The 2014 Bobby James Awards: Film

The time has come. This is the moment you’ve all been [passively] waiting for – the announcement of the 2014 Bobby James Awards for “Best of Film.” The awards go to…

…first, let’s start with one of the fan-voted awards, shall we?

Blockbuster Character of the Year:

“Emmett Brickowski” (Chris Pratt) – The LEGO Movie

The LEGO Movie

With 38.1% of the vote, you selected Emmett as the “Blockbuster” Character of the Year. This is Emmett’s first win in this category. The previous victor (2013), “Katniss Everdeen” (Jennifer Lawrence) sends her congratulations to Emmett on this amazing honor.


Achievement in Cinematography:

Nightcrawler – Robert Elswit

K72A6112.CR2

Nightcrawler was one of 2014’s top dramas – it was also one of the most [darkly] beautiful films. There were many instances of brilliant cinematography – and Robert Elswit helped create a smarmy world for Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal).  The image I’ve selected, I believe, captures the beauty of a neo-noir film – you see this gorgeous skyline as you’re confronted with deep shadows and claustrophobic feelings. The hues and tints in this image are incredible – and they represent how alluring this world can be, but also how dangerous. Classic.


Achievement in Editing:

Birdman - Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione

Birdman

Birdman was one of the few films last year that made me consciously aware of how fantastic its editing was. I was surprised several times – most notably by the scene where Mike (Edward Norton) is entering stage left, for a Broadway production. The camera follows – and the edit flows so flawlessly that, for a moment, I was taken to a place where I seldom find joy in movies – to an edit point! That moment has stuck with me as a moment of editing perfection.


Achievement in Visual Effects:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes -

Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett and Erik Winquist

Dawn of Apes - VFX

Like its predecessor, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – which claimed this same award, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes features an incredible array of visual effects. I’m perhaps most interested in the process of performance capture. As you can see in the above image, the subtle nuances of the actor’s face – in this instance Toby Kebbell as “Koba – are captured, and then exquisitely designed and reflected in the chimpanzee character. How fantastic is that? How fantastic are these actors? Dawn of Apes boasts a serene and alluring, yet dangerous world for these apes to live in as well. From start to finish, every visual element is a treat – and they all serve the purpose of creating a visually stunning picture.


Achievement in Art Direction:

Interstellar - Dean Wolcott

Interstellar

Dean Wolcott was tasked with an incredible feat – executing the artistic vision of 2014’s most ambitious feature, Interstellar. Wolcott had to ensure and deliver a vision that was immensely imaginative – and he had to oversee the look and feel of a futuristic Earth – as well as the imaginings of outer space and other dimensions. Interstellar was a sensory masterpiece and Wolcott played a large part in that end result.


Achievement in Costume Design:

Maleficent - Anna B. Sheppard

Maleficent

I don’t think anyone could argue about the iconic greatness of Angelina Jolie’s costume in Maleficent. The cornerstone of great costuming is when it becomes reflected in fashion trends or pop culture. Designer Anna B. Sheppard’s exquisite gift to cinema was referenced at Halloween (in mass) and most recently at the Grammy Awards, where pop music icon Madonna had her dancers donning similarly inspired costumes. The detail is incredible and in every single frame, the costume is on par with Jolie’s performance.


Excuse me while I take a moment to interrupt this flow with the announcement of the second fan-voted award winner:

Blockbuster Villain of the Year:

“Artemisia” (Eva Green) – 300: Rise of an Empire

Artemisia - Eva Green

With 23.8% of the vote, Artemisia is your inaugural “Blockbuster” Villain of the Year. The antagonist of 300: Rise of an Empire was one of cinema’s strongest female characters – and portrayals – in a year plagued with a lack of strong roles for women. So I consider this an achievement – because it means that those of you who voted, felt the same way! Eva Green was perfect for the role – she dominated, just like her character did throughout the entire movie.

(Fun-Fact: This is Eva Green’s second Bobby James Award for 2014. She previously won for “Leading Actress in a Television Mini-Series or TV Movie,” for Penny Dreadful.)


Score for a Motion Picture:

Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer’s score of Interstellar was as ambitious as Christopher Nolan’s vision. It’s futuristic in its appeal and presentation – which compliment the movie tremendously. So many moments made such great use of the various compositions. Instantly, film buffs are going to recognize these beautifully hollow feeling, touching and uncertain instrumentals as specifically belonging to Interstellar. Notable compositions include: “S.T.A.Y.,” “Cornfield Chase” and “Mountains.”


Supporting Actress in a Voice-Over Role:

Cate Blanchett – “Valka” – How to Train Your Dragon 2

Valka - Cate Blanchett

As “Valka,” Blanchett’s voice conveyed an array of emotions from regret and sorrow to joy. She fit into the Dragon franchise voice cast perfectly and brought a sense of maternal nurturing to a patriarchal world. There was something genteel and regal about the character, and that can be attributed to her soothing vocal.


Supporting Actor in a Voice-Over Role:

Scott Adsit – “Baymax” – Big Hero 6

Baymax

“Hello. I am Baymax, your personal healthcare companion.” Reading that line alone is enough to make you gush over this oversized balloon man, but hearing it? That’s a magical story. Actor Scott Adsit gave his voice to what I consider one of the most lovable Disney characters, ever. I wish I had a Baymax, programmed with that voice – that calming, assuring voice – and that pace of speech. Bravo, Mr. Adsit, bravo.


Documentary Feature of the Year:

Rich Hill – Andrew Droz Palermo, Tracy Droz Tragos

A007_C069_0929EW

Rich Hill is deeply affecting. Perhaps it was the personal connection I felt to this story that moved me so much. I grew up in an area (Bloomsdale, MO) and rode the bus with impoverished classmates. My family wasn’t well-off, but we were in a much better circumstance than the three young men (and their families) documented here. After seeing this story – I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion and frustration.

How could this be happening in America so prevalently? Knowing that I alone couldn’t make a difference, I hoped that these young people would be able to navigate through and past their economic situations. I wished success for them – and when they had an opportunity, I hoped that those providing the opportunity would be doing so based on the incredible characters of these young people. That was my compassion. Then, I wondered, what had happened to those classmates of mine – did they make it out? Are they okay? Or are they stuck in a perpetual cycle of poverty, unable to escape?

This is where frustration sets in. On the bus, people looked down on those classmates, some of whom were my friends. They were teased – and their family’s circumstance was to blame. This was infuriating. I also found frustration in this movie’s limited distribution. I saw it in a theater in an affluent neighborhood – a place where at least 50% of those seeing it wouldn’t get it because they’ve likely never experienced it.

I imagined the judgment and “pity” those [elitist] moviegoers would pass or have, respectively – and it frustrated me. Rich Hill is an important film – because it documents human existence in small town America. This is America for a great many of our population. More people should see this. I was moved – and still, months later, I can’t stop thinking about these people or this documentary. How hard must it have been for the directors not to intervene – to simply document this ugly situation?


Foreign/Independent Feature of the Year:

The Way He Looks (Brazil) – Daniel Ribeiro

The Way He Looks

One of the best movies I saw in 2014 was the foreign feature The Way He Looks from Daniel Ribeiro. I remember feeling everything throughout this tender and loving story. It’s a story about friendship – about coming of age – about love – and about internal and external conflict. I felt anxious at parts – because I knew the conventions of gay cinema foreshadowed a tragedy – but what transpired was miraculous, in the best way possible.

