It's Oscars time. Somebody wake the Grouch.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Besting Out!


It's that time of year again, the magical, exciting time when the shimmering Illuminati of Hollywood congregate in their finest regalia and rarest baubles to ostentatiously celebrate making... well, making the same junk they've made for decades.

It's also the time when I struggle to write a new blog post title with the word "Best" in it. My apologies to Rick James for this year's entry. It was either that or "We Must, We Must, We Must Improve Our Best."

As you can see, I didn't have very good options.

Anyway, the 2017 nominees for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Best Picture of the Year do not include any Star Wars films. But, as regular readers may have guessed, they include a helluva lot of Vought Corsairs...

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Arrival

This entry probes deep into the depths of outer space, asking the question, "Are we alone?" and answering it with, "Are you nuts? Have you been to midtown Manhattan recently?"

Amy Adams plays a woman pretending to know nothing about extraterrestrials - even though she's dating a very famous one, known for his cape and tights. (No, she's not dating Thor. No, it's not the Martian Manhunter either. No, Silver Surfer doesn't even have a cape... what are you people smoking?)

The humdrum, day to day monotony of her boring life as a journalist who flies with and snogs Superman (Duh) is shattered when several, super-cool looking, alien spacecraft land in different parts of the globe. She immediately begins investigating the story, mostly because she's got a serious Jones for aliens, but also because Perry White won't get off her back about getting exclusives with extraterrestrials.

"Great Caesars's Ghost! Do you want the N.Y. Post to catch up with us on super interviews?!"

She travels to the distant and exotic lands of West Virginia to see the largest of the craft, accompanied by Jimmy Olson (Seth Green), who makes at least 69 "size doesn't matter" jokes on the way. They fly to the location in a Vought Corsair, mostly because Jimmy can't get Google Maps to work on his product placement Windows Phone.

"Siri, show me the route to West Virginia."

"I'm not Siri. This is Google Maps. On a Windows Phone."

"Stop kiddin' around, Siri!"

Arriving in darkest West Virginia, they confer with military types who don't really want a couple of snoopy* journalists hanging around. Lois (Yes, Lois Lane!) convinces them to let her and Jimmy stay by impressing them with her pitch perfect pronunciation of "Gort, Klaatu Barada Nikto," which is always handy in these situations.

Also, they are afraid Superman will punch their lights out if they detain the two.

After exploring the area around the spaceship, Jimmy clumsily trips over a tank and falls into an area explicitly** marked "RESTRICTED." This sets off numerous alarms (and at least one dazzling glitter bomb), which then causes the ship to become active. In a remarkable display of smoke and lights (remarkable in that it exactly duplicates Def Leppard's 1986 stage show) the ship opens up, and from its deep and mysterious bowels strides a purposeful, solitary figure ...a figure wearing tights and a cape.

It's Superman, who proposes to Lois in what must be the hokiest and most expensive proposal stunt ever concocted. She says yes, but only because he went to Jared's.

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Fences

Fences is a story about a guy who really loves fences. No, seriously, Denzel Washington plays Oxnard Bandersnoot, the neighbor of poet Robert Frost (Chevy Chase). Frost is writing what will one day be a very famous poem about fences but at the moment is a somewhat risque limerick about "a dame who fell off a fence."

Oxnard inspires Frost to rework the poem into an American classic. (There's a great scene where he says, "You know, you should change this poem so that it becomes an American classic.")

Also, he points out that the first line doesn't work in a limerick at all.

Impressed, Frost observes Bandersnoot for days, concluding that he is a hard working, plain-spoken man with a sensitive and inquisitive soul, but who knows absolutely nothing about farming. (The scene where Oxnard tearfully tries to milk a rooster is especially poignant.) However, he does love fences. He loves wooden fences, rock fences, barbed wire fences, stolen goods fences... he even loves fencing (epee, sabre, etc.). However, he doesn't love walls, because he's not a Trump guy.

"If you ask me, instead of a wall, Trump should build a fence, a big, ole' fence."

The more Frost learns about Bandersnoot, the more fascinated he becomes. He follows Oxnard through his daily routine of chores: planting fields, plowing fields, planting fields again because he accidentally plowed up the planted ones, and a rigorous four hour workout in the local Gold's Gym.

Frost even goes so far as to rent a Vought Corsair (the vintage, two-seater O2U biplane, so he can take photographs while the pilot flies) to observe Oxnard from the air. This scares the actual crap out of Oxnard, who was trying to take a number two in the field to avoid a long walk back to the house (and also because he couldn't afford fertilizer).

This leads to the final confrontation between Bandersnoot and Frost, an amazing light sabre fight ("En Garde!"), and Oxnard's inspirational final words to Frost: "Good fences make good neighbors."

