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Arts and Entertainment Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 1 month ago

Binge Blog: Guns. Lots of guns.

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"RoboCop" and "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum" are this week's selections.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Reporter

The Oscar nominations dropped on Monday, and as usual, the internet reacted with calm and took its time in collecting its thoughts. 

Just kidding, shit got messy immediately. 

A lot of people were upset Jennifer Lopez didn't get a Best Supporting Actress nom for "Hustlers." Others were upset the cast of "Parasite" got nothing, even though the movie itself is (rightfully) up for Best Picture and Bong Joon-Ho is up for Best Director. Still others were mad that there were, once again, no women nominated for Best Director. That's the snub I have the most problems with, personally, because there are multiple women who deserved a nomination in that category more than *gag* Todd Phillips. ("Joker" is a complete mess of a movie, and that is the last thing I am going to say about it.)

I'm not going to do a whole Oscars rundown — maybe I will as the awards get closer — but I thought it would be fun to pick the film/person I think is the biggest omission in each category. Well, not "each" category. I'm just doing the big ones; otherwise we'd be here all day.

Best Director snub: Marielle Heller, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood"

Everyone is mentioning Greta Gerwig in this category, and I get it: "Little Women" is one of the best films of the year, no doubt, and she deserves recognition. But I wanted to give some shine to Heller, who is maybe the most perfect example I have ever seen of someone who deserves a Best Director nom but whose film does not deserve a Best Picture nom. "Beautiful Day" is a heartwarming movie with a spectacular Tom Hanks performance, but it would not be half as transportive as it is without Heller's bold, imaginative use of the real Mr. Rogers figurine set as the framing of the movie.

(Also, if you haven't seen it, don't go into it expecting a "Mr. Rogers movie." Think of it as a story set in the world of Mr. Rogers, and you will have a much better time.) 

Best Actor snub: Brad Pitt, "Ad Astra"

"Ad Astra" was my favorite film of 2019, and much of that is because of Pitt's performance. It's not showy, which is why it was never going to get a nom, but he's doing the most with the least, as opposed to, say, Joaquin Phoenix, who is definitely doing the most acting but not necessarily the best acting. 

Pitt nails playing a guy who is slowly coming to terms with who he is instead of who he thought he had to be. The shifts are subtle: a drop of the eyes here, a shift of the jaw there. This performance is proof that quiet moments say a lot more than loud ones most of the time. 

Best Actress snub: Lupita Nyong'o, "Us"

HOW DOES LUPITA PLAY TWO CHARACTERS DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED IN EVERY WAY, A FAMILY-LOVING MOM AND A DISTURBED INDIVIDUAL WHO LITERALLY LIVES UNDER THE EARTH, AND MANAGE TO MAKE THEM BOTH WORTHY OF SYMPATHY? AND SHE CREATES THAT FUCKING VOICE — GOOD LORD SHE IS SO SCARY — AND THEN SHE DOESN'T GET A NOM?!

How. A travesty. Give horror movies recognition, cowards. 

Best Supporting Actor snub: Robert Pattinson and/or Willem Dafoe, "The Lighthouse"

I'm cheating a little here because Pattinson and Dafoe are really co-leads, but I don't care. Mahershala Ali was a co-lead last year and won, and I want to talk about them. 

There's like a 90% chance you have not seen this movie. That's a shame because everything about Robert Eggers' second feature film rules, especially the performances of Pattinson and Dafoe as lighthouse keepers, or "wickies," who slowly go insane while stuck on a small island together. I went into this expecting psychological horror, and there's a little of that, but more than anything, "The Lighthouse" is a comedy, and a riotous one. Pattinson and Dafoe commit SO HARD to the bit, cursing in old English, dancing to sea shanties and trying to survive each other's company. 

You know what? Just watch this clip. It will tell you everything you need to know. 

Best Supporting Actress snub: Jo Yeo-Jeong, "Parasite"

Everything she says in this movie is funny. Every line. Yeo-Jeong nails the rich mother who isn't necessarily a bad person but whose mind is deluded by her money and is thus ignorant of everything and everyone outside of her bubble. She plays dumb incredibly well. 

Best Picture snub: "Uncut Gems"

The second half of this movie is (I imagine) like doing cocaine and then jumping out of an airplane and landing on a snowmobile, which you use to outrun a deluge of people with machine guns who are chasing you, and then when you think you're safe, a polar bear jumps out at you from nowhere, and you have to use your bare hands to fight it off, and then you have to walk to town with a limp (from the polar bear), and you barely make it to the hospital before passing out — you lost a lot of blood, man — and when you wake up, you discover the nurse is trying to slowly kill you by overdosing you on a morphine drip, so you have to escape the hospital via hanging onto the rails of a MediVac. 

None of that happens in "Uncut Gems," but the feeling is the same. The Safdie brothers, Bennie and Josh, are masters of tone, and their deep dive into the world of New York jewelers and underground sports betting is no exception.  The way they engineer the film's dialogue, where everyone is talking over each other all the time, even the extras, but it still makes sense, is an amazing feat and makes the film feel incredibly real, almost like a documentary. Adam Sandler gives the best performance of his career, and newcomers like Julia Fox and Keith Williams Richards make instant first impressions. 

