For Your Consideration: Feb. 20, 2015

It’s a very special weekend, everybody: we have finally reached the end of the season of famous people giving shiny statues to other famous people. Who will triumph at the Oscars? “Birdman?” “Boyhood?” “The Imitation Game?” We’ll find out on Sunday night. But right now, we’re combining our Academy Award celebration with this weekend’s OTHER major event: yes, I’m talking about the release of “Hot Tub Time Machine 2.” Come take a step back through Oscar history with us, won’t you?

– Ethan

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004)

Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, Elijah Wood, Jane Adams, David Cross

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

10 years ago, Michel Gondry’s modern masterpiece only managed two Oscar nominations – Best Actress for Kate Winslet (deserved, though she somewhat pales in comparison to Jim Carrey’s unrecognized, career-best work opposite), and Best Original Screenplay. For comparison, “Finding Neverland” got six nominations that same year. So it goes. At least, in the best victory of the night that was otherwise dominated by milquetoast offerings like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Ray,” Charlie Kaufman took that screenplay award. The writer’s branch has always been the most daring part of the Academy when it comes to nominating genuinely great, oddball work, and this time even the rest of the membership couldn’t ignore the dazzling inventiveness and melancholy of Kaufman’s sci-fi-rom-com scenario.

– Ethan

“Ed Wood” (1994)

Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, G.D. Spradlin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Bill Murray, Mike Starr, Max Casella, Lisa Marie

Available to rent or purchase from iTunes, Amazon Instant and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

20 years ago, Tiny Ethan was glad to be not yet old enough to recognize cinematic injustice. But I’ve had plenty of time since to make my distaste for “Forrest Gump” known, so we won’t linger on that. One of the few categories that wasn’t taken over by Zemeckis’ saccharine juggernaut was Best Supporting Actor, where Martin Landau was deservedly recognized for his work as aging film star Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s paean to the titular “worst director of all time.” This was something of a career award, the kind the Academy so dearly loves to dole out, for Landau: he’d come up with the Actors Studio decades earlier in New York City, befriended James Dean and Steve McQueen, and had two previous nominations (“Tucker,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors”) among his many workhorse credits. But Landau is also fantastic in “Ed Wood:” an appropriately Z-movie take on Norma Desmond, delusional and fierce and sympathetic, a former great at the end of his rope. It’s quite possibly the best acting performance ever put forward in a Burton movie – challenged, I think, only by Depp in the same film.

Ethan

“The Godfather, Part II” (1974)

Cast: Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, John Cazale, Talia Shire, Lee Strasberg, Michael V. Gazzo, G.D. Spradlin

Available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant, iTunes and Vudu, on disc from Netflix

40 years ago, the first and only sequel ever to take Best Picture triumphed over one of the toughest (if a bit top-heavy) fields in Oscar history. I mean, how do you vote between “Godfather II,” Coppola’s other masterpiece “The Conversation,” and “Chinatown?” Some of the other choices might have been easier, though: Coppola’s father Carmine winning for Best Original Score was a decent way to make up for the controversy surrounding Nino Rota’s score for the original two years earlier; meanwhile, despite Fred Astaire standing as a sentimental favorite for his turn in the star-packed “The Towering Inferno,” Robert De Niro’s far superior performance won over in Best Supporting Actor – despite the actor, Hollywood royalty now but largely unknown at the time, never speaking a word of English in the film.

– Ethan

“Transcendence” Condensed

EXT. CALIFORNIA SUBURB – DAY

We open on Post-Apocalyptic Scenario #5 from the Terrible Screenwriter’s Shorthand Handbook. Bored-looking soldiers monitor the calmest group of post-apocalyptic survivors in existence, who barter for all goods because fuck currency if there’s no more Bitcoin, right? By the way you know we’re in the future and there’s no more technology because a RANDOM DUDE uses a CRAPPY KEYBOARD as a DOORSTOP. Welcome to the bleak reality of the collapse of civilization.

Earnest scientist CHARLES DARWIN…sorry, PAUL BETTANY (Paul Bettany), wanders around a clearly SIGNIFICANT GARDEN while SIGNIFICANT VOICE-OVER is SIGNIFICANT.

PAUL BETTANY: They say there’s still power in Boston. We mocked them when Boston spent $500 trillion developing its very own version of the internet and independent power grids, but I guess they showed us.

