You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Now You Know the Best of the Story!

And so the hour has come around once more, dear children, as the shadowy tendrils of winter begin to melt into the riotous, verdant new season, when I take up my virtual quill and scroll between my curled1 fingers and scribe irreverent lines of blank verse2 to you conveying my weary perceptions on the year's outstanding cinematic artifice.

In other, less florid words, I''m back for the usual Oscars nonsense!

Yes, for the fourteenth year running, prepare for the most original, exciting, entertaining, and unreliable rundown of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences Best Picture nominees you will find on the interwebs. Even though I broke my wrist over the holidays and have all the dexterity of a lion seal working a Rubik's Cube, I'm still here to give you the lowdown, the rundown, and maybe even the sundown (I went for poetry there - it doesn't always work) on the choices the friendly folks behind the Oscars have made for the greatest film of the year.

As usual, they were wrong. It was Wonder Woman.

Anyway, sit back and hold on to your magic lasso, because here we go! I hope all three of you enjoy it.

Call Me By Your Name

The coming of age story of a young man who comes to believe he is the mirror image of a striking older man with whom he has become obsessed.

Elio Perlman (Justin Bieber) is a 17 year old on vacation with his family in Lombardy, Italy. One night, he is accidentally struck on the head by a pizza oven at an outdoor showing of Duck Soup, during the famous mirror sequence with Groucho and Harpo. He immediately comes to believe he is the mirror image of a striking older man (just in case you forgot the previous paragraph).

As he awakes from his injury, he sees the striking3 doctoral student, Oliver (Tommy Wiseau) and begins to do everything Oliver does, only reflected. This leads to several complications, such as when Oliver goes tightrope walking, when he puts his head in a lion's mouth, when he has a prostate exam, when he stands in front of an actual mirror, and when he flies a Vought Corsair and Elio only has access to a Grumann F4F Wildcat.

Things come to a head when Oliver has a bad fight with Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who is in the wrong film. Elio gets angry at Lisa also, and this confuses her so much she calls Actor's Equity and gets the lot of them in trouble with the Screen Actors Guild, whom she should have called in the first place.

The situation becomes completely intolerable when Elio confuses his own image in another mirror for Oliver and starts screaming the film's title while Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings plays in the background. (All of this happens in slow-motion, of course.)

Finally, Oliver solves the dilemma by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger, which Elio does as well. However, Oliver's gun is only a stage prop, whereas Elio's is a .44 Magnum.

Fortunately both guns jam (Hollywood!) and while trying to fix his gun Elio accidentally pistol-whips himself back into sanity. The film ends with both young men throwing their guns into the air and laughing in in freeze frame, as Leslie Nielsen smiles down on them from heaven.

Darkest Hour

The story of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's terrifying experience with what appears to be a solar eclipse.

Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) has spent World War II inspiring his fellow Britons with stirring rhetoric and massive, Freudian cigars. In the midst of the conflict, he briefly retreats to the Isle of Wight to reflect, plan, and smoke the hell out of 12 cases of Cuban Cohibas.

While meditating (drinking heavily) early one morning, he spots a wayward Vought Corsair4, careening towards Shanklin. Naturally, Churchill concludes this is an RAF pilot in trouble and looking to make an emergency landing; either that or someone gone AWOL to get a good seat at the nascent music festival a quarter century early ("Damn bohemian music lovers! Where's my tenth cigar?")

This thought is quickly extinguished, along with all of the available light in the area, by a massive shadow that seems to chase the plane. The sun is blotted out faster than Kevin Spacey's acting career. Electric lights dim and fail in the rapidly encroaching darkness (meaning the darkness was full of roaches). Even Churchill's cigar lighter fails him, sending him into the depths of despair ("Despair" being the name of the bunker in which he keeps his matches).

He is also frustrated by his inability to come up with something pithier to say than, "Odds bodkins!"

Soon, the entire world between Ventnor and Wooten Bridge is a gloomy sea of lightlessness. Churchill sits, lost in his thoughts - mostly how his valet is going to manage to serve him his seafood lunch in these conditions.

"It is always darkest before the prawns," he observes.

This cheers him up a bit.

Finally, as suddenly as it disappeared, the light returns. Churchill sees his harrowing experience as a metaphor for the conflict with Nazi Germany and is so overjoyed he invents the Jed Clampett dance.

Meanwhile, at Sandown Airport, just outside of Shanklin, a young Rubeus Hagrid (Zack Galafianakis) climbs out of a Vought Corsair. Searching for sweets, he puts his hands in his pockets only to pull out a small device.