Of course, that was the final edited version of the poem. An earlier draft contained Bandersnoot's full quote, which was, "Good fences make good neighbors. So, stay the hell away from me, you freaky, rhyme-happy stalker. Seriously, back the crap up Frost, and take your freaking leopard skin-bound, JFK-signed Roget's Thesaurus with you!"

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Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Mel Gibson's long road back to respectability in Hollywood.

However, the actual film is about a pacifist who serves in World War II, endures the horrific violence of the Battle of Okinawa, the horrific violence of Mel Gibson's reenactment of the Battle of Okinawa, flies to Tokyo in a Vought Corsair to taunt Emperor Hirohito ("Your mother smells of elderberries!"), receives the Congressional Medal of Honor, and returns to his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia to sell hacksaws for a living. Ironically.

This all happens in the opening five minutes of the film. Then things get weird.

The world is suddenly destroyed by a nuclear holocaust (Thanks, Trump!), leaving the soldier (Mel Gibson) alone in a vast desert wasteland, with only his souped-up car and 1,000 gallons of gasoline (which for some reason he refers to as "petrol") for company.

He is not alone for long. He is soon joined by Sting (Sting) riding giant sand worms through the desert and singing "Don't Stand So Close to Me" - the better, upbeat version.

Next, they are joined by FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), also riding sand worms, who insists that the desert wasteland reminds him of something. However, he can never place his finger on it, because every time he's about to remember, someone distracts him with coffee and pie.

Suddenly, Dennis Hopper (Digital Dennis Hopper) and a VERY nude Isabella Rossellini (Brittany Spears) arrive on the scene. Between hits of nitrous oxide, Hopper blathers on about his missing "chopper." Rossellini spends most of her time draped around Agent Cooper, calling him her "secret lover," and refusing offers of "a bathrobe, towel, a empty barrel held up by suspenders, anything to get this film back down to a PG-13 rating."

Finally, the world is swallowed by a giant, luminescent moth, who digests it for a billion years with the rainbows in his stomach. Which is the sequel to the film, to be directed by Terence Malick.

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Hell or High Water

This comedy is about ex-President Obama's attempts to hold back the rising of the seas with his personal magnetism. When this fails, resulting in Miami being renamed "New Atlantis," the president turns to a number of far-fetched schemes, each more hilarious than the other, according to the press releases for the film (all written by George Stephanopoulos).

The film opens with President Obama (Denzel Washington) arriving in Florida in a Vought Corsair. (To cut down on carbon emissions, the White House has loaned Air Force One to Al Gore, who paid carbon credits so he could use it to go skydiving.) The president is visiting the disaster areas of Eastern Florida, including the ones created by flooding.

The president realizes he must do something about the ecological nightmare, so he calls over his right-hand man, Shirley (Anne Hathaway) and explains the situation.

"Shirley, we must do something about this!"

"I'm on it, Mr. President. And stop calling me Shirley!"

"But it's your name."

"Oh, right. Good catch."

The first solution Shirley devises involves a very large bucket, but she quickly realizes that literally bailing out the coastal states isn't as easy as arranging financial bailouts. (Sad trombone)

Next, she attempts to have Western Europe lowered, so that the oceans might go there instead, preferring the more cosmopolitan atmosphere. After scientific advisers (Neil DeGrasse Tyson, in multiple roles) explain to her The Netherlands have already tried this, she decides instead to have the coastal states raised. This involves the massive relocation of dirt from other, drier parts of the country (mostly Arizona) and is accomplished in a massive cinematic sequence, accompanied by the theme music from TV's "The A-Team."

Unfortunately, this only results in the accumulation of several piles of wet dirt in the Fort Lauderdale metro area.

Shirley's next plan is more complex. She attempts to confuse the oceans by renaming Florida "Tennessee." Other than the temporary relocation of the Grand Ole Opry to Wewahitchka, Florida (which was already pretty wet to begin with), this plan also fails.

Finally, just as Shirley is about to nuke the water out of the oceans, President Obama's term ends, and they all fly to Hawaii to play golf.

President Trump then takes office and tries to turn back the tides of the oceans to with the force of his own personality, which only makes the oceans angry.

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Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American female mathematicians who help NASA put a man into space, and who also play an elaborate practical joke on astronaut John Glenn by hiding his vintage Disneykins figurines (the 'Hidden Figures" of the title).

The film opens with pilot John Glenn (Buster Poindexter) landing his Vought Corsair F4U at an airfield in Anaheim, California. While wasting the government's time loitering around the airfield gift shop, he spots a set of Disneykins figurines. He is immediately taken with them, especially Minnie, because "Va Va Voom!" Also, the figurine of Pluto instantly inspires him to become an astronaut.

"One day, I will land on Pluto!"

