You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Besty Pictures!

Contrary to the title, this isn't a retrospective of Russ Meyer's work in the cinema. Instead, it's our annual review of the Best Picture nominees from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences!

Oscar and his pals have selected nine amazing and highly overrated pictures to heap praise upon this year. Let's face it; there isn't a You Don't Mess with the Zohan among them. Nonetheless, each one of these works, in its own unique and groundbreaking way, stretches cinema in ways that would make a grown man weep, were cinema his groin. Let's have a look:

The Artist  is a breathtaking (because of all the vomiting) and nostalgic look at silent cinema. It asks important questions, such as "Why would anyone sit in a theater for two hours watching people imitate a clumsy Marcel Marceau?" and "If actors with odd voices had their careers destroyed by the coming of sound, how did Fran Drescher get into the business?"

The film centers on the life of an artist. We never really learn what kind of artist he is because the filmmakers, being the self-centered little bastards they are, decide to spend all their time focusing on the guy's meteoric rise as a "movie star," followed by his depressing fall from fame, and culminating in him working as a ticket taker in a traveling flying circus run by some English guy named Montesquieu Pythonalia.   

This is how the film opens, with our pathetic hero sitting a top a Sopwith Camel, fending off hallucinatory beagles, collecting tickets from geeky military aircraft aficionados named Biggles, and avoiding cease and desist orders from Prince (who insists he is the only "Artist"). Our protagonist moans on and on in flashback mime about how he was such a big deal, how women threw themselves at him like knickers at a Tom Jones concert, how his on-set dressing rooms were so big they just put him up in adjacent studios, and how he once used Warren Harding as an Ottoman at one of Charlie Chaplin's sex parties (at which there were a LOT of canings).

The film is full of recreations of famous silent movie scenes, including Buster Keaton being run over by a taxiing Vought Corsair (The O2U model, of course), Mary Pickford killing a pack of rabid wolves by strangling them with one of her hair ribbons, Lillian Gish fighting to keep her dress on in a giant windstorm (shot at another one of Chaplin's parties), and Lon Chaney's remarkable scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, where he eats an entire plate of peas using only a butter knife.

Like the best silent films, it ends tragically, with a hilarious, yet fatal pie fight.

The Descendants is a meditation about what George Clooney's family would look like, were the politically-oriented, Mojito-obsessed playboy to ever settle down and have a family. (At this rate, he'll have most of his kids later than Chaplin did.)

The film opens when Claude (George Clooney), the great-grandson of George Clooney, applies for Star Fleet Academy. Unfortunately, Star Fleet Academy doesn't actually exist, because it's still just a figment of the imagination of Gene Roddenberry and approximately 200,000,000 Star Trek fanatics (George Clooney) hyped up on Mojito-flavored 5-Hour Energy drinks. His father, Pierre (George Clooney), works for NASA, which, due to budget cuts, has been reduced to flying citrus shipments, via Vought Corsair, to 164 year-old Richard Branson's (George Clooney), low orbiting Virgin Airways Space Station (formerly known as the Sky City Restaurant at the top of the Seattle Space Needle.)

Meanwhile Pierre's daughter, Marie (Georgette Clooney), is an ad executive for Geico. She struggles with the fact that her job consists primarily of finding ways to combine cavemen and Geckos into commercials featuring music by Rockwell. Eventually, she sues the Gecko (George Clooney) for sexual harassment (George Clooney), after he "absentmindedly" wanders  underneath her skirt (George Clooney). She also sues the caveman for making unkind remarks about how her legs (George Clooney) are "shaggier than mine, and I'm a Neanderthal (George Clooney)."

Claude's son, Napoleon Bonaparte Clooney (You Know Who), is a child prodigy at making balloon animals. He wins the Nobel Peace Prize after making a ginormous balloon house that brings tears to the eyes of Hugo Chavez's great-grandauughter, Hugo (Clooney, natch), averting war between Venezuela and the Florida Keys.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells the story of a pilot named Lucky Barnstormer, and how he lost part of his hearing and all of his nose when he wandered too close to the engine and propeller of a Vought Corsair. It's all in slow motion though, which is how they stretched it out to 129 minutes.

Actually, there are a considerable number of flashbacks to Lucky's early days on the stunt plane circuit. In between recreating Snoopy's most famous battle scenes, Lucky spends a great deal of time perfecting a supposedly impossible move called the Excalibur Vertigo (nearly half the film depicts how he came up with the name). The stunt involves bodily leaving the plane while it is in the top part of a 360 degree loop and then re-entering the plane as it loops back down underneath him. The trickiest part of the stunt turns out to be getting the seat belt over those enormous pilot goggles.

Needless to say, 47 test pilots and 469 parachutes later, Lucky finally pulls off the trick, only to find that David Lee Roth has been performing the move for months in a Van Halen reunion concert.

Lucky goes back to the drawing board, only to find that fateful Corsair in the way. (My favorite line from the film: "In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have kept the drawing board on the runway.")