"Blimey! I left my putter-outer on!"


The story of the last days of Federation officer James Tiberius Kirk. (The title is a misprint that the studio left in, hoping the Academy would confuse this film with the more widely known Christopher Nolan-directed tale of the World War II British evacuation - Mission accomplished!)

Contrary to the original Star Trek canon, Kirk's life actually reaches its conclusion when he accidentally takes the USS Enterprise into the past (AGAIN!) and beams down onto the beaches of Dunkirk, France a week before the evacuation. Consequently, everyone is a little on edge, because there are a boatload of Nazi divisions coming for them. (Get it? Dunkirk. Boatload. ...Listen, they can't all be diamonds,)

Kirk being Kirk, he immediately falls passionately in love with a French woman who just happens to have a mysterious condition that makes her entire body green. Also, she enjoys wearing skimpy outfits and dancing the tarantella, which causes her skimpy outfit to move a minuscule amount (because it's the 1940's, and people don't stand for more than that). Kirk finds all of this "strangely familiar."

Meanwhile, Spock is on the bridge of the Enterprise, obsessively calculating whether Kirk's presence on Earth will change the history of the planet dramatically. He identifies a number of alternate timelines, including one in which the Beatles don't break up. (Their 25th album is titled, "We Always Get Along So Well!")

Spock begins to conclude that the longer Kirk spends on Earth in the 1940's, the greater a chance there is that the Kardashian family never become famous and also that the Nazis win World War II. Though strongly tempted by the Kardashian thing, Spock concludes that Kirk must leave and urgently implores him to beam up, no matter how much "coitus he is enjoying with the green lady."

This all happens as the Dunkirk evacuation is starting, and in the confusion of the British army's calamitous retreat, Kirk's green girlfriend runs off with a Spanish bullfighter holidaying in the area.

Rejected for the first time in his life (technically only because it's the past and he hasn't been born yet), Kirk becomes despondent. He single-handedly (because it's a one-seater) flies a Vought F4U Corsair into the teeth of the German assault, literally crashing the plane through Hermann Goring's ugly Nazi teeth. (Yes, I know I used "teeth" twice. It was better than the line "ugly Nazi goiter.")

Kirk is killed, and Spock quietly mourns his friend's death by observing, "He really is Dunkirk."

He then does an extended version of the Napoleon Dynamite dance, singing, "I'm the captain, now, baby! Get down, Jack!"

Get Out

This horror buddy film tells the story of what happens when Elaine Benes from Seinfeld takes up residence next door to an African-American family in a predominately white neighborhood.

After being released from jail for violating New York state's Good Samaritan laws (ten years for not knowing what the words "Good Samaritan" mean, with time added on for shanking George Constanza in prison), Elaine Benes moves to a suburban neighborhood, mostly to get away from George's psychotic parents, who are determined to make her a "Festivus sacrifice."

Her next door neighbors are a friendly and helpful African-American family, the Evans family. The parents, Florida and James, welcome Elaine to the neighborhood, commenting on how much more pleasant she is than Florida's old boss, Archie Bunker. Elaine is especially fascinated by their eldest son's obsession with TNT.

Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse when Elaine starts uttering her catch-phrase "Get out!" at inopportune times when the Evans family are passing by. For example, one day as the Evans's are unloading groceries, Elaine is entertaining her best friend, Jerry Seinfeld, on her front porch. Suddenly, Jerry points to the sky.

"Is that a Vought Corsair flying overhead?"

"Get out!" Elaine responds in shock.

"I'm sorry, were you talking to me?" Florida exclaims, pulling a bag from her hatchback.

"Oh, I didn't see you standing there, Florida!"

"Mmm-hmm," responds Florida.

This continues on throughout the film, finally leading the Evans to move out of the neighborhood. Elaine is distraught at the damage she has single-handedly and unwittingly done to race relations. She vows to do better with her new neighbors, a very sweet family, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Out.

Lady Bird

This historical film covers an erratic and life-changing road trip, taken by Lady Bird Johnson, wife of the irascible President of the United States, Lyndon Bird Johnson.

Shortly after the death of her husband, Lady Bird (Cher) buys a Ford Thunderbird convertible, a case of Wild Turkey bourbon, a case of Swisher Sweets cigarillos, and takes off on a cross country voyage of self-discovery, accompanied only by her beagle, Grassy Knoll (Tom Arnold), her hulking manservant Tor (The Rock), and four dozen Secret Service agents (The bass section of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir).