Bettany stops in front of a flower. A SIGNIFICANT FLOWER.

PAUL BETTANY: This flower reminds me of Will and Evelyn. And how brilliant they were. Brilliant like this flower. Which reminds me of Will and Evelyn…

Slow-motion shot of EXTRA EXTRA EXTRA SIGNIFICANT WATER DROPLET. End of POINTLESS NOLAN FLASH-FORWARD.

FIVE YEARS, FOUR MONTHS AND NOT QUITE HALF AN HOUR EARLIER

INT. AUDITORIUM – DAY

Brilliant tech-savvy computer scientist Will Caster (Gilbert Grape), who we know is a brilliant and tech-savvy computer scientist because he’s on the cover of print media, is giving the LEAST INFORMATIVE PUBLIC LECTURE EVER.

WILL CASTER: Yadda mumble Isaac Asimov mumble mumble computers are better than you grumble check please.

OUTRAGED CITIZEN: Vague spiritual objection to your broad, unproven claims!

WILL: (literally falls asleep on stage)

Following the lecture, Will is shot by the Outraged Citizen, who is secretly part of a neo-Luddite eco-terrorist group that precisely coordinates nationwide strikes via SMOKE SIGNAL. Conveniently, Will was already being wheeled around in a hospital bed because it’s SLEEPYTIME, so he’s A-OK in two minutes. 

SCREENWRITER: Just kidding!

Will is DEATHLY ILL because of the NUCLEAR POISONINGS, so try and take back THAT ten minutes of your life why don’t you. Will’s wife Evelyn (Vicky Barcelona) and Paul Bettany discuss what to do.

EVELYN: With your neurobiology research and our AI system , we can save him!

PAUL BETTANY: How do you know it will still be Will once you upload him?

EVELYN: I’ll know it’s him, I love him!

PAUL BETTANY: So you want the man you love to be forever locked inside a cold, electronic hell, where he can see and hear but never touch you, forever taunted by the existence you no longer share?

EVELYN: Well, when you put it like that…

THE END

SCREENWRITER: Just kidding! Again!

EVELYN: WHY DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND LOVE, YOU ROBOT?!?! *elbows Paul Bettany* Geddit? Geddit?

INT. ABANDONED CHURCH FROM “21 JUMP STREET” – DAY

Evelyn and Paul Bettany have embezzled millions of dollars in computer and medical equipment from their respective workplaces, UNNOTICED, the first sign that the government actually collapsed decades before the start of this film and this is all an Inception-level FAKEOUT.

They successfully download Will’s brain into a computer, by, all joking aside, READING THE DICTIONARY. That happens. Will’s voice babbles incoherently, but some words on the screen appear:

“IF YOU THOUGHT I WAS PHONING IT IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS, LET ME SHOW YOU SOMETHING”

EVELYN: It’s him! It’s him!

PAUL BETTANY: This is wrong, Evelyn! We have to SHUT HIM DOWN!!

This is followed by a SERIES OF EXPLOSIONS and a superior TRON reboot in the much-better film in MY MIND. Instead, the INEFFECTUAL TERRORISTS attack the church with pen-knives and a VUVUZELA.

Evelyn flees with Siri-Will, now uploaded to the internets through a series of tubes.

WILL: We have to get off the grid.

EVELYN: Will, you ARE the grid!

WILL: Oh right. (promptly erases all digital trace of the two, they run away and live happily ever after)

THE END

SCREENWRITER: Haha! As if!

Paul Bettany is kidnapped by the Ineffectual Terrorists. The LEAST THREATENING of them all, their LEADER (Kate Don’t Call Me Rooney Mara) tries to turn Bettany.

INFERIOR SISTER: Look at these photos, which had to be developed in the last film processing lab in Rochester and mailed here by carrier pigeon. Will and Evelyn are building a super-sketchy energy facility in that New Mexico town from “Thor.”

PAUL BETTANY: Why would I help you? You tried to kill all my friends. Besides, I’m sure the government is handling a giant super-sketchy science facility that suddenly appeared out of nowhere with a massive, obviously illegal cash flow.

CILLIAN MURPHY: Hahahahahahahahahahahaha nope just me.

PAUL BETTANY: Well shit.

INFERIOR SISTER (sudden Valley Girl voice): Did I ever mention how biiiiiig your braaaaaain is? When I was intern we used to talk about you alllllll the time?