The film ends when Lucky decides to give up his career for love and marry Britney Spears. The two are wed in a kaleidoscope of Las Vegas lights and go on to live happily ever after, in so much as "ever after" is what Britney calls Tuesday.

The Help is a charmer about a pair of African-American housekeepers in the segregated South who decide to form a rock band ("The Help"). They play several small concerts in homes, offering to tidy up a bit after the encores. This gets a bit expensive when they start adding pyrotechnics and guitar smashing to their concerts.

Fortunately, there are enough contract bridge clubs and ladies auxiliaries who are entranced with the novelty of the act to keep our heroines in garters and Les Paul Flying V guitars. (This latter detail is used by the director as a double entendre throughout the film, particularly in the scene where the leads attend one of Charlie Chaplin's Oxford, Mississippi sex parties. Later we learn that "Flying V" actually represents the Vought Corsair.)

Soon though, the ladies are challenged by family members who are concerned the women have turned their back on more traditional forms of music, such as rhythm and blues, gospel, and most importantly, novelty songs. Nonetheless, the spirited young women remain committed to their chosen genre, upping the ante by purchasing $10,000 worth of leather tights and adding a brown M&M rider to their touring contract.

Eventually, we see much of American history through the eyes of The Help: the civil rights era, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, drugs, and their famous trio performance with Richard Nixon and Spinal Tap at Woodstock (and the ensuing cover-up).

The film is full of music (including one 45 minute drum solo) and inspires from the humble beginning to the massive conclusion when the band breaks up over a disagreement about who gets to sit next to Letterman on Late Night.

Hugo is a delightful family film about a young boy named Timmy, with a slight speech impediment and a love of 70-era Yugoslavian made economy cars. More than anything, Timmy wants to travel to Kragujevac, Serbia to see the production line for the Zastava Koral, also known as the "Yugo."

However, Timmy's parents are serious, pragmatic types, with repressed sexual desires and massive stock options. So, they are reluctant to let their little boy wander off to Cold War-era Eastern Europe on a dopey motorhead lark. However, they are also drug smugglers, sitting on a hot stash of Columbian "donut sugar." After heart-wrenching contemplation and debate, they eventually send little Timmy off to Yugoslavia, with only his dreams, a Polaroid of his great-uncle Jakov, and 47 Samsonite suitcases full of "talcum powder."

After flying to Serbia in a refurbished Vought Corsair, Timmy's speech impediment and the great difficulty of hearing over a 2,000 hp (1,500 kW) 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial engine leads his Yugoslavian hosts (and at least one New Zealander) to believe he is trying to find a man named "Hugo," who looks suspiciously like Timmy's great-uncle Jakov.

Much hilarity ensues, including a scene where Timmy falls into a well and is rescued by an indifferent, transgendered collie. Eventually though, Timmy's story has a happy ending, as his great-uncle Jakov locates him and takes him home in his brand new lemon yellow Yugo. As it turns out, Jakov is also the head of the secret police, and has everyone shot for calling him "Hugo," which just happens to be the name of his ex-wife.

Midnight in Paris opens, strangely enough, in Bratislava, when a man empties a brass chamberpot unto to the head of a passer-by, who turns out to be MI6 agent Commander James Bond (Daniel Craig). Bond, not use to such shabby treatment, empties his Walther PPK into the man. He then also empties an M20 bazooka into him, and just for good measure, runs over him with an Abrams tank.

Bond is then knocked unconscious by the chamberpot, thrown into the air by the M20 explosions. Bond wakes up to find the chamberpot firmly stuck on his head. Unable to see or speak clearly, Bond remarks that his situation is a bit like "finding oneself alone at Midnight in Paris." However, a passing police officer of French descent overhears the offensive remark and gives the chamberpot a good rap with his truncheon. Bond, not one to stand for having his smelly bell rung, kills the unsuspecting officer with a remarkably athletic head butt. This also has the added benefit of knocking the chamberpot loose. Unfortunately, when Bond takes a moment to conjure a pithy line about the policeman's demise ("Potting is such sweet sorrow") the chamberpot falls back on his head and is stuck again.

Bond, unable to remove the chamberpot, reports to M (Dame Judi Dench) who, disgusted as much by the smell as the situation, sends him to Q (Woody Allen), who in turn has the best laugh he's had in quite some time.

Q attempts to remove the chamberpot from Bond's head through a series of ingenious and escalating methods, starting with a large bottle rocket, progressing to a variety of shaped plastic explosives, and ending when he ties the chamberpot to the tail of a Vought Corsair and has it take off a full speed.

After Bond lands, he hits upon the idea of shoving a dozen sticks worth of melted Irish butter into the pot to loosen it. This doesn't work, but it turns out that Bond has a sever butter allergy and the resulting violent sneezes blast the chamberpot off of his head, killing Q outright.