Cut to several years into the future at Cape Canaveral. Mathematician Katharine G. Johnson - "no relation to Lyndon B." (Taraji P. Henson - No relation to Jim) is starting her first day on the job for NASA. She meets new friends Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle MonĂ¡e) over a light lunch of ham sandwiches and differential equations.

The three women strive valiantly to maintain their human dignity and professionalism in the face of the evils of racism and segregation, which they do beautifully, of course. Duh.

However, they are constantly irritated by the astronauts' penchant for playing practical jokes on the staff, and, after two months of having their office furniture flipped upside down, their cars festooned with toilet paper, and their algorithms littered with the Riemann hypothesis, they decide to plot their revenge.

Their brilliant plot comes together during John Glenn's orbital flight. Aided by an eccentric physicist named Dr. Sheldon Cooper (Bradley Cooper - What, did you think it would be Jim Parsons from The Big Bang Theory? It's the 1960's!), and in a caper scene rivaling Ocean's Eleven, the ladies break into Glenn's locker and Bogart his figurines, hiding them in an undisclosed location (initially, the same one Vice President Dick Cheney used in the early 2000's).

Glenn is informed about the practical joke in the middle of his flight to the amusement of everyone (especially Alan Shepard, who wishes he had thought of it). Unfortunately, Glenn is so upset at the thought of anything happening to his precious Minnie ("My precious!") that he loses his concentration and sends the ship off course, headed straight for Uranus.***

Fortunately, Katharine, Dorothy, and Mary devise a brilliant equation to put Glenn's capsule back on course, no thanks to Dr. Cooper, who is too busy arranging his comic book collection to help.

Glenn safely splashes down and is greeted as a national hero. Later, back at NASA, the ladies reveal that the figurines were in his spacesuit the whole time.

"So that's what was floating around down there!"

They all laugh in a closing comic freeze-frame shot that aesthetically undermines the rest of the film.

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La La Land

La La Land is the musical story of a place where no one wants to listen to anything anyone has to say. So, everyone spends the entire day with their fingers in their ears, shouting, "La, la, la, la! I can't hear you!"

Clearly the film is a metaphor for Hollywood. And Washington. And the UN, and about 75% of Thanksgiving family dinners after the 2016 presidential election.

Emma Stone plays Babette, a young, aspiring actress with a speaking voice that could strip the bark off of a redwood (Think Lena Lamont from Singing in the Rain, only voiced by Harvey Fierstein). However, her singing voice is so beautifully ethereal it could melt the face of a Nazi.

After flying into La La Land in a chartered Vought Corsair (because she refused to fly United), she is at first overwhelmed by the constant chatter and waxy fingers of the local citizenry. After several attempts to make friends, she finally befriends a young-ish man named Aloysius (Ryan Gosling) at the local Tim Horton's by talking to him when he takes his fingers out of his ears to eat his apple fritters.

"How do they taste?"

"Like apples, sugar, and beeswax!"

However, her voice proves so sonically appalling that he immediately puts his fingers back into his ears.

After several weeks of this, Aloysius is near starvation. Fearful that her only friend may die, she sings to him in a production number that would make both Florenz Ziegfeld and Beyonce blush. Recognizing that her voice is beautiful (and that she doesn't look bad in a sheer toga, either) he realizes that she can communicate to him in song, enabling them to fall in love. After a few dozen Honey Crullers to regain his strength, the whirlwind romance begins.

Alas, they quickly find out that he wants to Make America Great Again (TM) and She's With Her. They both quickly plug their fingers into their ears and life goes on in La La Land.

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Lion

Lion is the story of an adopted Indian child who dreams of playing the Cowardly Lion alongside Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, despite the fact that the role was performed by Bert Lahr in 1939.

Saroo (Dev Patel) is separated from his family in Khandwa, India when his house is suddenly swept up by a freak tornado. Being a bright child, and having a preternaturally fine sense of fashion, he passes on wearing the gaudy red shoes that fell off the witch on whom his house landed.

However, he is now thousands of miles away from home, lost, alone, unable to speak the local language, and extremely dizzy from all the spinning around.

He is quickly adopted by an Australian couple (Mel Gibson and Meryl Streep) and raised as though he were one of their own children, which he actually is, because they legally adopted him. So, it's weird that they keep making a big thing about it.

Eventually, he grows up, watches The Wizard of Oz 10,000 times (wishing he'd taken the shoes so he could have gotten home by now), and becomes convinced he would be perfect for the role of the Cowardly Lion, because he loves wearing fake fur and knows how to sing and pout at the same time.

He leaves Australia, flying a Vought Corsair back to India, which scares the hell out of several million people, 1) because he forgot to remove the bomb strapped to the belly of the plane, and 2) because he never learned to fly and his landing approach consists of diving into the runway in an out of control spin.

