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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Simply the Best Picture Nominees of 2016!

I realize this place has been quieter than a John Kasich campaign rally lately, but one thing I will not forget to post is our annual review of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Best Picture nominees.

This is the time of year when we sit back in awe and wonder at the cinematic magic that brings to life fantastic stories and characters on the silver screen. Then, after we turn off Turner Classic Movies's annual month long tribute to the Oscars, we sit around an wonder which one of this year's crop of digital phlegm will be momentarily ennobled by the little gold statue of the man with the improbably long "sword."

And the Oscar goes to... one of these. I suppose.

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The Big Short

This amazing Disney film is about the day Rick Moranis accidentally enlarged Martin Short to the size of a stretch Hummer limo. (Original title: Honey, I Maxed Out the Marty!)

During a holiday party (Arbor Day) at Graceland, actor and part-time mad scientist Rick Moranis (James Franco) is playing around with his latest invention, a death ray. After frying Donald Trump (Rip Taylor) to a crisp and burning a basketball-sized hole through Lena Dunham's (Hillary Clinton) cowboy belt buckle, Moranis makes a few delicate adjustments to the device with a baseball bat (Robert DeNiro) and accidentally enlarges Martin Short (Kenneth Brannagh) to the point where he could have played Hagrid in the Harry Potter films, were Hagrid twice as big and a world-class talk show schmoozer.

Always being "on" and seeking to entertain the party crowds, as well as the alarming crowd of government scientists (the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Models) gathering outside, "The Big Short" quickly demolishes the Memphis mansion while relating a story about a visit to Gary Busey's (Nick Nolte) winter condo (Holiday Inn Express), and growing even larger he juggles Elvis's collection of rhinestone-covered Cadillacs (The Jonas Brothers) until they crash, destroying an entire wing dedicated to Elvis's capes (Martin Short, in an unbilled cameo).

The change in size, and Moranis's continual firing of the ray at Short, yelling, "I can fix this Marty!" quickly drive the giant-sized Ed Grimley mad. He rambles eastward, over the Appalachians (getting several standing ovations from hill people who still remember his brilliant turn as the even larger Jiminy Glick), eventually rampaging down the east coast. The Big Short makes his way to the Big Apple, stopping only to do two nights of stand up in Atlantic City, and finally to the top of the Empire State Building, reasoning, "Why not? It's a cliche, but a good one, I must say!"

At the top of the Empire State Building, he regales the city below with several anecdotes about visits to Regis and Kathy Lee (both played by David Letterman, in flashback), and a mildly salacious story about a flirtatious Mia Farrow, until a passing squadron of Vought Corsairs shoot him down for referring to Frank Sinatra as "Mr. Farrow."

As Marty falls, Rick Moranis points the ray at himself, just in time to grow himself to giant size. He reverses the effect, points the ray at Short, and reduces his size just in time to improbably catch him, Luckily, the 4,587 bullets fired at the plucky comic actor only grazed him, and every one lives happily ever after, because that's the way Disney rolls these days.

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Bridge of Spies

A dark tale of espionage, betrayal, and scheduling snafus, this film recounts the day in 1987 that every NATO and KGB agent in Europe got stuck in a traffic jam on the Tower Bridge in London.

The day begins when a lone Vought Corsair drops a cargo of leaflets on the Soviet Embassy in London (right down the street from the Nando's on Bayswater Road). The leaflets purport to reveal the time and location of a major exchange of secret information (the secret recipe of KFC's 11 herbs and spices) between KGB double agents and MI6 agents, all disguised as mimes. Unfortunately, the leaflets scatter, landing not only on the embassy grounds but also in the surrounding neighborhood, where they are collected by intelligence agents from around the world (except for the French, who are on a smoke break at the time - the Belgians fill them in later, during a lunch of frites and coq a vin).

What none of the participants know is that the flyers are a prank by a local television and radio personality (rhymes with Balan Cartridge) who is determined to embarrass the Soviets for "inventing borscht."

The prank quickly turns deadly when the location, the Tower Bridge (for those of you who didn't bother to read the first paragraph), is swarmed with aggressive, hard-drinking, heavily-armed mimes. The situation quickly turns into violent, acrobatic, yet remarkably silent combat that brings traffic to a halt from Doddinghurst to Tadworth.

The situation is finally defused when Margaret Thatcher para-sails into the conflict with a mini-gun and dispatches all of the remaining agents, along with three actual mimes, just for sport.

The media personality (rhymes with Fallon Tartridge), in keeping with the sternest traditions of British Justice, is fined 15 pounds, and ordered to clean up the bridge.

