Rightwing Film Geek

My not so awesome-O night at the Oscars


I did badly in every Oscar pool because I let my heart get in the way — predicting an sweep for THE AVIATOR. Not because I thought THE AVIATOR was even a very good film — I believe it to be Scorsese’s weakest (and I’ve seen NEW YORK, NEW YORK). But I thought that 2005 would — finally — be Martin Scorsese’s turn. I was actively rooting against KILL THE CRIPPLES … er … MILLION-DOLLAR BABY, which de facto meant I had to root for THE AVIATOR — the other nag in a disappointing two-horse race. (SIDEWAYS was easily my favorite among the four nominated films I saw, but I knew it had no chance and was actually pleasantly surprised when Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor won for Adapted Script.) So I had good feelings early when THE AVIATOR was sweeping the technical awards, and Cate Blanchett won supporting actress. I didn’t mind Morgan Freeman winning for supporting actor (I picked him in the pools) because it was obviously a career award, and his career is much-deserving.

But then came Hilary Swank’s victory and I was getting ready to hurl things at the TV (and just plain hurl). This woman has basically had a two-role career and now has Oscars for both (the other being BOYS DON’T CRY at the 2000 awards) — and that’s just wrong. Two Oscars automatically invites imputations of pantheon stature with Davis, Hepburn, Bergman, etc., where Swank is so painfully outclassed that it isn’t even funny. Her performances weren’t even all that good — they’re very mannered and overripe, you can see her acting at every moment, and she relies on that jaw structure and big mouth to supply character. They’re also both the kind “stunt” roles that get ridiculously overpraised — in the first case, a cross-dressing lesbian where she tells the world on Oscar night about “celebrating our differences” (hurl); and now, another “gender-barrier-breaking” role, a female boxer. Hopefully, history will repeat itself and she’ll use her Oscar cache to make AFFAIR OF THE NECKLACE, PART TWO. It probably didn’t help that the two lead-female performances that I thought were the year’s absolute best, in a walk, (Catalina Sandino Moreno in MARIA FULL OF GRACE and Imelda Staunton in VERA DRAKE) were both up for Oscars. Mark my words. In 2040, people will be shaking their heads over Hilary Swank, laughing at those idiots in the ’00s, just like we wonder today about those dimbulbs in the 30s who gave two Oscars to Luise Rainer and none to Greta Garbo or Marlene Dietrich.

The final two awards came, director and film, and it was just depressing in its … depressingness.

Kubrick, Hitchcock, Lubitsch, P. Sturges, Welles, F. Lang, Hawks, Scorsese — 0 directing Oscars combined
Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, Norman Taurog, Delbert Mann, Frank Lloyd, Anthony Minghella, Sam Mendes, Robert Benton – 1 each

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 7.26.33 PMAs I’ve already said, I don’t care for either film; I know the Oscars are an industry love-in. To some extent, they affect power. As Ryan put it on his sight: “For a cinephile, the putative clout that an Oscar brings is the most important aspect of it all. You want your favorite directors/actors/writers/craftspeople to have some power.” But they also affect legacy. And the increasingly-looks-like-it’ll-be-lifelong snub of Scorsese, the best American director of his era, is no longer funny. If he were making obscure little art films, I’d understand. But he works with A-list stars and has for about 30 years now, and THE AVIATOR is Oscar-bait from Central Casting. The specifics of MILLION-DOLLAR BABY aside, it’s not that Clint Eastwood doesn’t have a legacy worth celebrating (of course he does, and as I said in re Morgan Freeman, I don’t mind “Career Oscars”). But Eastwood had won Picture and Director for 1992’s UNFORGIVEN — the fact that made me pick THE AVIATOR. Mark my words. In 2040, people will be shaking their heads over Martin Scorsese, laughing at those idiots in the 80s, 90s, and 00s who couldn’t give Scorsese one Oscar, while giving two to Hilary Swank.

March 2, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment



ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (Pracha Pinkaew, Thailand, 2005, 10)

This martial arts film from Thailand is awesome. This movie has a fight that last 0.5 seconds and one kick. This movie has a hero who dodges plates as they’re tossed at him and then smash elsewhere in the frame. And who dodges live electric wires as they’re thrown at him. This movie has a hero who KO’s one guy with a blow to the skull that breaks in half the bad guy’s helmet, while he is wearing it, and another by kicking him through the table. Did you get that? “While he is wearing it.” “Through the table.” This movie has flamboyantly evil villains who physically stuff coke up the noses of poor defenseless damsels. In a fight in which this movie’s hero outnumbers the villains 1-to-20, after the first 19 baddies have had their asses thoroughly kicked, No. 20 runs away. The movie has an entourage of bad guys guarding a Buddha that wear matching black ensembles, with knit caps. And a Mr. Big villain with a tracheotomy who says through a talking machine “I decide who lives or dies. Remember: I am God.” Did you get that? “Through a talking machine.” Like the Pope. This movie has another villain who suddenly energizes himself by grabbing 20 syringes full of Villain Power Super Juice. Like Jose Canseco. The movie has a fight in which a whip-like kick misses the bad guy’s legs — on the first revolution and then on the second revolution hits him in the head. Did you get that? “On the second revolution.” This movie prompted dozens of winces and gasps (and laughs) from the gobsmacked patrons at a D.C. art-house on opening weekend. This movie is the most awesome movie in the history of awesomeness.