Moneyball, as you might have guessed, is the story of a giant ball of money. It starts as a roll of quarters in the pocket of a major league baseball general manager. However, after a long night of reading economic treatises, and tired of all the "Is that a roll of quarters in your pocket or are you just glad to see me" jokes, the general manager sets the roll of quarters free on the floor of a local money market. The roll of quarters immediately digests a pile of undernourished Euros, and emboldened by this develops a yen for yuan, gobbling up the Chinese currency like Tom Arnold at a Golden Corral on Prime Rib night.

Things change though and soon our amiable, yet obnoxious pile of money develops a yuan for yen, and begins to gobble up the Japanese currency like a Sumo wrestler in a Golden Corral that only serves Chanko-nabe, the protein rich traditional meal of Sumo wrestlers.

By this time, our robust pile of money has formed into a massive ball of cash as large as Warren Buffet's George Constanza-sized wallet of chewing gum cash (approximately $1.2 bn). It rolls right over several banks which, in spite of the U.S. federal bailout, are flattened like something very flimsy run over by some really big, heavy thing. This causes a great deal of alarm, particularly as the ball of cash is now over 400 feet tall and resembles a large, round Godzilla, with Benjamin Franklin's face plastered all over his ass.

The U.S. government rises to the challenge however, and defeats the enormous ball of money by issuing a new line of quarters to commemorate famous American clowns. The quarters are dropped from a massive fleet of Vought Corsairs (but only because the B-52 squadrons were too busy doing a Geico ad). The original roll of quarters, sensing the bombardment of Emmett Kelly laden 25-cent pieces, abandons the moneyball, causing it to break apart into a bajillion pieces, all of which mysteriously wind up in President Obama's 2012 campaign fund.

The Tree of Life is the last of the nominated films beginning with the word "The." It's also Terence Malick's story of what happens to a 1950's family when the screenwriter suddenly ingests a massive amount of peyote during a Pope Benedict XVI homily on the relationship between human suffering, cosmology, and Sean Penn's unpredictable mood swings.

Jack O'Brien (Sean Penn) is a troubled young man whose family survived the 1950's by engaging in the highly dubious practice of working in a factory that makes uniforms for other factory workers. This highly self-reflexive occupation causes the entire universe to have a massive existential flashback starting with the Creation and ending with the scene in I Love Lucy when Lucy and Ethel (Brad Pitt) are working at the candy factory and the conveyor belt speed is turned up to "11."

Suddenly, the universe is invaded by an alternate universe in which everyone is a zebra with a handlebar mustache and speaks in a highly affected Australian accent. The zebras are soon attacked by and army of ninjas and pirates, led by the pervy Burger King. This universe proves to be so improbable that Steven Hawking immediately proclaims it as "the absolutely necessary product of gravity." He then is mowed down by a zebra flying a Vought Corsair and shouting, "''Ere's Vegimite in your dilly bag, ya yabbo!"

The Aussie-moustachioed-zebraverse is suddenly sucked into a black hole created when Jack starts to feel mopey about how his marriage to Madonna failed. Just when our own universe is about to be ingurgitated by this Material Girl-fueled singularity, Jack's spirits are perked up as one of the last zebras from the alternate universe flattens a nearby paparazzi hiding behind a bush. Jack then sits down to rest under a large tree which turns out to be the eponymous tree of the title, which Jack never realizes because he's too busy prepping for a role in a new Martin Scorcese film about mafiosos who were childhood friends in Catholic school.

War Horse is not only the title of Steven Spielberg's latest film, it's also a useful description of the plot. A young man named Joey befriends a horse, believing him to be an alien shark, disguised as a dinosaur. When Joey finally realizes his friend is just a horse (named Extraterrestrial Tyrannosaurus Jaws Rex III) , he rides his equine friend naked through the moors and hills of England in an ecstatic... Waitaminute. Sorry, that's the plot of Equus. In Spielberg's film, Joey rides the horse naked through the no-man's land of WWI trench warfare, under constant threat of death from bombardment, machine gun fire, or severe sunburn on his "rod and reel."

Amused by the sight of a goofy naked guy on a horse, the Germans decide that they can easily win the war against the English, based on the logic that even the French aren't libertine enough to send nudes into battle without at least prepping the battlefield with half-empty wine bottles and cheese. They attack en masse and are mowed down in slow motion by Joey, who had stealthily concealed a machine gun in his cowlick.

Having defeated the Germans a full three years before the war officially ended, Joey and his inseparable friend (because some prankster had covered the back of the horse with glue at the beginning of the film) decide to enter the Grand National, disguised as Liz Taylor and a different, though similar horse. They win an amazing comeback victory, after being a full furlong behind due to arriving late because they were kidnapped by the usual sinister caricatures who can see no other way to victory beyond kidnapping the biggest underdogs in the field.

Finally, they travel to America in a Vought Corsair and win the Triple Crown, overcoming the sudden and dramatic addiction to mint juleps the horse develops during the Kentucky Derby. The final scene ends with them taking a lap of victory at the Belmont Stakes, followed by adoring fans and at least one track steward asking Joey if he would very much mind putting on a pair of trousers.

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