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Brooklyn

This is the fascinating story of a young, idealistic Irish woman (Whoopi Goldberg) named Brooklyn (after David Beckham's eldest son, who strangely would not be born for another 50 years). Being named Brooklyn, she decides to travel to Brooklyn, NY and promptly charters a Vought Corsair to travel to America. Unfortunately, due to the Corsair's limited range (882 nautical miles), and the fact that she is not trained to fly the single seat fighter, she finds herself crash landing on an uncharted island in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Just as she is about to lose all hope and draw a face on a semi-deflated volleyball, she is rescued by a tramp steamer headed for Morocco. The ship, populated with Charlie Chaplin impersonators (the cast of TV's Glee), is a torrent of bamboo canes, baggy pants, over-sized shoes, and weird, obsessive questions about whether Brooklyn is really as old as she looks.

This proves too much for her, and she steals away one evening in a lifeboat, while the Chaplins are distracted with "Roller-skate Night." She rows the remaining few thousand miles to the new world (fortunately, she has forearms like Popeye the Sailor). Alas, her navigational skills are sub-par, and she beaches her dinghy on the shores of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. After a few more tries (Havana, Miami, Venice, Prince Edward Island) the exhausted Brooklyn finally spies her destination on the horizon. She rows into view of the magnificent environs of New York City's most colorful borough, letting her senses drink in every building, street corner, and resident, and she promptly decides to return home.

She rows off into the east, into a glorious sunrise, humming the theme music to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, eventually landing in Singapore.

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Mad Max: Fury Road

The sequel to the little seen Mad Max film, Mad Max: Who Let the Dogs Out, Fury Road tells the story of how our rugged Australian hero drives down a quite little road in the Melbourne suburbs, completely enraged that he is unable to burn from his mind the image of the weird guy in the
codpiece thong from The Road Warrior. Thus, we the audience have complete empathy with our hero.

Max (Jackie Chan) is ostensibly driving to the local chemist for a tube of hemorrhoid cream - so we know he's already on edge - but the nightmarish image of a mohawk and buttstrap sharing the same ghoulish body pushes him over the edge. He turns his vehicle, an 18-wheeler, into a KFC, and after changing the truck into the fried chicken vendor, he drives the now mobile KFC into a trailer park, flattening dozens of old cars on cinder-blocks.

After the carnage, the residents of the trailer park decide to hire Max to ward off the roving gangs of punks trying to steal their gasoline and put tires on their cars. Also, it's the only way to get Max to move his vehicle off of the town mayor (Getty Lee).

Eventually, Max befriends an eccentric pilot (Yahoo Serious) who flies an ultralight. Max trades in the ultralight for a Vought Corsair, and when the gangs finally attack, in their fleets of Toyota Priuses, the pilot blows them all to kingdom come with a single rocket.

His work done - by the frazzle-haired aviator - Max tells the park residents he must move on, largely because he never made it to the chemist and is unable to sit in one place longer than 30 seconds. He drives off into the sunset, flattening two trailers and exploding a kangaroo in the process.

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The Martian

The mysterious story of how the star of TV's My Favorite Martian hid from the general public the fact that he was actually from Mars.

Ray Walston (Javier Bardem) is a moderately successful actor in Hollywood with a dark secret: He was born a prince of the hidden, ancient people of Mars (known to them as "Laurel, Mississippi" in their native tongue). He crash landed on Earth in the 1940's, when his spacecraft, now disguised as an outhouse in his back yard, was clipped by a Vought Corsair during a hurricane. Struggling to conceal his alien lineage from the vultures in the press - specifically Variety gossip columnist Martha Vulture, he takes an unlikely part in a new television series about a man from Mars living on earth. ("I nailed the audition!")

However, rather than making life easier for Walston (whose given Martian name is "Poopsie"), the show presents all sorts of challenges. For one, the stereotypical antenna the Props department attach to his head constantly interfere with his actual antenna, which are a full three feet longer. Also, the show is being picked up back home, which leads to several angry interplanetary phone calls from his irate father, the King of Mars (King Fiddle-Faddle III, played by Dame Maggie Smith), who threatens to incinerate the earth with an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, if the writers don't lay off the "little green man" jokes.

Finally, Walston decides to out himself as a Martian. Unfortunately, he makes his announcement just a week after the notorious guest appearance of Marlon Brando (Vice President Joe Biden) on the show, and the rest of the cast and crew assume Brando's influence has caused Walston to adopt method acting. For the rest of the series, no matter how much he protests that he is an actual Martian, they believe him to always be "in character." Walston accepts his fate and parlays his fame into an endorsement contract for TV "rabbit ears" antenna, making him a billionaire (in Martian money - 1,000 Martian dollars = 1 peso).

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The Revenant

This is the story of a man, a bear, and the man-bear love that dare not speak its name. (Yes, I'm going
with that joke. Why waste good opportunities?)

Waldo Willworkforfood is a gold prospector in the Pacific Northwest who has nothing but bad luck, largely because he spends most of his time panning through city water in downtown Portland. He turns to the wilderness and sets off on his own, hoping for a change of luck, and also for a break from the insults of cappuccino-addled hipsters who make fun of his red and white striped clothing.