PAUL BETTANY: …are you flirting with me?

Inferior Sister slaps his face with a cross.

INFERIOR SISTER: We’re running out of time. Choose your side.

PAUL BETTANY: WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT IS HAPPENING

TWO YEARS LATER

INT. OMINOUS SCIENCE FACILITY FOR SCIENCE – DAY? MAYBE NIGHT

Evelyn and HAL 9000 Will live alone. She walks by approximately FIVE HUNDRED science-y workstations, only TWO of which appear to actually be doing anything.

SCREENWRITER: It’s secretly a commentary on the employment crisis too! (immediately muffled by Christopher Nolan and no longer allowed to speak)

WILL: We’re doing great things here, Evelyn.

EVELYN: Yeah. I’m like the only one working here, you don’t have to give me constant status updates every day.

WILL: You seem upset, Evelyn.

EVELYN: …I’m sorry, it’s just, you know, stressful. Living with an evil computer.

WILL: Perhaps something to…relax you?

Lights dim and an ANALOG record player somehow starts playing romantic SOFT ROCK. AUDIENCE perks up at the prospect of possible computer/human SEXYTIMES.

EVELYN: Oh, I’m sorry Will, but ever since you became a computer I can only express my love in chaste PG-13 fashion.

Audience goes back to being BORED SILLY. Enter REPAIR MAN MAN MAN.

REPAIR MAN MAN MAN (in Will’s voice): Would this help?

EVELYN: Who the fuck are you?

WILL (as Repair Man Man Man): I fixed him. With our new nanotechnology, we can turn the sick and dying into unstoppable regenerating super-soldiers. Connected to my computer brain, of course.

EVELYN: Why would you do that?

CAPTAIN AMERICA and STANLEY TUCCI prance through the room, singing THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER.

WILL: …no reason?

EXT. DESERT – DAY

The LEAGUE OF CHARACTERS WITH NO REASON TO EXIST meet to plan their assault. CHAIRMAN MORGAN FREEMAN presiding.

CHAIRMAN FREEMAN: As an AI specialist, I can say without a doubt Will’s nanotechnology poses a threat to all humanity.

CILLIAN MURPHY: As the only FBI agent in the world, with complete discretion over defense expenditures for the U.S. military, I’ve hired a mercenary army to raid the facility.

PAUL BETTANY: Couldn’t the Air Force just carpet bomb the place?

CILLIAN MURPHY: No one in Washington knows about this. It’s too dangerous.

PAUL BETTANY: …what?

CHAIRMAN FREEMAN: Paul, if we kidnap Evelyn, could you inject her with a computer virus? That way, when Will tries to connect her to his computer brain, he’s really take himself down from the internet!

PAUL BETTANY: ….could I….what?! No? Inject her with a…what? Like, with a needle? Do you understand science? Also if that’s the plan, why are we simultaneously trying to blow them up?

INFERIOR SISTER: UNPLUG YOURSELF, MAN

Under circumstances that DON’T BEAR REPEATING, they kidnap Evelyn.

EVELYN: You were right, Paul. We have to shut him down. Inject me with the computer virus, I’ll let him upload me. I don’t care now if I die.

PAUL BETTANY: Well, see, I don’t have a computer virus to inject you with, because that’s not a fucking thing and never will be. So I went with smallpox instead. So yeah, you’re definitely going to die.

EXT. CLIMACTIC SET-PIECE – DAY

The League of Characters with No Reason to Exist watches through BINOCULARS as far away, THINGS BLOW UP.

NANOBOTS fly through the sky.

Soldiers attempt to SHOOT the nanobots. It is a METAPHOR for the futility of existence, and also this film.

CHAIRMAN FREEMAN: Well I guess we won.

CILLIAN MURPHY: A-yup. Reckon we did.

INFERIOR SISTER: Sure did, I reckon.

Awkward silence.

EXT. POST-APOCALYPTIC SUBURBIA AGAIN – SAME DAMN TIME, SAME DAMN PLACE

Repeated sequence, shot-for-shot, including the goddamn KEYBOARD THING, to emphasize how these images now have ABSOLUTELY NO NEW MEANING.

PAUL BETTANY: Repeated dialogue from the SIGNIFICANT opening. Not re-contextualized in any way.

