It’s only an Oscar

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Moviegoers of all stripes are up in arms this week because the Motion Picture Academy has decided to (a) award a new annual Oscar for “Best Popular Film,” and (b) not present some of the Oscars during the live TV show. Oscar “purists” are complaining that these are sell-out moves done solely to try and boost the Oscar presentations’ TV ratings, which sink lower with each passing year. As the man said, I’m shocked! Shocked!

Let me begin by saying that, to coin an old phrase, I don’t have a dog in this fight. The last new movie I saw in a theater was The World’s End in 2013, and I probably quit following Oscar presentations long before that. (I remember my wife chiding me in 2011 because I wouldn’t sit with her and our kids to watch the Oscar show. That was the year that James Franco tried to amuse Anne Hathaway by walking onstage in drag. I still don’t think I missed much.)

What bothers me about this brouhaha is that so many people have their priorities so screwed up. I try not to bring politics into this blog, but I have to say: As of this writing, hundreds of immigrant children are still separated from their parents and locked up in cages, and a couple of Oscar tweaks are what everyone is upset about?

The dumbest thing about this incident is that anyone feels as though the Oscar ceremony is some sacrosanct affair meant to reward the creme de la creme of Hollywood. The fact of the matter is that legendary movie boss Louis B. Mayer created The Motion Picture Academy and its awards, and here is his own explanation of why he did so:

“I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them. […] If I got them cups and awards, they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created.”

So not even the Oscars’ creator took the award as seriously as some well-meaning film buffs are.

Even when I was following contemporary movies more closely, I mostly regarded the Oscars as a sham. In nearly every movie year, you can find a populist movie that the public just loved and a movie that felt as though it was coercing you to respect it. Guess which movie won the Best Picture Oscar. (Example: When Oscars for 1982 were awarded, the smash cross-dressing comedy Tootsie and Steven Spielberg’s superb E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial lost out to the three-hour snoozefest Gandhi.)

So I say we shouldn’t get all hot and bothered about an award that was created primarily to placate the swelled heads of Hollywood. Let them do whatever they want with the awards’ format. It can’t be any worse than James Franco in a dress.

 

 

 

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I have a new Popeye podcast, y’all!

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Sorry, I’ve gotten addicted to creating podcasts these days. My new podcast is devoted to what I consider the “classic” era of Popeye theatrical cartoons — the original black-and-white series, produced by Max Fleischer and directed by his brother Dave from 1933 to 1942. Click on the above banner to link to the first podcast episode.

Tell me what you See’s

Sorry my posts are so random today, but I keep coming across fun minutia that I want to share while I’m still thinking about it.

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I spent my teenage years in Phoenix, AZ, doing like most kids my age did — ruining my teeth with the typical chocolates and candies you can find at any checkout counter. One day when I was 15 or 16, my dad came home with a box of something called See’s Candies. This brand is best-known in L.A. and greater California, but they had a store in Phoenix as well. I don’t know how my dad came across the brand, but after I ate one nugget of their candy, I realized that it was possible for me to lust over chocolates nearly as much as I lust over big breasts.

See’s is much better known now — even though they don’t have a permanent outlet in Jacksonville, FL (where I now live), See’s sets up a kiosk at a local mall every Christmastime. My sweet tooth has faded considerably over the years, but you can still win me over with a box of See’s Candies (particularly the bordeaux, which are to die for).

(TRIVIA: Remember the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy and Ethel get overwhelmed by the speed of the job at the chocolate factory? That was based on See’s assembly-line process.)

Here is a video of how they manufacture their candy. If this doesn’t whet your appetite for their product, nothing will.

How to cut a watermelon

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This is apropos of nothing I ever write about, but thanks to YouTube, I learned a new skill today. My wife loves watermelon, but it does nothing for me. I only ever regarded it as a huge fruit (vegetable?) whose rewards seemed elaborately buried.

But this YouTube video makes the chore easier than I ever thought possible. If you ever wanted a convenient way to slice and save all of your watermelon at once, here it is.

THE OFFICIAL STORY – Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film of 1985

cthd_languageblogathon2The following is my entry in The Non-English Film Blogathon, being hosted by Catherine at the blog Thoughts All Sorts on July 27-28, 2018. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on some of their favorite non-English-language movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The Argentine movie The Official Story is a heartbreaking, quietly powerful film. I hate to claim too much for the film because it’s relatively small-scale. But it doesn’t bludgeon you to death with its themes the way a similar Hollywood movie might. It sneaks up on you and takes up lodging in your head, just like the obsession Alicia tries to ignore because she’s afraid of what it might uncover.

Alicia (Norma Aleandro) is an Argentine history teacher, seemingly content with her comfy status as the wife of a rich businessman, Roberto (Hector Alterio), and the mother of Gaby, an almost infuriatingly normal five-year-old girl. Yet one can see the tensions inherent in Alicia’s life.

When she insists that “without discipline, there can be no learning,” her students quietly taunt her. And when a haughty woman pokes fun at Alicia’s lifestyle, her husband shrugs it off — not because the woman is wrong but because he couldn’t care less.

At a high school reunion, Alicia meets up with Ana (Chunchuna Villafane, in a tensely vibrant performance), an old chum who left Argentina in a hurry seven years before. When a former schoolmate tries to do a similar haughty number of Ana, Ana reduces the schoolmate to rubbish with a well-chosen four-letter word.

Later that evening, buzzed with eggnog, Ana tells Alicia what she has never told anyone: why she left Argentina so suddenly. She was abducted for being the lover of an alleged subversive, was tortured for 36 days, and was eventually raped. She fled, trying to escape what cannot be escaped because it has lodged in her subconscious.

As Ana spews out her pain at recalling how babies born under this siege were taken from their mothers and put up for adoption, her hysteria gives way to relief. It’s a seemingly simple scene, yet one with the power of the two women merging into one in Bergman’s Persona. But Ana’s obsession isn’t destroyed by this confession — it’s transferred to Alicia. For Alicia’s Gaby, adopted at birth, might be one of those missing babies.

Such a plot summary might make this sound like the Jack Lemmon movie Missing, or a Jane Fonda dawn-of-consciousness film, or even Ordinary People, where a middle-class family must “face the truth.” But The Official Story has it all over these Hollywood movies.

The difference is one of degree. Alicia isn’t out to get politicized or radicalized. She tells her husband, “I just want to know the truth,” because she knows how she’d feel if her daughter were taken from her.

Aleandro makes us see Alicia as someone who might not have had much faith in the system, but who was comfortable enough not to ask questions. And the look in Gaby’s face and her simple nursery song tell us why Alicia never asked.

This movie is filled with stunning moments that make you say, “My God, I know that person.” Ana’s confession scene, a bit where Alicia talks to a woman who slowly realizes she might be Gaby’s grandmother, a scene in which Alicia digs through Gaby’s mementos and delicately sniffs her baby clothing — all of these emotionally charged sequences add up to an unforgettable experience.

The performances are superlative. Villafane, as the tortured Ana, makes up for a lot of bad evenings at the movie theater. Alterio is excellent as the unsympathetic Roberto, particularly in the harrowing scene in which his rage at his wife’s demand for truth explodes and he throws her against a wall.

And through it all, the stoic image of Alicia lingers, as she discovers how wrong she was at the beginning. Her discipline, self-imposed by the best of intentions, hindered her learning process. It is Ana who brings her back to life.