After ditching the Secret Service agents at a Texaco station in Mount Vernon, she, G.K. and Tor continue their trip, taking in the sights and occasionally picking up hitchhikers who Tor refers to as "my little squeezies." It is at this point that the ex-First Lady figures out why the case of bourbon is half-empty.

Somewhere between Tuscaloosa, Alabama and El Dorado, Arkansas, while stumping Tor in a game of "I Spy" (she is looking at a modified Vought Corsair cropduster, which the sodden Tor thinks is a gassy turkey vulture), she picks up a young man named Willie (Jimmy Fallon), who reminds her of her first love in the days before her shotgun wedding to LBJ.

She and Willie wind the days down, taking turns driving, wolfing down Stuckey's chili dogs, and talking of life, mostly about how each of them got stuck with a name that's a euphemism for a wiener.

She feels herself drawn to Willie, but the age difference is too great for their times, and also Willie reveals to her that he is in fact the Zodiac Killer. Shocked and heartbroken, because he won't tell her how to break his code, Lady Bird knocks him unconscious with a shovel (because it's more cinematic than empty bottles of Wild Turkey) and leaves him at a rest stop outside Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

She swears G.K. and Tor to secrecy, which isn't hard, because they're both passed out from the liquor, and carries the dark secret into the murky future. (It's foggy and her headlights are out.)

Phantom Thread

This is the story of a young woman's experience in an online discussion board where she slowly begins to suspect that she is exchanging messages with the comic strip hero The Phantom.

Alma (Bjork) is a young waitress who whiles away the time between shifts at Waffle House by spending time on online discussion boards.

One night she decides to branch out from her usual "Hot Women, Hot Bacon" boards. After wandering through the scrambled eggs forum, several muffin fetish forums, and an engrossing forum dedicated to the refurbishing of vintage Vought Corsairs, she spies a forum that intrigues her: Bangalla. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a typo for the words "bang gals."5

After three weeks, and several dates, she quickly finds her way from that forum to the actual Bangalla forum and begins exchanging posts with someone whom she thinks is Christopher Walken (the voice of Christopher Walken). After he repeatedly fails to get all her jokes about "The Continental" and "champagne," she realizes his name is actually Christopher Walker. Putting two and two together, especially after all Christopher's references to tights chafing and mask sweat, she begins to believe he is the legendary comic strip hero The Phantom.

Soon, Alma's evenings are a whirlwind of reading her online friend's exotic tales of crime-fighting, intercontinental travel, and wolf grooming. Her life is so transformed, she buys her own set of magenta tights and begins to fight crime in her home town of Poughkeepsie6. This mostly consists of screaming at jaywalkers and ominously warning people not to make unauthorized deductions on their IRS 1040 long form.

All of this unravels when one evening C.W. starts referring to her as "Christine" in posts. After doing a little sleuthing, which mostly consists of asking questions in a Sherlock Holmes forum, she realizes she has actually been exchanging posts with the Phantom of the Opera, who was only pretending to be the comic strip hero The Phantom to pick up chicks.

Despite this falsity, when she confronts him with the truth (in a 12,000 word post titled "You're Not That Phantom!") she realizes she is in love with him and consigns herself to lifetime of reading posts about organ music and sewer fog.

The Post

Steven Spielberg's venture into the dark and murky world of war, politics, journalism, and Meryl Streep's obsession with winning Academy Awards, The Post is about a determined newspaper publisher who makes a post on social media that goes insanely viral.

So, in other words, it's everyday on Twitter.

Kathryn Graham (no relation to Billy, Chapman, or crackers) is the new publisher of the Washington Post, having taken over from the little known interim, Bob Barker. As the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, Graham wants readers to know that she's as tough and uncompromising as her male predecessors. She establishes this with a few savvy moves. She adds a extra sports section to the paper (bringing the total to four). She insists that each daily crossword puzzle include at least seven auto or woodworking clues. She replaces Dear Abby with Ann Landers, whom most readers regard as the more butch of the two. She even replaces Ziggy with the short-lived comic strip "Welding While Flying the Vought Corsair."

All of these moves backfire with the Post's audience. (For example, several thousand Ziggy fans attempt to burn down her house.) Also, Dear Abby goes after her with a machete during a lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill. This leaves the talented yet overcompensatory publisher in what is known in the newspaper business as "a tizzy."

Editor Ben Bradlee offers his assistance (in exchange for Bob Woodward's cushy parking spot next to the local pretzel vendor). Reluctantly, Graham agrees, but only if Woodward will tell her who Deep Throat really is. After a fantastic montage of Bradlee patronizing Graham for a month (set to Neil Sadaka's "You're Having My Baby"), the editor lets Graham in on the news that they have uncovered a huge cache of secret papers from the Pentagon.