Ribeiro’s emphasis is acutely focused on the characters and their relationships to one another. It’s because of those relationships – and because of this story – that those very conventions of gay cinema may be challenged moving forward. I was so elated after this movie ended. I felt proud – and viewed this movie as a cinematic cornerstone – and evolutionary step in the portrayal of gay characters. This is another important movie that will surprise you – because of its dimension – and its ability to focus on more than sexuality (I’m going to stop there, I can’t give away too much!).


OK – I’ll break from my praise-heaping to reveal the third fan-voted award for 2014:

Most Lovable Animated Character:

(tie)

“Emmett” – The LEGO Movie / “Toothless” – How to Train Your Dragon 2

Each with 35% of the vote, you (nor I) could decide who the most lovable animated character was last year. In a field crowded with the likes of Baymax, Benny (the spaceship-obsessed Lego) and Peabody, Emmett and Toothless stood atop the mountain together. Poor Hiccup, looks like Toothless’ buddy has been traded in for a Lego mini figure.


Original Song in a Motion Picture:

“The Hanging Tree” – performed by James Newton Howard ft. Jennifer Lawrence -

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

James Newton Howard’s “The Hanging Tree” features a harrowing and beautifully vulnerable vocal performance from Jennifer Lawrence as “Katniss Everdeen.” The build of the song is dramatic – used solely for affect. The lyrics and instrumental composition represent fear and atrocity – division. They paint a bleak world that gives way to unity and a rise against oppression. The song is a call to action to stand against a host of situations and inequalities in our present day societies without being too overt (ahem, “Glory.”).


Original Screenplay:

Nightcrawler - Dan Gilroy

Nightcrawler

Sometimes, it takes a team of greats to make a story great, but other times, the story itself is just really damn good – and a team of greats is an added bonus. That’s the case with Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir thriller Nightcrawler. Following Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), the audience bears witness to hunger and determination giving way to something much darker – and far more calculating (I’m talking about that nice twist at the end). The dialogue is witty (giving us some take-away quotes, ex. “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket…”) and at times discomforting. The situations fluctuate between being [what you think] honest and determined to claustrophobic, unnerving and unpredictable. Then, there’s the character – Louis Bloom…


Adapted Screenplay:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Dawn of Apes - screenplay

What makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes so spectacular [to me anyway] is the nuance and humanity presented by the script. I admire that the screenwriters [obviously] researched (in detail) the lifelong work of primatologists like Dr. Jane Goodall. Her efforts – and her research – show through in every scene, especially through the differing personalities – the expressions of emotion – and natural behaviors (ex. using tools, hierarchy). This is a well planned franchise entry (much better than the 1960s adaptations). Dawn of Apes gives us action and adventure in a science fiction world that’s rooted deeply in our present one. It’s a thought-provoking and cautionary tale that tells us we are not alone when it comes to feeling. Do we even need to discuss the ridiculous amount of tension?  It’s incredible that this story sustained it so well for so long.


Supporting Actress:

Jessica Chastain – “Murph” – Interstellar

Jessica Chastain - Interstellar

Jessica Chastain delivers again, proving to be one of contemporary cinema’s greatest actresses. As a NASA scientist, “Murph” works tirelessly on an equation that’s haunted her life – and that could be the key to finding her father, who’s been out to space since her childhood. For the part, Chastain gives a conflicted performance – of a woman clinging to hope and science to combat insecurity and the unknown. Her emotions appear raw as her gripping talent shines through.

(Fun-Fact: This is Jessica Chastain’s third Bobby James Award. She’s won previously for her supporting role in The Help and her leading role in Zero Dark Thirty. This win ties her with Meryl Streep as the most decorated film actress.)


Supporting Actor:

Robert Duvall – “Joseph Palmer” – The Judge

Robert Duvall

Robert Duvall delivers a heartbreaking performance as “Joseph Palmer” in The Judge. While I won’t go into detail about the specifics (for those who haven’t seen it), just know that the physical and emotional depth of this performance alone make this one to watch. He’s a hardened and proud man who has to suddenly confront being wrong – being uncertain – and being vulnerable. Duvall is great.


Animated Short:

Feast - Patrick Osborne, Kristina Reed

Feast - animated short

Disney’s hand-drawn animated short, Feast, instantly reminded me of the Disney-Pixar feature Up (2009) and Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955). Two very great impressions. Winston, the adorable little puppy – through meals reveals the life of his best friend – through love and loss. It’s an endearing short film that I’d love to see given a feature-length treatment!


Leading Actress in a Voice-Over Role:

Elizabeth Banks – “Wyldstyle” – The LEGO Movie

Wyldstyle

Elizabeth Banks nabs this award for her vocal portrayal of “Wyldstyle,” the wannabe, cool-chick mini figure in The LEGO Movie. “Wyldstyle” is clever and determined – and she’s dating Batman. The way Banks plays her though is awesome (no pun intended!). The voice she gives her character is reserved, yet confident. Like she knows she’s bad-ass and really, super cool – but it’s whatever…no big deal, just another day in Lucy’s, I mean, Wyldstyle’s life.

(Fun-Fact: This is Elizabeth Banks’ second Bobby James Award, she previously won for her portrayal of “Effie Trinket” in The Hunger Games.)


Leading Actor in a Voice-Over Role:

Chris Pratt – “Emmett” – The LEGO Movie

Emmett 2

Chris Pratt made The LEGO Movie‘s “Emmett Brickowski” truly something special (you know he did – you voted for him!). His voice brought to life a naïve mini figure Lego who just wanted to be special. Pratt’s energy was infectious and every time Emmett spoke, I quite literally thought everything was awesome (pun – pun – pun alert! Ha!). He was lively and fun – and funny. His intonations were spot on and in those sadder moments, Pratt’s voice was tender, making you all the more sympathetic to his Lego plight.

(Fun-Fact: This is technically the third 2014 Bobby James Award for the “Emmett Brickowski” character and the voice of Emmett, Chris Pratt.)


Animated Feature Film of the Year:

(tie)

The LEGO Movie / How to Train Your Dragon 2

In retrospect, there were so many great animated features last year. From The LEGO Movie and Mr. Peabody & Sherman to Big Hero 6, the year was stacked. But only one could be named animated feature of the year, right? Wrong!

Honestly, I’d considered a 4-way tie, but only for a moment. Then, I grappled with which one to choose – and I couldn’t do it.

The LEGO Movie gave us action and excitement, as well as a commentary on capitalism and the power of imagination and confidence. It played with very real human emotion and had some great one-liners (“Awesome!” “Spaceship!”), a memorable song (“Everything Is AWESOME!!!”) and some really great characters (not to mention, vocal talent). Perhaps what I liked most was the empowering message behind the movie as a whole – and all of that detailed scenery and bright, bold color! (I’m secretly kind of like Unikitty!)

How to Train Your Dragon 2 was spectacular because it was better than the original! I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first, because sequels usually get progressively worse, but this one surprised me. On a different level, I connected with HTTYD2 because it raised the stakes – and introduced us to some of the most magical animated scenes of the year. A formidable picture of the year contender (like The LEGO Movie), the characters and story made audiences laugh and cry (and don’t tell me that one scene didn’t choke you up!) – making it easily the most emotive animated movie of them all.


Leading Actress:

Julianne Moore – “Alice Howland” – Still Alice

Julianne Moore - Still Alice

Julianne Moore as “Alice Howland” is at the top of her craft. She’s untouchable for 2014. She was/is the best. By far the most emotionally dynamic performance of the year, Moore gives us “Alice,” a woman battling early onset Alzheimer’s. Moore plays the part remarkably – and Alice’s pain becomes our own – particularly in the monologue (the photo is a still of that moment) that moved me – and others in the theater to tears. How can a performance be so heartbreaking, yet so empowering and inspiring? I don’t know – but Moore does, and this milestone performance is.