Now that’s how one might write a review of ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (what a stupid renaming; as if there’s anybody in the target audience for a martial-arts film that would be put off by the original “MUAY THAI WARRIOR”). In fact I wrote a capsule very much like it a couple of years ago (2nd capsule down). And, as a measure of this film’s awesomeness, without having to reuse one moment when I repeated the Breathless Fanboy Love Letter act in the paragraph above.

However, that is the honest reaction to ONG-BAK, which in some ways is criticism-proof. You’re either wowed by the film’s stunts and the athleticism of star Tony Jaa, all achieved without wires and essentially no special effects, or you’re not. If you are, noting the film’s obvious shortcomings is meaningless caviling. And if you’re not, ONG-BAK doesn’t even arguably have anything else to offer. The film looks cheap and its technical credits, except for the sound effects editing, are utterly generic. The score in particular is hardly better than what one gets on a porn movie or a company orientation tape. In fact, I can’t recall another film where I was so aware of the gap between awesome sound effects and awful score. The plot is too formulaic to be called a cliche (good guy from small town tries to retrieve a Buddha head called Ong-Bak that was stolen and taken to The Big City of Bangkok and deals with gangsters, gamblers, pushers and assorted baddies). A terrific opening scene aside, the film takes longer than necessary to get started, though once the mayhem starts … man, ONG-BAK more than compensates by hardly pausing for a breath afterward.


Some of the specific criticisms are bone-headed though, I think. Several have complained about the film’s habit of showing the same stunt from two or three angles. But for a film like this, though I noticed right away on first viewing, I stopped being annoyed by it real quick. Usually when an action or athletic scene is edited together, it’s to “cover” for actors or stuntmen who don’t have the chops to do what the characters are being shown doing (see my complaints about BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM here). But in ONG-BAK, it’s almost the opposite. The editing never is constructed into “the stunt,” but always just another angle on the always-completed stunt. It’s more like instant replay, or a form of reassurance — yes, you really did see what you just thought you saw, but didn’t believe you did.

The style obviously invites comparison with Jackie Chan. And the comparisons, like the Washington City paper made in a now-dead link) usually find Tony Jaa wanting. Yes, Jaa personally doesn’t have Chan’s comic gifts and is a bit wooden as a straight actor. But does that really matter? Did anybody ever think Fred Astaire could *act*. And I don’t see how anybody who saw ONG-BAK in a theater with an audience could say the film as a whole is humorless. There’s plenty of comedy, partly from the wit in the ridiculousness of some of the stunts supposedly set up too straight-faced to be funny (the aforementioned one-kick fight) and some occasional use of fast motion. And part of it is The Overplaying Sidekick. To cite only the funniest joke, Mr. Overplaying Sidekick wields a huge cleaver to ward off a gang of bad guys chasing him. Right at that instant … talking vaguely not to step on the joke … an elderly woman walks by … and the chase begins again.

After I wrote that first capsule, it was pointed out to me by some jerk that this film proved the irrationality of my rule about waiting for second viewing to see how a film held up, before grading it a 10. Ryan noted that I would probably never have another experience with ONG-BAK like I had at that Toronto Midnight Madness screening. Citing our mutual idol Pauline Kael, he said not giving it an immediate 10 was being false to my experience of that film that night, when I was on an adrenaline high for hours after and called it “the most awesome movie in the history of awesomeness.” My Rugby-Grand-Slam-hopeful-Welsh bud Dan made a similar point more recently:

But I never expected [others] to like the final 40+N minutes of the rest of the film as much as I did in the midnight screening … I’m not sure anyone can enjoy it as much as the audience who were there at the Uptown that night.
Indeed, since then, I’ve not enjoyed ONG-BAK quite as much on the couple of times I’ve seen it. I’ve used it as more of a dvd-of-cool-moments when showing it to mates.
But nothing could compare to that first showing.

Second viewing wasn’t quite the “ohmigawd” experience as first, and, yes, it couldn’t be because the specifics of the viewing experience never could be duplicated — the (now-demolished) Uptown 1, an old-style movie palace that seats 1,000 up to the rafters; a midnight show at the end of an exhausting six-movie day; the experience of being snuck up on and gobsmacked by a film you had no idea would be this amazing; a packed audience of fanboys wowing and wincing along with every stunt (Jim, Dan, Erik and I were feeding off each other’s reactions — I specifically remember who I saw ONG-BAK with, and I can’t say that for many other festival films).

But that screening goes into my memory bank as one of the four or five Greatest Filmgoing Experiences of My Life — seeing ALEXANDER NEVSKY with a live symphony orchestra and choir performing Prokofiev’s score; seeing 2001 for the first time at a midnight show at an IMAX theater; seeing TIME OUT at a little shoebox arthouse (now closed) a week after giving up films for Lent. As long as ONG-BAK held up generally, and it does and all those other cited films have, I’ll excuse slightly diminishing returns. We’ll always have Paris, or something. I did have some of the same fun on second viewing, by seeing it with an audience of newbies (a packed-but-small theater, with about 60 gasping and laughing along with it And for once in my life, I didn’t care about loud first-weekend audiences.

March 2, 2005 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment