to the JusticeForFlint benefit - which arguably does sound like more fun but Barney had that falling out with Michael Moore and it is still all a bit awkward. Anyway, once we've downed a couple of bottles of the local Chardonnay and several helpings of Barney's exquisite vodkamisu, almost anything is amusing. And for once, Hollywood has a real controversy to grapple with and not just some trifle about hand closeups or women who spend their lives in front of a camera wearing clothes made especially for that purpose objecting to being asked about an outfit they've spent the last year planning. Getting too much attention? Well, that's a problem we wouldn't mind having.

Our first crisis of the day occurs even before the inaugural glass of Chardonnay is drained. An equipment malfunction causes us to miss capturing the fabulous opening montage of nominated films. We fear the Kodak is no more. So it's out with the big Nikon, only to discover that it has a flat battery. Unfortunately, the box Brownie went out in the last garage sale. Barney's financial long board took a wipe out at the end of the resources boom, so we've been forced to make some economies. There's no alternative but to watch the actual broadcast as opposed to fighting over the Kodak. We hate hi-tech. Bring back the camera obscura!

First impressions - is this going to be one of those oh-so dignified affairs with everyone on their best behaviour? We despise those. It's so unnatural for stars not to act like the brats they are. We can only hope that Mad Max wins a few things. Some whooping Aussies with their speeches tattooed on their forearms can really switch it up if things get too tasteful. Then again, there is that long, white cloud of controversy hanging over proceedings. We're looking forward to seeing what Chris Rock might do with this material. No worries, he's onto it.

'Welcome to the White People's Choice Awards,' he says and adds, 'if they nominated hosts, I wouldn't even get this job.' Then he has a swing at all the people who urged him to boycott,  'The last thing I need is to lose another job to Kevin Hart.' Cue zoom on a grinning Kevin Hart. It's a point well made. Yes, protesting the complete absence of non-white nominees in the major categories is warranted and timely but why should any and all sacrifices be made by black people?

'Hark at you,' says Barney as he tops up our glasses.

'Touché mon petit ami, I'll get over myself directly.' 

And it doesn't take long. The sense that the success or failure of these awards hinges on what Chris Rock says and does in the next few minutes knocks us over like a thousand feathers. He begins by pointing out that having no black nominees at the Oscars had happened at least 71 times in their 88-year history and that black folks had previously been too busy being raped and lynched to care too much about who won for Best Cinematography in a given year. He advises that this year's In Memoriam segment will feature all the black people who were shot by cops on their way to the movies.

'Super ouch,' comments TQW. 

 But it's working. The Academians appear to be taking the paddling with credible humour. 

'Well, they are actors,' sniffs Barney. He should know. 

Meanwhile, Rock is on a roll.

'Jada got mad, Jada said she’s not coming,' he says. 'Isn’t she on a TV show? Jada boycotting the Oscars is like me boycotting Rihanna’s panties. I wasn’t invited.' After dissing Jada and Rihanna, who would appear to have nothing to do with anything, he goes after Jada's highly remunerated spouse. 'It's also not fair that Will was paid $20 million for Wild West.'

The scapegoating of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith does seem a tad egregious. One could argue that those with the most power have the highest obligation to speak up and besides, no one's having a pop at fellow boycottees, George and Amal Clooney.

'Is this some warped attempt at balance?' poses TQW.

Well, it might be. And then again it might be something else entirely. Chris Rock riffs on a conversation he had with President Obama at a dinner. Apparently he told the president that the genteel folks, the writers and filmmakers he'd assembled were the nicest white people there are and they don't hire black people.

During the ad break, Barney pours another Chardonnay and we discuss this proposition. We conclude that writers write about people they know and filmmakers work with their pals. As America is becoming less equal by the day, the chances of young black, Hispanic and Asian people going to school and college and film school and any other place where they're likely to meet and make friends with creative people from different backgrounds and form the lifelong cohorts on which Hollywood flourishes are fast disappearing. Inequality equals ghettoisation, innit.