(Fun-Fact: This is Julianne Moore’s second Bobby James Award. She won previously for her role as “Charley” in A Single Man.)


Leading Actor:

Andy Serkis – “Caesar” – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Andy Serkis - Dawn of Apes

Watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, then explore the performance capture process – and tell me that Andy Serkis isn’t deserving of recognition. On merit of his performance alone, he should have won an Oscar at least a decade ago (remember “Gollum” from The Lord of the Rings?). Now, he’s even better and bringing “Caesar” to life in the Planet of the Apes franchise. Serkis’ work speaks for itself as you watch each and every expression come across Caesar’s face, and as you see every body movement. The performance is incredible.

(Fun-Fact: Andy Serkis becomes the first actor to win a Bobby James Award acting award for a performance capture.)


 The Lumiére Award for Directing:

Matt Reeves – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves

Matt Reeves did a phenomenal job crafting a meticulous and increasingly tense story about the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. What he does is give us an expectation-exceeding science fiction movie. This could have easily fallen by the wayside – and been a subpar sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Instead, it is a movie that flourishes because it builds on its original franchise entry, then it expands its human themes and elements to create its own story, while generating an insatiable desire to see what’s next. That can’t be an easy task, especially for a director who’s relatively new to “blockbusters,” but Reeves holds his own and gives us a sci-fi masterpiece.


We’re getting closer to revealing the Feature Film of the Year, but first – here’s what you selected in the final fan-voted category:

Blockbuster Movie of the Year:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

With 25% of the vote, and just edging out Maleficent, you all voted Guardians of the Galaxy as the “Blockbuster” Movie of the Year. I’m not surprised at all…if anything, I’m surprised that it only took 25% of the vote! I expected an overwhelming majority for Guardians of the Galaxy - because who didn’t love Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and Groot (Vin Diesel)? …don’t answer that – because after all, you did pick Emmett as the character of the year. So perhaps I should be surprised by not seeing The LEGO Movie here. Awesome!


Finally, before we get to Feature Film of the Year, I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to – and to recognize some true greats – the first annual Oz Awards (kind of like my Hall of Fame!). The Oz Awards will recognized timeless figures, characters and films from cinema’s great history. Please, join me in honoring the inaugural class:

The 1st Annual Oz Awards Recipients:

The Wizard of Oz (1939):

  • Synopsis: Victor Fleming’s Technicolor masterpiece has been a source of magic and wonder for decades. People around the world know the movie – and its iconic characters and landscapes. We all know the songs and the memorable quotes – and whether we’d like to admit it or not, I’d bet each of us has a personal connection to this adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel.
  • Memorable Characters: Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), Toto (Terry), The Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton), The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), The Tin Man (Jack Haley), Glinda (Billy Burke), The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) and The Munchkins.
  • Memorable Songs: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard…,” “If I Only Had a Brain”
  • Memorable Quotes: “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” – Wicked Witch of the West / “There’s no place like home.” – Dorothy / “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” – Glinda / “Follow the yellow brick road.” – Glinda, The Munchkins / “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” – Dorothy / “You have no power here, now be gone before somebody drops a house on you.” – Glinda / “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” – Dorothy.
  • Acclaim: Won 2 Oscars. Another 7 wins & 13 nominations.

Judy Garland:

  • Synopsis: Judy Garland is one of the most iconic movie stars of all-time. Renowned for her voice and infectious spirit, Garland is considered one of the Golden Era’s greats. She is the voice behind iconic songs like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Garland is considered a tragic star (because of an accident barbiturate overdose) and a gay icon (because of “Dorothy Gale’s” accepting nature).
  • Notable roles include: “Dorothy Gale” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), for which she was awarded a special Oscar in 1940; “Esther Smith” from Meet Me In St. Louis (1944); “Hannah Brown” from Easter Parade (1949); “Vicki Lester/Esther Blodgett” from A Star is Born (1958).
  • Acclaim: Won 1 Oscar. Star on the Walk of Fame. Another 6 wins & 8 nominations.

Marilyn Monroe:

  • Synopsis: Marilyn Monroe is without question one of Hollywood’s most recognizable names and faces. Her story from rags to riches – and her death (a “probable suicide”) continue to fascinate people around the world. When you think of classic Hollywood – or glamour, Marilyn Monroe has to come to mind. She’s the 20th Century sex symbol. Known for her songs: “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “I Wanna Be Loved By You.”
  • Notable roles include: “Lorelei Lee” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953); “Sugar Kane Kowalczyk” from Some Like It Hot (1959); “Pola Debevoise” from How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).
  • Acclaim: Won 1 Golden Globe. Star on the Walk of Fame. Another 7 wins & 9 nominations.

Montgomery Clift:

  • Synopsis: “Monty” Clift was recognized as a powerhouse actor. After debuting alongside John Wayne in Red River (1948), Clift went on to be nominated for 4 Academy Awards between 1949 and 1962. He’s famed for his emotional acting style, good looks and for pioneering the “brooding” character, later popularized by actors like James Dean and Marlon Brando.
  • Notable roles include: “Matt Garth” from Red River (1948); “George Eastman” from A Place in the Sun (1951); “Robert E. Lee Prewitt” from From Here to Eternity (1953).
  • Acclaim: Nominated for 4 Oscars. Star on the Walk of Fame. Another 1 win & 3 nominations.

Jurassic Park (1993):

  • Synopsis: Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park has withstood the test of time and is regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made (and it’s my favorite movie, ever!). Like Jurassic Park itself, Jurassic Park offers a host of attractions, from the iconic tyrannosaurus roar to the groundbreaking and innovative blending of CGI and animatronics. This film truly is a treat – and is the reason why, 22 years later, fans are about to embark on another franchise installment (Jurassic World).
  • Memorable Characters: Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), Tim Murphy (Joseph Mazzello), Lex Murphy (Ariana Richards), Mr. D.N.A. (voice: Greg Burson), Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) – and of course, the dinosaurs – notably T-Rex and the raptors!
  • Memorable Quotes: “Welcome to Jurassic Park!” – John Hammond / “Hold onto your butts.” – Tom Arnold / “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” – Ian Malcolm; “Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the Earth.” – Ellie Sattler.
  • Acclaim: Won 3 Oscars. Another 24 wins & 16 nominations.

Now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for, I present to you…

Feature Film of the Year:

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn of Apes 2

Without a doubt in my mind, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was the feature film of 2014. I loved the story, the characters and the range of emotion this film displayed. Dawn of Apes’ tension was tempered by an incredible amount of heart and humanity. The film serves as a cautionary tale to the dangers of science and exploitation of the natural world – and as a conservation message.

The reference to the legendary works/studies (which the right to do was fought for) by scientists like Dr. Jane Goodall is apparent and the abilities of the cast are incredible. Through their movements and expressions to their personality traits and struggle for hierarchical dominance, one can clearly see the influence of such works at play. Dawn of Apes exquisitely blends science and fiction to deliver a wildly tense cinematic experience that fluctuates between in your face action and quiet tenderness.