Coincidentally, his spinning landing kills yet another witch (the annoying, condescending one in the giant bubble) and he uses her wand to locate his parents, travel back in time, and star in the role of a lifetime.

He and Judy Garland marry and have a daughter, named Liza Saroo Minnelli. She later moves to India, starring in some of Bollywood's greatest musicals, and her daughter gives birth to a little boy named Saroo, giving this film the creepiest ending ever imagined.

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Manchester by the Sea

This film answers the question, "How do you tell apart Manchester, England from Manchester, Massachusetts? The answer is, of course, one of them is right by the sea.

Unfortunately, it takes a two hour and seventeen minute slog through the dysfunctional personal relationships of several New England residents (no, not the Affleck brothers) to get there. Along the way, things get bizarre.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is a handyman disturbed by the past. When his brother, Biff (Ben Affleck) suddenly dies by falling out of a Vought Corsair, he returns home to comfort his nephew Chad (Matt Damon) and to solve the mystery behind Biff's death.

Lee hires The Batman (Ben Affleck) to solve the mystery of his brother's death. Batman (Christian Bale) determines that the death was murder and that the murderer is someone in the town, possibly the Joker (Jack Nicholson).

Lee asks Batman (Michael Keaton) to interrogate all of his family members (The Baldwin Brothers), and a few old high school bullies (Gary Busey, Rosie O'Donnell), just for fun.

Batman (Val Kilmer) romances both Lee's ex-wife (Julie Newmar)and his brother's ex-wife (Jennifer Garner). He also befriends Chad, and Lee's other cousins, Todd (Tom Brady), Trevor (Conan O'Brien), Jared (The guy who owns the chain of jewelry stores), Ross (David Schwimmer), and Doug Niedermeyer (Mark Metcalf). This involves a lot of shooting pool and cheap, domestic beer drinking.

Batman (George Clooney) concludes that all of them are guilty of the murder, and that also, Biff was a real jerk. Batman (Adam West) then defeats them all in a zappity-pow climactic fist-fight, aided by his "ward," Dick Grayson (Burt Ward).

Batman (Will Arnett) then confronts Lee with the evidence that he is the ringleader of the murder crew. Lee starts to deny it, but finally confesses, exclaiming, "And I'd have gotten away with it too, if not for you meddling kids and your "ward!"

Batman (Lewis Wilson) then turns over Lee and the gang to Chief Inspector O'Hara (Ben Affleck) who laments "the sorry sight of such a dastardly family," punctuated by a few heartfelt exclamations of "Begora!"

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Moonlight

The tragic tale of how Beethoven was inspired to compose his Moonlight Sonata begins with a young African-American man (Ashton Sanders), sitting in a roadside diner, listening to Chuck Berry's "Roll Over Beethoven." The young man, named Chiron - after the little logo widgets at the bottom of cable channels and NOT the boatman at the River Styx, because that would be terribly pretentious - is fascinated by the idea that, despite being deaf, Beethoven composed music so beautiful it inspired a Chuck Berry guitar solo.

Due to a combination of powerful, illegal narcotics, and powerful, probably illegal, diner-strength Sloppy Joes, Chiron falls into a deep sleep. He dreams he is transported to 19th century Vienna, into the parlor of Beethoven himself (Chuck Berry).

Beethoven shows Chiron all the marvels of Vienna: The Opera Hall, the Composers Guild, the House of Parliament, his mistresses' apartments, and the factory where they make the bland little sausages that smell like wet salt.

Beethoven then takes Chiron for a flight over the city in a Vought Corsair O2U. (It's a dream, people... so BACK OFF.) From the air, over one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Chiron realizes his own personal problems seem small and distant and hardly worth worry.

However, this passes as soon as they land when the plane is suddenly surrounded by a group of very racist musicians who are upset that Beethoven is spending so much time with a young man of color, and also that he arranged his Ninth Symphony for electric guitar, bass, drums, and "duck-walkin' shoes."

Also, there's one guy who keeps pulling out his hair and shouting, "A giant mechanical bird!!!"

Chiron and Beethoven barely escape with their lives by driving off in the 1968 Ford Mustang Steve McQueen drove in Bullitt, (DREAM!) They drive from Vienna to San Francisco, where Beethoven has a concert scheduled with Little Richard (Franz Liszt).

Just as they arrive, Beethoven announces that their adventure has inspired him to write the most amazing piano sonata, and he composes the Moonlight Sonata in 120 seconds flat, maiming several band-members foolhardy enough to venture close by while he's stabbing his pen into the inkwell.

Chiron awakes with a new respect for his own life and vows to make something of himself, as well as to never eat another Sloppy Joe again as long as he lives.

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*A confusion abetted by the "Joe Cool" t-shirt Jimmy is wearing
** The sign has at least three F-bombs on it.
***Admit it. You knew I'd make that joke sooner or later.