This is, bar none, the most anxiety-inducing movie of the year, and I mean that as a compliment. 

Disagree with my selections? Let me know. Seriously, please email me. Please? I'm asking nicely!

This week's selections are no slouches, either. I didn't write about my Best Cinematography snub above, in part because I already wrote about it down below. (Hint: It's the one that came out in 2019). 

 

“RoboCop” (1987)

HBO, rated R, 102 minutes

Peter Weller in "RoboCop." Photo source: HBO.

In a weird way, “RoboCop” has grown in both critical acclaim and societal importance since its original release, which was met with middling reviews. Paul Verhoeven’s mixture of operatic violence and sly one-liners serve as the perfect satire of militarized police forces and, more generally, capitalism. 

Audiences must not have understood the joke back then because this thing soars. I’m not sure how they missed it because Verhoeven is a lot of things, but he isn’t subtle. At times, a character will get gunned down, only for the people around them to react as if they saw someone take a mild tumble. I mean, the film literally opens with a news broadcast reporting on the death of 31 police officers in Detroit — and then the anchors throw to a commercial, an infomercial, advertising surgeries sponsored by different companies. It then finishes the news broadcast, where we learn the local police has come under the control of mega-corporation Omni Consumer Products in an effort to cut down on crime. It is a brilliant way to show not only the literal happenings of this fictional Detroit but also the rot that has seeped into every corner of it, the coal-colored soul of privatization and greed. 

The plot is relatively simple: Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is a cop. He transferred to Detroit from elsewhere, and it’s his first day on the (new) job. He partners with Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) to track down the guy that killed the aforementioned 31 cops. Long story short, it goes wrong, and Murphy is killed, but OCP retrieves his body and brings him back to life as RoboCop, a 24/7 justice machine designed to do three things: serve the public trust, protect the innocent and uphold the law. He tries to do these things but is so overpowered that he destroys innocent lives and denies his perpetrators due process.

Not only that, but there’s also a fatal flaw in RoboCop: Directive 4, which was programmed into him by OCP and states that if RoboCop tries to arrest a senior member of the company, he will automatically shut down. This is discovered when a member of the company is revealed to be behind the 31 murders — because of course they are. 

Peter Weller in "RoboCop." Photo source: HBO.

No one does violence like Verhoeven. Bullets go through bodies like they’re pudding, causing dollops of flesh to flail in the air. Blood is the color of a sun-dried tomato and has the viscosity of toothpaste. He uses a peck of slow-motion effects to give his violence drama but doesn’t overdo it, instead using it like a chef would use cilantro. He’s not doing this for no reason. Like how the secret to a great celebrity impression is finding someone’s unique tick and exaggerating it, Verhoeven’s violence is the reflection of the violence around us that we have normalized. It’s exaggerated, sure — but by how much?

I do have to give a special shout out to Kurtwood Smith (you probably know him as the Red from “That '70s Show”) for his turn as the murderous Clarence Boddicker. He brings an unhinged energy to what could have been a fairly mundane villain, and it is wonderful to watch.

 

“John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” (2019) 

Hulu, rated R, 131 minutes

Keanu Reeves in "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum." Photo source: Hulu.

We might as well keep the violence train going because as unique as Paul Verhoeven’s violence is, “John Wick” franchise director Chad Stahelski’s is too, in a different way. Where Verhoeven uses brute force, Stahelski uses Broadway-level choreography to put his heroes and villains in a dance of death. This, too, is not subtle: At one point in “Chapter 3,” Wick’s kills are literally intercut with a ballet routine. When it works as effectively as that scene does, that’s OK. 

Longtime followers of Binge Blog will know my love for this franchise. All three films are some of my favorite action movies of the '10s, but the more I think about No. 3, the more I think it is the best. 

Here’s why, in poem form.

John Wick kills guys with a knife,
Book-to-face, takes a life.
John Wick kills guys with a horse,
And he uses guns, of course. 

John Wick goes to Sofia then.
She has dogs that bite strange men.
John knows Sofia, so it’s cool,
But bad guys, well, their blood does pool
When the good dogs bite them in their jewels.

Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, and two very good boys in "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum." Photo source: Hulu.

Elsewhere, John has a machete,
Turns some villains into confetti.
He also uses a motorcycle,
But not much rhymes with motorcycle.

Mark Dacascos plays the big bad.
He’s the best foe that Wick has yet had.
He’s trained in lots of martial arts,
Oh, the beatdowns he imparts.

He takes Wick to his body’s limit.
Getting thrown through glass is painful, innit?
Well, it happens to Wick about 20 times,
But each time Wick rises and shines.

Eventually, John’s will wins out,
But Dacascos has no reason to pout.
He dies like he dreams of: losing to Wick,
His hero takes him out with a final flick
Of a sword into his chest, it’s pretty sick.

Other words I couldn’t fit:
Axes, fists and random shit.
John Wick kills with anything,
That’s why he’s the action king.

I think that clears everything up.

I’m the sports reporter for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, MD. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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