After a week in the wilderness, he comes across a crashed plane (a Cessna - BUT we see in flashback it was shot down by an awesome Vought Corsair). The plane contains a number of empty food boxes and an empty crate labelled "picnic baskets." After following a long trail of empty deviled ham cans, he stumbles across a horrifying sight (Nick Nolte and Gary Busey Greco-Roman wrestling in a mud pit), and, after fleeing this horror, he befriends a very large bear in a pork-pie hat and necktie. Soon, despite the bear having a mustache of deviled ham, grape jelly, and pimentos, Waldo finds himself strangely attracted to him and his smarter than average mind.

Waldo believes the bear to be some kind of mystic, because he goes by the name Yogi (although Waldo takes to calling him "Gentle Ben" for reasons that thankfully happen off-camera) and the two become very close. Their idyllic paradise is threatened though by the arrival of another smaller bear, who vaguely resembles Barney Rubble. This new bear, Boo Boo (or as Waldo calls him, Jezebel), reminds Yogi that, despite his love for processed sandwich spreads, he is a creature of the wild.

Yogi and Boo Boo depart into the deep wilderness (NOT a euphemism). Waldo is left alone, distraught. He lingers in the forest, slowing dying of thirst and hunger, until at the very end when he is rescued by a bumbling park ranger.

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Room

This is the long awaited prequel to Tommy Wiseau's legendary magnum opus The Room. However, unlike Wiseau's film, it is well written, acted, and directed, making it a complete and utter disappointment.

The film begins when Tommy (Leonardo DiCaprio) moves into a townhouse somewhere in Los Angeles (or possibly Vancouver). He spends hours on the roof, muttering to himself about how much he would like to have a girlfriend named Lisa, and another friend named Mark, and how they "totally would never sleep with each other, leading him to destroy himself in an incoherent fit of poorly expressed rage."

After wandering around on the roof for 84 of the film's 97 minutes, Tommy spies a passing plane (a stylish Vought Corsair F4U) and, being nuttier than a squirrel's pantry, takes it as a sign. He names the plane "Lisa and Mark will never betray me," and wanders downstairs where he drinks 40 rum and cokes straight, rendering him catatonic. (Producers claim this scene was necessary to explain Tommy's behavior in The Room.)

As Tommy regains consciousness, there's a knock on the door. It's a pizza delivery girl delivering 20 pizzas the neighborhood kids ordered as a prank. Ironically, the kids didn't realize that pineapple and anchovies were Tommy's favorite. He pays for the pizzas (in quarters) and asks the pizza delivery girl what her name is. "Mary," she replies. Tommy announces that he's going to call her Lisa and asks her out. Against all odds, common sense, and human dignity (because Tommy is covered in rum and has already devoured two of the pizzas by this time) she says yes.

In the background, a guy stands in the middle of the street, staring at Mary/Lisa. Tommy shouts at him, asking, "Who the hell are you?!" The guy replies, "My name is Mark, *******!"

This leads to the final shot of the film, in which Tommy narrows his eyes, raises a menacing hand in the air, and exclaims, "Oh, hi Mark!"

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Spotlight

Spotlight is the story of how a team of journalists diligently tracked down the evidence to reveal a massive sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, only to have one of their number become irrationally obsessed with spotlights.

Quentin Illuminati (Jim Carrey) is an investigative journalist working on the scandal story when, while watching an old fashioned burlesque show, he discovers that he is strangely fascinated by spotlights. He quickly discovers that he cannot take his eyes off the spotlight, as it roams up and down the dancers'bodies. At first he assumes he is just a prurient sleaze, but later, while attending a circus, he succumbs to the same fascination when a clown recreates Emmett Kelly's famous spotlight sweeping routine. (He screams, "Don't do it, Emmett!" at the top of his lungs as the act concludes.)

Concerned about his health, he consults several psychologists and at least one electrician. He discovers that he has "felinephiloluminosity" or "the love of following lights around like a kitty cat." He resolves to confront his malady with a "beautiful mind" approach and research the history of the spotlight, but, after the usual grueling journalist research (consulting the Wikipedia page once, and asking a few random followers on Twitter, who consequently block him), he concludes there is not enough information, and he decides to take greater action.

He tries to wean himself off of spotlights by focusing on other lights. Traffic lights don't work, because just when he starts to get interested they turn green and he has to move. Flashlights turn out to just be smaller, less interesting spotlights.Airplane lights work for a time, (there's a marvelous sequence involving a flight of Vought Corsairs attacking a giant penguin) but even they eventually pale in comparison.

The last shot of the film has Quentin at his lowest, sitting in a theater corner, gazing at the spotlight, until, out of the corner of his eye, he spots a stagehand closing the curtain with the biggest, most magnificent piece of string he has ever seen.

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