Top 25 Films of 2014

  1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
  2. Interstellar 
  3. The Way He Looks (Brazil)
  4. The LEGO Movie / How to Train Your Dragon 2
  5. Nightcrawler 
  6. Gone Girl
  7. 300: Rise of an Empire 
  8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 
  9. Big Hero 6
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy 
  11. Mr. Peabody & Sherman 
  12. The Hundred-Foot Journey 
  13. Rudderless 
  14. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
  15. Ida (Poland)
  16. The Grand Budapest Hotel 
  17. Force Majeure (Sweden)
  18. The Theory of Everything 
  19. Godzilla 
  20. Neighbors 
  21. Selma 
  22. Birdman
  23. The Imitation Game 
  24. The Normal Heart (Made for TV)
  25. Enemy 

A Media Comment: Hollywood’s New Obsession with Bizarre Sex

Fifty Shades

UPDATE (February 13, 2015):

Forget about how bizarre Gone Girl was because this week, the film adaptation of E.L. James’ wildly popular book, Fifty Shades of Grey, opens nationwide. A lukewarm reception from American critics says expectations are met – and that the adaptation is a flatly acted soft-core porn that almost can’t survive against the rampant hardcore-porn in American society.

I’m paraphrasing a few reviews to give you that statement. However, I believe it’s interesting to note that since I drafted this initial article, there have been even more instances of bizarre sex featured across all forms of media – television, film and music. Again, I’m only mentioning a few instances – so if there are any you would like to add or discuss, please do so in the comments section below.

Leading up to the Fifty Shades premiere, the movie has been met with a furious backlash. Premieres have been protested worldwide (ex. London and the United States), petitions have been circulated to ban the film’s release (by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation) and the movie has been censored (ex. Philippines) or even banned (Malaysia) in some countries.

There’s even been a legal battle between Universal Pictures and porn production company Smash Pictures over film rights.

What all of this serves to do is promote the movie. Everyone in the world is aware of the adaptation – as such, Fifty Shades of Grey is projected to open domestically above $100 million. With a production budget of $40 million, an opening that size makes the film automatically profitable. Factor in the global appeal – and it’s a foregone conclusion that this movie will set the tone for media sex in the coming months/years.

The books are popular because they offer explicit sexual encounters – ranging from the much-discussed, but omitted from the movie, tampon scene, to the whips, leather, cuffs and blindfolds. People want to experience this fantasy – which was the driving force behind all the bizarre sex I’d written about previously.

Let me clarify, I’m not using “bizarre” in a negative way – I’m using it to categorize the type of sex we’re seeing or hearing about in media. It’s the kind of sex that infuriates and offends some people – that questions “morality” – but that also arouses other, more liberal (or sexually free/adventurous?) people.

The forbidden nature of this bizarre sex is intriguing – and it will cause some to rebel. For an illustration of this, look at the IMDB ratings breakdown (so far):

Early Ratings for "Fifty Shades of Grey." Accessed from IMDB.com on 2/13/2015.

Early Ratings for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Accessed from IMDB.com on 2/13/2015.

You’ll note that Fifty Shades of Grey is performing better with audiences under 18 – and particularly with females. That was always to be expected. What’s really interesting to note though, is the disproportionate number of people giving it a “1” rating. It’s safe to assume that many of those votes came from the same people calling for a boycott of the movie, right? I’d bet on it.

Fifty Shades Aladdin

Disney Princesses reimagined in Fifty Shades of Grey, by anonymous (for DeviantArt). Photo credit: Cosmopolitan.com

Regardless, Fifty Shades of Grey will be a global phenomenon, despite the low user-rating. To illustrate this point, one only needs to look at an article published by Bloomberg Business on February 13, 2015, the article reports that the anticipated release of the adaptation has given a boost to sex toy sales.

People want to live this fantasy – they want to see it, to be voyeurs. We are the drivers to this bizarre sex addiction. This phenomenon, which I’m labeling as the “Fifty Shades Effect,” has even grabbed hold of our beloved Disney princesses (as seen here), who have been created in depictions of some of the novel’s most talked about scenes.

This movie is a milestone in pop culture – and it’s complimented in pop culture by other media, like the newly released “Truffle Butter” by Nicki Minaj ft. Drake and Lil’ Wayne, for instance. As defined by Urban Dictionary, “Truffle Butter is when you pull you dick out of the asshole an continue fucking her pussy, and the tan buttery substance around her pussy is truffle butter.”

While music has a tendency toward more explicit content on a regular basis, it should be noted that songs about things like “truffle butter” reflect our attitudes about sex in culture. Would a song like this even be made if the media climate wasn’t permitting themes of BDSM, role-play, bestiality, necrophilia, etc.?

The answer is no – but as our attitudes about sex shift into a more liberal space, people are owning their sexuality – and they’re being empowered by media. There will become a thought that “What I’m doing isn’t that bad.”

Recently, beyond the BDSM of Fifty Shades Grey, we’ve seen continued themes of infidelity everywhere – from popular dramas like ABC’s hit Scandal to freshman dramas like How to Get Away with Murder. These worlds where these characters exist are bizarre – but pleasurably intriguing.  Who’s not rooting for Fitz and Olivia Pope, or “Olitz” as the show’s fans have named them.

Bizarre sex has even permeated TV comedies. For example, the USA original series Sirens just featured a character who was admitted to the hospital for a head injury while role-playing. He was a superhero coming to the aid of a woman tied to the bed. When the responders (the show’s protagonists) asked who called for help, the couple admitted it was their neighbor, who they “let watch.”

Watching – that’s what we love to do. We’re voyeurs in this media climate of free-range sex. I’d like to revisit a show I wrote about last year that’s continued to deliver bizarre sex in primetime: the most recent installment of American Horror Story, Freak Show. The fourth season of the popular FX drama featured a psychosexual sociopath named Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock), a ventriloquist named Chester (Neil Patrick Harris) in love with his doll Marjorie (Jamie Brewer), manipulative and murderous homosexuals Stanley (Denis O’Hare) and Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis) and the carnival owner, Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange), who was a victim of rape and bodily dismemberment during sex.

Those are just the tips of the iceberg for AHS, too. The framing and situations surrounding the Dandy Mott character were hyper-sexualized – especially in an episode titled “Pink Cupcakes” (aired Nov. 5, 2014) featuring Matt Bomer (as “Andy,” a gay prostitute). What transpires between the two is teased as a sexual encounter, but the result is a much more sinister and sick type of “pleasure.”

The series also exposed us to “Lobster Boy” Jimmy Darling (Evan Peters) who was compensated to use his fused fingers to pleasure socialites vaginally and anally, simultaneously. Prominently featured “attractions” were also Bette and Dot Tattler (Sarah Paulson), conjoined twins who has insatiable fantasies of their own  – and Desiree Dupree (Angela Basset) who boasted a “ding-a-ling” (an enlarged clitoris) and three breasts.

How interesting is it though that these instances (as featured on AHS) are branded as an “American Horror Story?” Ironic, right? Yes, and as you can see from the “original post” below, this bizarre sexual obsession is nothing new, but I sense there is a shift on the horizon with the imminent success of Fifty Shades of Grey – and I’m calling it the “Fifty Shades Effect.” Stay tuned to see what we’ll be embracing soon.

Sex

ORIGINAL POST (below, from June 4, 2014):

Penis.  Vagina.  Queer Sex. BDSM.

When each of the above words or acronyms are visualized in cinema or television in the United States, harsher scrutiny is applied by American censors (MPAA, FCC).  It’s something film and media students have discussed amongst themselves and in their classes for years.   How can a person be more permissibly tortured and graphically killed in a franchise like SAW (2004-2010) beneath an R-rating, while “a scene of explicit sexual content” in a film like Blue Valentine (2010) warrants an NC-17? This well-documented dilemma has been discussed and contested multiple times, yet European films are reputed to be more sexually liberal – until recently.

Eva Green responds to MPAA vs. Sin City Poster controversy

American movies and television are beginning to embrace sex more freely, but violence isn’t tapering off.  Instead, what’s happening is a blending of sex and violence and audiences are witnessing controversial, discomforting, and sometimes erotic scenes or images.  Below I’ll present to you several recent instances that illustrate America’s new-found obsession with bizarre sex.