Every year that we can remember, there's been an overt theme at the Oscars. The last couple of years have been all about magic and dreaming and storytelling and we have to admit that watching that drivel has nearly killed us.  To be honest, if it weren't for the drink, we wouldn't be here today.

This year, the theme appears to be subtext. And that's kind of interesting. We're all still thinking about Chris Rock's opening monologue and wondering if 'opening' may mean 'gaping' on this occasion and contemplating all the possibilities blossoming from that thought when, as if 'fade out' were a really truly thing, the big questions dissolve and a prize night begins.

Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt wander onto the stage to give out the award for Original Screenplay and are described as someone white (Blunt) and someone even whiter (Theron - because she's a white South African? The gloves are so off.)

'We're deep in subtext here,' notes TQW, obviously enjoying the intellectual quagmire.

Two distinctly white dudes follow. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe attempt a jocular banter, which might have been funny in any other year but now all we're thinking about is the subtext and the denouement, which is an intolerable two and nine-tenths hours away.

'Maybe there'll only be white presenters,' TQW posits.

Would they dare? Could they get away with it? Would people get it?

Who won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay? Fucked if we can remember. Although we do recall with affection Russell's reading of the selections which settled somewhere between John Gielgud and a triple Harvey Wallbanger.

And then there's a blur of pretty dresses and fresh haircuts. Please don't let the evening settle into dignity and humility. We don't think we could bear it. They really need to bring back sitting round a table with buckets of Krug. Someone would be bound to have a Mel Gibson moment.

Chris Rock is back and introduces a montage of black characters inserted into current movies. It sort of works. You can't go wrong with Whoopi Goldberg.

'Consider the bigger picture,' intones TQW.

He's right. Three hours offers a lot of opportunities for subtext.

Sarah Silverman does quirky shoulders and makes silly James Bond jokes. It doesn't fly, not in any year. Sam Smith wails that godawful song of his. Carey Washington and Henry Cavill flounce out. Cavill introduces The Martian while Washington beams adoringly up at him. Washington introduces The Big Short while Cavill digs deep for an appropriate direct-to-camera smile.

J.K. Simmons hands over the statuette for Best Supporting Actress to Swede Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl. She breathlessly thanks her Mum and Dad. Parents are doing very well in the thanks department so far.

'How come no one ever thanks their dentist?' asks TQW.

They really should. Cate Blanchett is sort of mandatory and we've learned to live with that. Jenny Beavan wins the Costume Design award for Mad Max : Fury Road. And she appears to be wearing something from the film which is sweet and refreshing in a torn-and-thrown-back-together sort of way.

'That ain't no Vera Wang,' snorts Barney, who is, in fact, wearing Vera Wang herself.

Beavan skates charmingly off topic. 'It could be horribly prophetic, Mad Max, if we don't start being kinder to each other and stop polluting the atmosphere,' she warns. Aussies don't believe in black people. Come to think of it, most of us don't believe in being kind to each other or protecting the environment either, but never mind.

Steve Carell and Tina Fey amble on. Are they really going with this all-white presenter thing? For two famous comedians, their jokes are unforgiveably lame. 'Tina has been drinking,' Carell informs us. As if. We know 'has been drinking' humour and it's way better than this.

Another award for Fury Road. The recipients are coming in from Oodnadatta judging by the number of stairs they're required to descend. Margot Robbie and Jared Leto present the award for Makeup and Hairstyling. It's a Mad Max trifecta!

'What's a merkin?' asks Barney

'A type of pickle,' answers TQW, 'fetch us some over here. There's a good chap.'

Fury Road wins something else - frankly, we've ceased caring. 'It's hard to know who's more crazy - me or everyone else,' gushes the hapless recipient. We're with Kerouac on this one, when in doubt, blame everyone else.

Rachel McAdams and Michael B. Jordan arrive to present the award for Cinematography. Jordan's appearance whacks our subtext theory out of the park. We hate that. Emanuel Lubeski wins for The Revenant. He thanks Fox for 'the freedom'? He really needs to get out more.

'What's a revenant?' asks Barney.

'Someone who comes back from the dead, like Mel Gibson.'

Where is Mel, btw? Now he could show us some decent drinking humour.

Subtext, subtext, we want subtext!

Margaret Sixel wins the Editing Oscar for Fury Road. 'It took enormous creative courage and guts to make this film,' she reveals. Really? The fourth in a beloved franchise? If that can't get a green light, what can?

'Do you think the theme is actually delusion?' asks TQW.

Then, not a nanosecond before time, subtext returns.

Angela Bassett introduces another barbed sketch. Black History Minute teases with Will Smith and delivers Jack Black! Talk about your double-edged sword.

Chadwick Boseman and Chris Evans step up for Sound Editing, and we switch to obsessively counting non-white presenters.

'Don't forget Priyanka Chopra,' Barney yells from the kitchenette. Sorry Priyanka, we had to go check the Nikon battery recharger.

Fury Road wins another. One of the recipients, we think it's Mark Mangini but we are long past giving a toss, hollers, 'Fucking Mad Maxers!' as he crashes his way to the stage. 'For thousands of years we've been telling stories around a flickering light,' he informs us. Well, I never. We're too busy delighting in the much-needed tension release to process the inference that he may be acknowledging Aboriginal people. All we can think is this - at last some screeching Aussies. Go the galahs! We couldn't be more proud.

Next up is Sound Mixing.

'What's the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing?' asks the ever-curious Barney. That owly-cat has such an inquiring mind.

'Different speeds on the Cuisinart,' responds TQW. Barney disappears to the kitchen for confirmation.

'Bring us another bottle of Chardonnay while you're out there.' No point in a wasted journey.

Fury Road wins again. There's oodles of tearful and well-deserved hugging of Mad Max creator and director George Miller whose Grandpa Munster haircut we have to admit is very flattering. One of the trio of recipients - and no, we can't be arsed to look it up, or even to look up, actually - seizes the opportunity to create a link, however tenuous, between the film and the holy grail of the moment, 'diversity'. It may be backfiring. When he informs the audience that there are Namibians in the film, they seem confused. 'Wasn't that Star Wars?' the assembled stars mutter. He perhaps should have explained that this means black people from a real place in our world called Namibia, as opposed to a rebel tribe from the Planet Namibia in the outer reaches of the Solar Plexus Galaxy.

One thing for which we are grateful - none of us is booked on tomorrow morning's LAX to SYD flight.

Andy Serkis explains to us the magic of visual effects. Indispensable. Olivia Munn and Jason Segal introduce the Sci-tech Awards. We take a moment to marvel at how truly hopeless professional actors are at reading and looking natural at the same time. Command overload just seems to set in.

We're at the halfway point and, as usual our attention is split between wondering why we subject ourselves to this torment year in, year out and deciding whether or not to have another Chardonnay or get started on the vodkamisu. Or both. We settle on both to console ourselves for the hardship of the former. It seems a fair compensation. C3PO and R2D2 come on and do their C3PO and R2D2 thing. We can never get enough of that.

We google 'Does Chris Rock really have six daughters?' Answer: No. A team from Chile wins that country's first ever Oscar for a short animated film called The Bear. 'What happened in Chile must never happen again,' pleads one of the recipients. Will someone please take him aside and tell him about Syria. That tall, goofy guy from Pixar tells us how much fun it is to 'make stuff.'

'It's all getting a bit technical,' sighs TQW and exits to roll a spliff. Dear spoilt filmmaking people - could we please be spared the unedifying spectacle of the inarticulate trying to describe 'magic' in the future. Deaf ears, I know.

On and on it goes. Where has our subtext gone?

Right on cue, Chris Rock travels to the Empire cinema in Compton and we are hit with the shocking revelation that black folks aren't interested in films with white folks in them. Bring on the thousand feathers. Seems to us that white filmmakers would do better if they made films with mostly black folks in them. Everyone would watch those.

Louis C.K. tells us that the Oscar for Best Documentary Short Film 'is going home in a Honda Civic' and will be 'the nicest thing these people will ever own' because 'these people never make a dime' and then Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy wins it for A Girl in the River. 'Thank God,' she says, 'I have two of them now.' Nice own goal there, Louis. We have a word we'd like you to think about. That word is 'homework'. Should we mention that Sharmeen's family owns Pakistan Cable? On the positive side, it appears that the Pakistani Prime Minister has committed to changing the law on honour killings after watching this film. Nice actual goal, Sharmeen.

We're glad that Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees have won Best Documentary Feature for Amy but sad that the one about Nina Simone didn't win. Two films about unappreciated female genius in the one year - super bummer.

Chris Rock gets involved with more child-centred weird shit. Three baffled kids with briefcases appear and disappear in apparent confusion and distress. You know what they say, Chris, never work with dogs or children. Stand down Scooby-Doo!

The President of the Academy, Cheryl Boone-Isaacs, delivers a politician's speech. There's a lot to do. We're doing some things. There are other things, yadda, yadda, yadda. Perhaps a subtext too far?

We're starting to get horribly bored and regretting that the Oscars Fury Road could potentially win are exhausted. On stalks U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and appeals for a different kind of 'change of culture'. Subtext piles upon subtext and we're having trouble changing gears here but is he talking about rape on university campuses? Compassion fatigue alert! We never thought we'd say this but could someone please bring back those 'fucking Mad Maxers' before we fall asleep in our vodkamisu and compound issues. Those guys are bound to be drunk on self-importance now. It's a peculiar talent at which we Aussies excel.

Pharrell Williams and Quincy Jones hand over the Oscar for Best Original Score to Ennio Morricone. His first? Who can believe it? He looks just about alive enough to enjoy it as well. In come Common and John Legend to honour the Best Original Song. 

'There sure are a lot of black men in Hollywood,' notes Barney, 'I wonder why we don't see more of them in the movies.'

We thought Gaga had the song thing in the bag after that tearjerker with the white piano but no, the ghastly Writing's On the Wall wins. A gushing Sam Smith can't contain his delight at being 'the first openly gay man to win an Oscar'. Oops. Sir Ian McKellen might find himself with some explaining to do, we daresay. Homework, Sam, homework.

Sacha Baron-Cohen does a turn as Ali G. and so gets away with it. Alejandro Iñárritu wins Best Director and advises all of us to liberate ourselves from all prejudice. At this point in the subtext it's a wise move to avoid the specific. He resists all attempts to be Valkyried off the stage. He owns that mother. Mucho respecto Alejandro! And, just in time, the Nikon battery hits full charge and we capture a topical Kodakotype!

Brie Larson wins Best Actress for Room and obliges with an issue-free thank you, for which we are very grateful at this point in the proceedings. You can never have too much soft cheese at these things. Leonardo fluffs the beginning of his shoo-in speech with a cringey Cate Blanchett moment in which he acknowledges 'all the other incredible nominees'. Recovering his dignity, he wades right in on climate change. As if we weren't already issued-out man, but hey, it's Leo! 'We need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,' he growls. What you gonna do, disagree?

Now for the denouement of denouements. Out strides Morgan Freeman. Black enough for y'all? Now that's a slam-dunk. Too bad about that pesky economic inequality situation because the sentiment is spot on. Speaking of spots...

Hold the front page, there's another issue that has not yet been fully mined! Spotlight, a film about priests abusing children in the Roman Catholic Church wins Best Picture. There you go. That's one in the eye for our very own Cardinal Pell, and we can muster a chuckle for that. Once again, Hollywood saves the world. Hooray for Hollywood!   We're chuffed, especially now that it's over. And so, lashings of air kisses to you from Larrikin's End

And to all - good night and good luck.