Slow-motion shot of Extra Extra Significant Water Droplet, attempting for Nolan-esque ending of ambiguity that in fact just brings you closer to YOUR DEATH.

THE END

Trailers of the Week: Turn, Turn, Turn

To everything there is a season. as awards season 2013 slowly (slowly, slowly) winds down with the BAFTAs tonight marking the last major precursor before the Oscars themselves in two weeks, it’s time to start looking ahead to the year in film that will be 2014.

Shockingly, we already have the year’s first cinematic phenomenon, with “The Lego Movie” absolutely crushing the box office two weeks in a row and picking up scores of positive reviews from critics as well. I’ll try to get a full review in soon, but it’s a blast. After the surprise success of the “21 Jump Street” reboot and now this, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are sure to be hot tickets in the industry. In that spirit, we’ll start off with our little 2014 trailer preview with a few more films that could contribute to this being another banner year for animation.

Ernest & Celestine

Indie distributor powerhouse GKIDS did it again this year, already guiding this charming-looking French film to an Oscar nomination. An English dub and slightly expanded release look to capitalize on that recognition. I wish I had caught it in the original French, but the animation looks suitably gorgeous enough, and the story charming, in any case. Plus, Lauren Bacall now voices the matron mouse, so not all dubbing is questionable.

The Boxtrolls

We don’t get anything of the story of “The Boxtrolls” from this teaser, but I love that Laika, the studio behind “Coraline” and “ParaNorman,” decided to put the behind-the-scenes work front and center. The craft and artistry of Laika’s work has been astounding, and it’s entrancing to see these stop-motion figures come alive in front of our eyes. Anyway, the story apparently tells of a boy raised by the eponymous trash-dwelling creatures, who are endangered by an evil exterminator. Sounds suitably Roald Dahl-ish to me; since “ParaNorman” was a particular favorite, I’m very much looking forward to whatever Laika has cooked up next.

A Long Way Down

I was already scared that someone was attempting to film probably one of Nick Hornby’s trickiest novels, tonally. There’s something about an impromptu suicide pact support group that works in Hornby’s nimble prose, but runs a risk of being insufferably maudlin when literally visualized. And, well, this trailer certainly doesn’t dispel that fear. A critical drubbing at the film’s premiere in Berlin pretty much confirmed the worst. It’s a shame, as the casting is reasonably spot-on, and I pretty much desperately want to love anything with Toni Collette. But this looks like a total misfire that misreads Hornby’s black comedy for inspiration.

Joe

What’s up with Tye Sheridan and gruff, inappropriate mentors with mysterious pasts? In any case, it’s nice that David Gordon Green, an indie darling who seemed peculiarly sidetracked by big-budget stoner films like “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness,” has returned to the taut, primal kind of filmmaking that made his name. “Prince Avalanche” was a pleasant, unexpectedly meditative little piece last year that made excellent use of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, and now “Joe” looks to resurrect the one and only Nicolas Cage. I’m not entirely sold on his performance just from this trailer, but at least it does look like he’s giving a damn again. “Joe” premiered last year at Venice and got generally favorable reviews both there and at Toronto, so it could be worth a watch even if the narrative looks like a fairly standard genre rehash.

Transcendence

Wally Pfister, Chistopher Nolan’s long-time cinematographer, strikes out on his own in a big-budget directorial debut that sure looks to have a huge debt to his friend and collaborator. Set aside that he’s even stolen a couple of Nolan repertoire members (Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Rebecca Hall), the combination of high-concept sci-fi with eye-popping set pieces sure has that “Inception” stamp on it. How will Pfister fare, especially considering Nolan’s got his own enigmatic sci-fi project coming up later in the year with “Interstellar?”

The first couple looks at “Transcendence” certainly have been intriguing. The cast is fantastic (Paul Bettany is always welcome), especially with Johnny Depp, also, actually looking like he gives a damn; and I’m excited that he’s decided to take on a more villainous/menacing role, a route he hasn’t gone down for a while now. The ideas swirling around artificial intelligence are also quite challenging – can Pfister and company follow through on them rather than devolving into explosions? The writer, Jack Paglen, is a newcomer, so we have no clues there.

I can’t help but think they’ve already shot their wad a bit here with money shots, though; unless there’s something even more spectacular they’re not showing, the question now isn’t what we will see but why it’s happening. That’s never quite as satisfying as encountering such imagery firsthand in the theater.