"The only thing we don't know is what to call them," Bradlee growls in a voice strangely reminiscent of astronaut Jim Lovell.

Graham solves the problem and the rest is history.

Later, she posts the story on America Online and the post goes viral, mostly from all the hostile responses from Ziggy fans who still bear a grudge.

The Shape of Water

This documentary overview of Bruce Lee's philosophical works covers a great deal of ground (much like people who got into fights with Lee).

The central focus of the film is Lee's famous remark about being like water. However, the film goes beyond the familiar quote and into the vast array of permutations and examples Lee used to show how to put his philosophy into practice all upside someone's face.

"If you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup."
"If you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle."
"If you put water into a bottle with a leak, it becomes a bottle taking a leak,"
"If you put water into a silly straw, it becomes the silly shape of a straw."
"If you put water into a pipe clogged with hair, it becomes a hairy pipe."
"If you put water into a Chia Pet, it becomes a damp Chia Pet."
"If you put water into a stretch limousine, it becomes the hot tub."
"If you put water into a Vought Corsair, it becomes the cabin of the plane, including the butt groove in the pilot's leather seat."
"If water leaves a town on a train traveling at 30 miles an hour, and more water leaves on another train traveling 35 miles an hour, and the waters are 100 miles apart, how long will it take the waters to become a mongoose?"
If you put water into gravy, it becomes water floating on top of gravy, and, quite frankly, it ruins the gravy. This makes me deeply angry, because I love gravy."
"If you put water into a giant reservoir, behind an enormous dam, and then the dam is blown up, the water becomes a massive, raging torrent of death. Kind of like me in Enter the Dragon."
"If water is distributed into an aquifer, and the region the aquifer serves is exposed to higher than average temperatures, with elevated humidity and consistent prevailing northerly winds, the water will be distributed throughout the atmosphere as it evaporates, unless, of course, the water is tapped and removed before this can happen, which is a strong possibility in a heavily populated area with a large manufacturing base. Be water, my friend."

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

The intense tale of a woman, touched by tragedy, who becomes obsessed with putting up Burma Shave billboards outside of her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri.

Mildred Hayes is a local woman who, infuriated by the lack of police progress solving the murder of her daughter, rents space on three critical billboards on the main highway. This inspires the police to get off their lazy, doughnut-shaped asses and solve the crime. (It also helps that the murderer had confessed two weeks earlier.)

Flush with her billboard-inspired success, and still left with six months on her billboard rental contract, Mildred starts using the space to get other things she wants. In a scant four weeks she manages to convince the local McDonald's franchise to Super Size value meals for free (infuriating local crank Morgan Spurlock), gets everyone double coupons from the downtown Kroger's market, convinces the manufacturing plant to donate to the county soup kitchen, and blackmails the mayor and the county judge into a nude mud wrestling match during a school board meeting.

Despite the mixed reaction of this last effort, Mildred's endeavors make her a hero to the community. However, Mildred begins to grow bored with the work. She decides to do something just for her herself for change. Being an obsessive connoisseur of mid-Twentieth century popular culture (her Twitter handle is @LileksPopCulture), she decides to recreate the famous Burma Shave signs.

Unfortunately, she quickly realizes those messages usually required five to seven signs. Refusing to give up - and also being battier than a Louisville Slugger factory - she has four additional billboards built on the highway and sets about bringing the kitschy past to life.

The universe is against her however, as every new billboard she erects is destroyed by a freak disaster. A Vought Corsair from a local air show crashes into one of them. Another is carried off by twister. The third is toppled by an angry Sasquatch. ("Sasquatch don't like shavin'.") The final one is destroyed when the Sasquatch throws the third billboard into it.

Eventually, Mildred decides that this is the spirit of her daughter telling her to move on. She donates the remainder of her billboard rental time to the Shoji Tabuchi Theater7, and turns back to her first love, pole dancing. The final shot of the film shows her dangling from a pole in front of the billboards, waiting to receive her Best Actress Oscar.

1This is not an Olympic Curling reference.
2No, not ACTUAL blank verse. Since when did you mistake me for Shakespeare or Marlowe?
3Three strikings and you're out!
4Congratulate me! This is the first Vought Corsair reference in 14 years that isn't out of place.
5Turns out it's hard to type when you're "getting busy."
6Voted funniest town name in the U.S. from 1987-2013.
7Unfortunately, Branson, MO is in the opposite direction.

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