Let’s begin first with a title making headway with our new fixation:  American Horror Story (2011-).

Fans of FX’s original series will immediately recognize any number of scenes depicting controversial sex.  Season one, “Murder House,” repeatedly teases and shows a man donning a bondage suit.  The man is the source of Vivien Harmon’s (Connie Britton) psychological torment and eventual rape.  Then, the significantly darker season two, “Asylum,” provides viewers with even more controversial “love.” From the nearly instant death of Leo Morrison (Adam Levine) mid-fellatio to start the season, to Shelley’s (Chloe Sevigny) sexual advances toward Nazi doctor Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), to Sister Jude’s (Jessica Lange) fantasy with Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes) – American Horror Story: Asylum upped the ante for bizarre TV sex – then came “Coven.”

Queenie and the Minotaur

Queenie and the Minotaur (AHS: Coven)

According to creator Ryan Murphy, season three was tonally lighter – but Coven wasn’t devoid of bizarre sex.  If anything, Coven pushed the boundaries further.  Viewers of the show will recall several edgy instances of sex, most notably Queenie’s (Gabourey Sidibe) with the Minotaur (Ameer Baraka).  As she encouraged the mythical beast to mount her, Queenie motions her hands to lift her skirt and begs the line, “Don’t you wanna love me?”  Additionally, the season featured a satanic, snake-laden pregnancy ritual between Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulson) and husband Hank (Josh Hamilton), and an implied/lightly featured incestuous relationship between Kyle (Evan Peters) and his mother that was interwoven with an on-going necrophilia-ménage-a-tois between Kyle, Zoe Benson (Taissa Farmiga) and Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts).

American Horror Story isn’t the only show to present necrophilia or incest in primetime, either.  These themes figure prominently into two other top-rated shows, one airing on FOX, the other on A&E.

Season two of FOX’s The Following (2013-) features Sam Underwood as twin brothers Luke and Mark.  The brothers calculatingly murder and dine with female corpses amidst sexual suggestion and homoerotic, incestuous undertones.  What is the basis for their strong connection to one another? Yes, they’re fighting for the same cause as serial killers and rapists, but is it normal for these brothers to be intimate together?  What about their unyielding commitment to one another?  Luke and Mark’s connection is suggestively deeper than brotherhood, though it’s not overstated and was downplayed after the first few episodes.

Norma and Norman Bates

Norma and Norman Bates (Bates Motel)

A&E’s Bates Motel (2013-) poses a similar question – this time about the relationship between mother and son.  For two seasons, Bates Motel has been teasing Norman’s (Freddie Highmore’s) obsession with his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga).  Season one featured a surprising, but inevitable (perhaps “predictable” would be a better word) kiss and awkward relationship between the two.  Season two pushes the envelope a little further by not only depicting more shared kisses, but by placing the characters in bed (non-sexually) together on different occasions, and by revealing a previous instance of incest – the rape of Norma.  The entire premise of Bates Motel is to explore the psyche of Norman Bates pre-Psycho (1960), so naturally, the relationship will only intensify.

Artemisia and Themistocles

Artemisia and Themistocles (300: Rise of an Empire)

Intensity’s become a key factor in both television and cinematic sex.  Take the movie 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) for example.  The sex scene between Persian naval leader Artemisia (Eva Green) and the Grecian Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is one of the most intense I’ve ever seen.  Mortal enemies on opposing armies, the two come together to forge a deal and end up engaging in a fierce scene where seduction is filled with danger, passion is replaced by power and violence becomes empowering.  From this – what appears as a psychosexual game – allows Artemisia finds superiority against her male counterpart.

While I’m not saying Hollywood hasn’t exploited female sexuality to “empower” women in TV or movies, I am saying that there’s been a shift in the way women have presented and owned their sexuality.  In 300: Rise of an Empire, Artemisia exists as a formidable force beyond her sexuality before and after the scene – and during the scene, she was always in control.  Take the Starz series Spartacus(2010-2013) for another example.  Creator Steven S. DeKnight gave the series several strong, empowered female leads – notably Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) and Ilithyia (Viva Bianca).  Both women existed in the aristocratic echelon of society – and while they employed seduction and sex to further their own political agendas, they also used sex for pleasure, to objectify men (their property), and each other.

Ilithyia and Spartacus

Spartacus and Ilithyia (Spartacus: Blood and Sand)

Spartacus’ most intriguing (and relevant) sex comes during season one (“Blood and Sand”), after Ilithyia oversteps her bounds in the eyes of Lucretia.  Ilithya desires one of Lucretia’s slaves, but the one Lucretia delivers only ensures humiliation.  Ilithyia’s sex scene with Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) delivers eroticism and fantasy to the viewer, but also on the murkiness becoming common-place in TV/movie sex.  The scene is immediately followed by two acts of violence that increase in severity and gruesomeness.  The erotic nature of draped sheets, gold body paint and secretive masks co-exists with themes of deception, humiliation, anonymity, and shame, yet the moment exists to create (or to inspire?) fantasy and allure.  No longer are men using women regularly for sexual exploitation – women are now using their sexuality against each other and men.

Deceptive “use” is a keystone figuring prominently into another primetime show airing on FX – The Americans (2013-).  The Americans introduced us to Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings, two covert KGB agents in America during the 1980s.  In disguise, throughout seasons one and two, Phillip and Elizabeth both employ sexual activity to gain information from the US government.  The twist comes during season one when we repeatedly see Elizabeth disregard sex and harbor no emotional attachments, whereas Phillip becomes entangled in a faux marriage to FBI secretary Martha (Alison Wright).  The double life begins progressively affecting Phillip, becoming noticeable later (in season two) to Elizabeth.

After involving herself out of necessity, Elizabeth learns about Phillip as a lover to Martha, and asks Phillip to become “Clark,” his alter-ego with her for a night.  The scene is riddled with discomfort – Phillip is visibly frustrated and Elizabeth is left in pain, crying on the bed.  Here we have another instance where deception becomes a violent and emotionally damning sexual act – and we have a sexual relationship (Martha-Clark) built entirely on false pretense and the objectification of a woman.  The irony is that the same show sexually empowers and demeans women and men.  Is this depiction real? Are people this easily manipulated by sex?

Malkina and Ferrari

Malkina mounts the Ferrari (The Counselor, 2013)

There’s a particular scene in the 2013 movie The Counselor, starring Cameron Diaz, that addresses my last statement and question.  While Malkina (Diaz), an affiliate to the Mexican drug cartel, is empowered through cunning, association, and sex, she is demeaned by what could be considered one of the most bizarre sexual acts to ever be featured in a movie.  I’m talking about the moment she mounts a Ferrari and does the splits on the windshield, to seduce her boyfriend Reiner (Javier Bardem).  Interesting to note however, Reiner finds the moment less erotic and more unnerving and intimidating.

This moment and Diaz’s entire performance are powerful.  She’s continuously revered for her feminist traits, including intelligence, independence and boldness (which are stated overtly throughout the movie), but also for her incredible sex appeal.  All of these traits combine to create a dynamic and unpredictable female lead.  So are people easily manipulated through sex?  The answer seems to be that there are great powers in act of seduction – and if you’ve seen the end of The Counselor you know the answer to the question.

But while a woman like Malkina does exist, so too does a woman like Law & Order: SVU‘s (1999-) Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay).  Since 1999, Detective Benson has been a beacon of hope for strong female leads – in television and cinema.  She’s been portrayed as an intelligent woman not reliant upon her sexuality and as an equal member of the male dominated police force.  She’s risen through the ranks and now exists as the top-billed character and face of the show as it enters it sixteenth season.  Detective Benson has done well for herself – until being confronted by an intense arc that sees her victimized by serial rapist and murderer William Lewis (Pablo Schreiber).

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit - Season 15

Olivia Benson as a victim (Law & Order: SVU)

Lewis, one of SVU‘s most terrifying villains, is known to torture girls before raping and killing them.  He is eroticized by the helplessness of women – Benson becomes his strongest, most resilient target – his prize.  In the squad room, Lewis’ objective  is clear:  he wants his victims to fight for life, to resist him – it feeds his desire for power.  He tortures them (forces them to consume alcohol, burns them with cigarettes, and terrifies them with guns).  The last moments of these women’s lives are hell – but the Benson-Lewis saga was successful enough that it survived beyond the season fourteen finale and season fifteen premier and carried throughout all of season fifteen.

Why was SVU‘s victimization of Benson such a successful storyline?  Was it because the crime-procedural had an actual arc? Or was it because of Schreiber and Hargitay’s amazing work together?  It could be either of those things, but it could also be because fans liked seeing Olivia Benson in peril, fighting for her dignity and for her life.  The question “Will Lewis rape Benson?” loomed over all of their interactions, especially Benson’s captivity.  Fans cringed at the idea, but had to know how or if Benson would survive William Lewis.  Could she carry on as a detective (and later sergeant) if she were to have been raped by Lewis?  Could this man undo one of TV’s most powerful women?

In some odd way, Benson in peril made for compelling television – and the “will she or won’t she” be raped intrigue caused people to tune in. Despite the dynamics, the fact that Lewis’ sexual obsessions and crimes warranted a season-long arc is noteworthy.  His lust blended with violence, and his appetite for rape and death was unnerving, but the character “William Lewis” was a perfect fit for the media’s bizarre new obsession.

UPDATE: On June 6, Hayley Krischer with the Huffington Post wrote an article about the “rape” of Maleficent and how rape culture has permeated Disney movies

Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray (Penny Dreadful)

More recently, on Showtime’s freshman horror series Penny Dreadful (2014-) we find the character Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney).  While the series is just beginning, and its unknown to viewers where Gray is headed sexually or otherwise, we’ve already learned a bit about his twisted infatuations.  Through staging, we become aware that Gray is at least bisexual, he’s infatuated with beauty, that he has an affinity for lust and orgies, and that he isn’t phased by people coughing up blood during intercourse (that seemed to excite him further).  We’ve also been introduced to his tactics to achieve his desires – notably the scene where he seduces Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) by using a special elixir that inspires a homosexual transgression in Victorian-era London.

Dorian Gray and Ethan Chandler (Penny Dreadful)

Dorian Gray and Ethan Chandler (Penny Dreadful)

It is interesting to note that in 2014, while America is still absurdly sensitive to sex, we find such bizarre instances of sex in so many period pieces like Penny Dreadful (and Spartacus, 300: Rise of an Empire, The Americans).  What is it about these times that inspires creators or writers to visualize these societies as sexually explorative and free?  Are these interpretations simply fanaticized – or is there merit to the ideas – were those times more provocative than our own?  What’s the comment being made toward current society – if these were the sexual attitudes in ancient Greece, Victorian London, or the 1980s?

Perhaps the 2013 movie Her could shed some light on our current state of affairs.  Her offers the comment that our society is less-socialized and less interactive, despite being more “social” in a cyber fashion.  In our digital age, online dating is popularized, sexting is a norm, and sexual necessities are more easily fulfilled alone (by phone, internet, magazine, erotica novel, etc.).  While Her is a gorgeous cinematic achievement, it perhaps offers one of the more bizarre love stories of all – about a man, Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix), who falls in love and has a pseudo-sexual relationship with an operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).  Is this contemporary love?  Can this instant companionship replace physical desire or touch?  What is the capability for fulfillment and happiness?

If there’s one positive to Her‘s bizarre sexuality, it’s that the element of violence is removed, but at what cost?  Theodore is physically lonely – he’s withdrawn and suffers from depression.  Is an operating system a suitable replacement for a human? Or is the comment being made by Spike Jones’ feature that we need people to be totally fulfilled – and to feel love?  This question, I believe, is posed in Her and I think the overall message affirms that we do need people to love.  We do need touch and intimacy.

As I’ve illustrated, the current media climate is welcoming, and the censors seem to be softening, with respect to sex and eroticism in cinema and television.  However, the cost for increased instances of sex is that they’re often accompanied by violence (rough sex, demeaning sex, rape) or are so bizarre in nature they’d be considered disturbing (necrophilia, incest, bestiality) to a majority of viewers.  Despite featuring more sex (of all types, heterosexual and homosexual), the media seems to be lacking healthy, passionate, loving, or sensual instances of sex.  We’re trading those intimate and deep-rooted desires for harsh images and sometimes cruel seduction and saying “That’s what I want.”

Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart)

Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer (The Normal Heart)

What’s worse is that each instance of homosexuality I’ve mentioned has been accompanied by a deviant behavior (deception in Penny Dreadful, and suggestive undertones of incest and necrophilia in The Following).  It’s been nearly a decade since Brokeback Mountain revolutionized American cinema and television – and the passionate, loving, and sensual scenes are still fleeting.  Take the powerful HBO movie The Normal Heart (2014), the scene filled with passion between Ned (Mark Ruffalo) and Felix (Matt Bomer) is as fleeting as the flashback depicting their first “hookup.” Why is love still unequal?  What is so fearful about two men or two women being depicted in a moment of true love or passion?

At the same time, what is so threatening about a woman being sexy – and in control of a heterosexual scene?  Why is there still preference to the missionary position – and why can’t there just be stories about love?  Why does everything either have to be categorized as bizarre or follow the romantic comedy formula that presents what I call “soap opera sex?”  American media’s journey into the sexual realm is beginning to intensify.  I just hope sooner, rather than later, we can start displaying love as it should be – not as something that still brings shame, embarrassment, or that disturbs us.  Some stories will warrant the types of bizarre sex prevalent in media – but some stories should just be about passionate freedom.  Don’t you agree?

Is there a show, a movie, or a scene from either that you’d consider “bizarre sex?”  What about something you consider to be about “passionate freedom,” and love? Let me know in the comments section below.  Let’s explore this idea together.  Thanks for reading.

Tops: 10 Best [Animated] Supporting Disney Characters

Welcome to Tops!  Wildly popular on As Seen By (2011-2013), Tops is a feature highlighting the “10 Best” [insert topic] in television or movies!  Lists like the Top 10 Animated “Awww” Moments or Ten 21st Century Documentary Films The May Make You Want to Occupy a Street are among the most popular ever written for As Seen By.  Now, I’m bringing the Tops feature to Bobby’s World and I’m launching with the “10 Best [Animated] Supporting Disney Characters!” Enjoy.

 

10.  PASCAL

Pascal

from Tangled (2010). Voice: n/a

The countdown begins with the most adorable little chameleon ever.  Pascal is a fun, good-natured little guy who’s very protective of Rapunzel, his sole companion.  When Flynn Rider comes along, Pascal is none too happy and spends a number of moments standing off against the wanted hero.  And who could forget the two times he mischievously throws his tongue into Flynn’s ear – or his adorable squeaks – or cute little facial expressions?  Pascal stands by his friend through it all and even has quite the adventure retrieving the wedding rings near the end of the movie.  He’s crafty and fun, and one of the best parts of Tangled.

Favorite Moment:  Every single interaction with Flynn Rider!

Favorite Quote(s):  n/a

9.  GUS GUS

from Cinderella (1950). Voice: James MacDonald

from Cinderella (1950). Voice: James MacDonald

Duh!  Octavius … or rather, Gus Gus, had to make the list.  He’s the funniest little fat mouse ever!  Whether he’s acting tough by threatening Lady Tremaine or her evil cat Lucifer, or trying to pick up almost a dozen kernels of corn, Gus provides a lot of comedy for Cinderella.  Rescued from a mousetrap, Gus becomes attached to and very protective of Cinderella.  He’s her tiny little aloof knight in a mustard tee – and for that, and his adorable laugh, he earns a sweet spot on the list.

Favorite Moment:  When he’s competing with the “cluck-clucks” for corn kernels and keeps losing them!

Favorite Quote(s):

“Duh, duh, duh…Happy Birthday!”

“Take it easy cluck-cluck!”

8.  SHENZI, BANZAI and ED

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and Cheech Martin

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Cummings and Cheech Martin

Hyenas…in the Pride Lands!  At number eight, Shenzi (Whoopi Goldberg, center), Banzai (Cheech Martin, right), and Ed (Jim Cummings, left) are the only trio featured on the list.  Notable not only for their comedic moments, the Scar sidekicks are a dangerous pack that aid in Scar’s takeover of Pride Rock, Mufasa’s death and Simba’s exile.  As a unit, they’re deadly and individually, their traits make them devious yet joyfully memorable.

Favorite Moment:  The “Mufasa, Mufasa, Mufasa” scene.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Make mine a ‘cub’ sandwich.” – Shenzi

“There ain’t no way I’m goin’ in there! What you want me to come out there lookin’ like you, cactus butt?” – Shenzi

“[uncontrollable laughter]” – Ed

“Who you callin’ upid-stay?” – Banzai

“Do you know what we do to kings who step out of their kingdom?” – Shenzi

7.  RAFIKI

from The Lion King (1994). Voice:  Robert Guillaume

from The Lion King (1994). Voice: Robert Guillaume

Like the circle of life, Rafiki begins and ends the story of The Lion King hoisting a cub into the air from atop Pride Rock.  A friend to Mufasa, Rafiki (whose name means “friend” in Swahili) serves as an advisor to Simba, as he grapples with his destiny as “the one true king.” An inhabitant of an old baobab tree, Rafiki is wise, mysterious and a tad bit eccentric (Simba even refers to him as a “creepy little monkey”) – but his lessons are invaluable to Simba, who learns quickly from the loveable mandrill.

Favorite Moment:  Rafiki’s lesson to Simba about running from or learning from the past.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Oh yes, the past can hurt, but he way I see it: You can either run from it, or learn from it.”

“Asante sansa Squash banana, Wiwi nugu Mi mi apana … can’t cut it out, it’ll grow right back!”

“He lives in you.”

6.  GENIE

from Aladdin (1992). Voice:  Robin Williams

from Aladdin (1992). Voice: Robin Williams

Remember wanting to find your own magic lamp in a Cave of Wonders, so that you could have a friend like Genie?  Me too.  Genie is one of the most animated and boisterous supporting characters in all of Disney.  He transformed Aladdin into “Prince Ali,” and is responsible for the set up between Aladdin and Jasmine.  He’s loving, loyal and loud, but beneath all of that, he only really desires his freedom.

Favorite Moment:  The “itty bitty living space” moment and the “Never Had a Friend Like Me” musical number.

Favorite Quote(s):

“Phenomenal cosmic powers, itty bitty living space.”

“Yo, Rugman!  Haven’t seen you in a few millennia, give me some tassel!”

“You ain’t never had a friend like me!”

“Beeeeee yourself.”

“Do you mind if I kiss the monkey?  …Oh, hairball!”

“Thank you for choosing ‘Magic Carpet’ for all your travel needs. Don’t stand until the rug has come to a complete stop.  Thank you, goodbye now.  Goodbye. Goodbye. Thank you. Goodbye.”

 5.  OLAF

from FROZEN (2013). Voice: Josh Gad

from FROZEN (2013). Voice: Josh Gad

Some people are worth melting for – so are some of Disney’s supporting characters, especially Olaf, the snowman who longs to “do whatever snow does in summer!”  First introduced as a lifeless snowman while Elsa and Anna are kids, Olaf is later brought to life and becomes one of the most animated and flamboyant characters in recent Disney memory.  His many adorable moments, quotes and “In Summer” number made him relatable, lovable and instantly classic and memorable.

Favorite Moment:  When he tells Anna that some people are worth melting for, or when he’s admiring his nose!

Favorite Quote(s):

“Winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle, but put me in summer and I’ll be a … happy snowman!”

“Oh I love it [his new carrot nose]! It’s so cute, it’s like a little baby unicorn.”

“Hi everyone! I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs.”

“Heads up! Watch out for my butt!”

“Yeah! It really is beautiful isn’t it? It’s so white – you know have a little color! I’m thinking like maybe some crimson, chartreuse … how ’bout yellow? No, not yellow – yellow and snow [muffled brrr-sound] no go.”

4.  RAY

from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Voice:  Jim Cummings

from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Voice: Jim Cummings

Ray, the Cajun firefly, is the only supporting character featured on the list that dies, while battling “The Shadow Man,” Dr. Facilier!  Before Ray meets his tragic end though, he wows the audience with the “Gonna Take You There” number in the bayou and his story of Evangeline.  Ray (alongside ‘gator Louis) adds a great deal of soul, humor and folklore to The Princess and the Frog.  His bittersweet end sees him finally be united with Evangeline, as a star beside her.

Note:  Ray’s funeral was ranked as my #10 Animated “Awww” Moment.

Favorite Moment:  Meeting Ray and the numbers “Gonna Take You There” and “Ma Belle Evangeline.”

Favorite Quote(s):

“My name Raymond, but everybody call me Ray.”

“Ooo, I’m a Cajun, bro!”

“Go to bed! Y’all from Shreveport?”

“First rule of the bayou – never take directions from a ‘gator.”

“Don’t make me light my butt!”

3.  SEBASTIAN

from The Little Mermaid (1989). Voice: Samuel E. Wright

from The Little Mermaid (1989). Voice: Samuel E. Wright

Who doesn’t love Sebastian?  Sure, he’s a little crabby, but it’s because nobody listens to him, especially Ariel!  From start to finish, the wee crustacean transforms from a hard-shell crab into a softy! His calypso-reggae infused songs are brought to life by voice actor Samuel E. Wright and endure as some of the most memorable and timeless.  Recall “Under the Sea” or “Kiss the Girl?”  What’s great about Sebastian is that he’s always got everyone else’s best interests in mind – and he works tirelessly to help in any way possible.  Aww.

Favorite Moment:  When Sebastian teaches Ariel how to pucker her lips OR when Sebastian faces off against Chef Louis to the song “Les Poissons!”

Favorite Quote(s):

“Teenagers!  Dhey dink dhey know everything. You give dhem an inch; dhey swim all over you.”

“My nerves are shot.  This is a catastrophe! What would her father say? I tell you what her father’d say.  He’d say he’s gonna kill himself a crab, dat’s what her father’d say…”

“You gotta pucker up your lips, like this…”

“Geez mon, I’m surrounded by amateurs!”

2.  TIMON & PUMBAA

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella

from The Lion King (1994). Voices: Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella

Timon and Pumbaa are inseparable!  They’re two of the most beloved characters of all-time, and the most dynamic duo ever created by Disney.  They enter the story of The Lion King at the most somber moment to provide hope, humor and even more spirit.   They’re rambunctious and zany, but above all, they’re tender-hearted and endearing.  After all, they save Simba – a lion – one of their natural predators!  Together, as co-parents, they protect Simba until he’s an adult – and they stand beside him as he takes his “rightful place as king.”

Favorite Moment:  When Pumbaa is stuffed and Timon dresses in drag to do the hula.

Favorite Quote(s):

“What do you want me to do? Dress in drag and do the hula?” – Timon

“Pumbaa:  It’s times like these my buddy Timon here says: ‘You got to put your behind in your past’. / Timon:  No, no, no.  Amateur.  Lie down before you hurt yourself.  It’s ‘You got to put your past behind you’.”

“Hakuna Matata”

1.  LUMIERE

from Beauty and the Beast (1992). Voice: Jerry Orbach

from Beauty and the Beast (1992). Voice: Jerry Orbach

“But of course!” The French candelabra Lumière tops the list.  Named after pioneering filmmakers, The Lumière Brothers, and fashioned with Pepé Le Pew in mind, Lumière is the quintessential supporting character.  He’s witty, charming, free-spirited and romantic – not to mention, one of the driving forces behind Belle and Beast’s romance.  His resistance to Cogsworth’s traditional attitude, hospitality toward Belle, and fiery romance with Featherduster provide plenty of memorable moments or musical numbers, like “Be Our Guest!”  He is the perfect host for entertaining and embodies all that one might imagine about France.

Note:  Lumière has been my favorite supporting Disney character since I was a child.  I oftentimes reference Beauty and the Beast, Lumière and Pepé Le Pew when discussing why I studied French, or explaining why I love the idea of Parisian life.

Favorite Moment:  The “Be Our Guest” sequence and his on-screen moment with Featherduster.

Favorite Quote(s):

“But of Course!”

“Ma Chère mademoiselle.  It is with deepest pride and great pleasure the we welcome you tonight …”


That’s the countdown!  How did you like the list?  Are there moments or quotes from these characters that you liked but don’t see here?  Share it in the comments section below.  Are your favorite supporting characters missing from the list?  Make the case for them below too!  Thanks for reading.

A Media Comment: Animated Feature ≠ “Kid’s Movie”

"Hiccup" from DreamWorks' How To Train Your Dragon 2

“Hiccup” from DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon 2

Have you seen DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 yet? If not, do so – it’s a fantastic animated feature that, in a roundabout way, is the basis for this post.  While I was surfing Facebook, I saw Moviepilot Animation’s article:  So Let’s Talk About How To Train Your Dragon’s Gay Character.  Upon completing the article, I read through a few of the responses, but the top rated response said:

“He is not gay…my god its. A kids movie..people are such idiots trying to make something out of nothing…get a hobby!”

While those of you who know me may think this will focus on the emergence of openly gay characters in animated movies, it won’t.  Trust me, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a research article analyzing gay characters in animated movies.  That project looks more like a go every day.  Instead, I’m going to comment on why ANIMATED FEATURE does not equal KID’S MOVIE.

This is something that’s bothered me immensely over the years, leaving me curious to know:  Why do so many people say animated movies are just for kids? Is it the bright and bold color, the catchy musical numbers (ahem, Frozen - I know, I should just “Let It Go”), or is it simply because it’s animated? A cartoon.  I can’t figure it out.

Now, if you’re like me, you love animated features – and you like to go to the theater while schools are in session, so that you may enjoy them without all the chatterbox-children around.  But doesn’t it just so happen that kids are almost always on break when the animated features flood the box office? It does. Then, you go to the theater not thinking much of it and surprise! A million kids.  The kids aren’t the problem though, it’s their chaperoning adult(s), right?

I generally make it a point to see every animated feature that comes out.  I’ve loved them since I was a child – and since the emergence of Pixar, the ante’s been upped!  Many more animated features are sophisticated and contain social commentaries (ex. openly gay characters emerging in animated features), subtle humor and storylines for adults.  The [mostly] breathtaking animation is still there, but that’s for the enjoyment of everyone right? So I can’t figure out why when I walk into a theater full of kids I’m shot a dirty look from time to time.  Am I not allowed to see an animated feature in theaters if I don’t have children?  Because I’m seeing the movie alone, am I weird? …or worse, a suspected pedophile?

On countless occasions, I’ve had friends tell me they wanted to see whatever the newest animated feature was, but they can’t go alone because “it’d be weird.” Why is it weird? Why can grown men or women not go see an animated movie alone? Who says and what authority do they have? Then I think, it all comes back to this idea that animated features are “Kids’ Movies.”

Newsflash: They’re not.

Animated features, like all other Hollywood productions are rated in accordance with the MPAA.  Generally, these movies are rated G or PG (you can explore all that who, how, etc. here), but that alone doesn’t mean the movie is strictly for kids. When I envision kid-centric entertainment, I think of programming like Baby Einstein, or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, just to list some obvious (TV) examples.

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar's Up

Carl and Ellie from Disney-Pixar’s Up

Have you seen the Shrek or Ice Age franchises? I don’t think I need to elaborate on all of that adult humor.  What about more subtle movies like Disney-Pixar’s Up?  The entire Carl-Ellie relationship is adult-oriented, as is the “Married Life” montage.  Sure, it’s brightly colored and full of wondrous imagination and imagery, but Up‘s core (its heart) appeals to both children and adults.  My point is, these animated features are made for the enjoyment of everyone.

By design, animated features resonate with each of us differently.  They could inspire a child to become an animator.  They are proponents of imagination (children may want to be ruling princesses or explorers imagining great adventures of their own).  In the same way kids are inspired, adults may find humor, they may reminisce of days gone by, or they may be inspired themselves.  An adult may write that book or screenplay they always wanted to write, or to take the adventure they’d always imagined (I went to New Orleans in 2012 because of The Princess and the Frog), or just to laugh and love as much as the animated feature suggests.  Through the lens of adulthood we “see” and take away more from animated features, we understand their souls and not just the pretty pictures.

Now please, don’t think my last statement discredits a child’s ability to understand a movie (or any piece of media or art).  I’m the last person that would do that.  In fact, in my own endeavors, I find myself fighting for the kids, saying they deserve complexity, subtlety and perfection in the media they may consume.  What I am saying, is that adults have a greater understanding (sometimes) and that just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it’s not for them too.

Call it a Family Movie or better yet, just call it what it is – an animated feature or an animated movie – but unless it’s directly stated to be so, don’t call it a “Kid’s Movie.”  Recognize they’re made for the enjoyment of everyone – take away the weirdness and the odd looks.  Give everyone the chance to be inspired, just because you’re grown doesn’t mean you don’t need it.   Go watch any one of your childhood favorites now, and as Beauty and The Beast suggests:

“There may be something there that wasn’t there before.”

I’d like to know, is there a movie you feel bridges the gap between childhood and adulthood?  What are some of your favorite animated moments or quotes?  How about your favorite animated characters and why? What themes do you see in animated features that appeal to adults?  Let’s talk in the comments section!

Angelina Jolie is wickedly enchanting as “Maleficent”

MaleficentBeing a fan of Disney and Angelina Jolie, I was predisposed to like this big-budget summer venture titled Maleficent.  A reimagining of the 1959 animated classic Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is told from the point of view of the title character by a mysterious narrator.  A pleasant, but predictable third-act twist continues Disney’s notable feminist fairytale trend (recall last year’s hit Frozen?), leaving audiences with fond memories of Jolie’s performance and of this tale as a stunning and imaginative summer-worthy effort.

Maleficent 2Visually, Maleficent is wondrous – I love the look of the mystical kingdom (The Moors), all of the creatures (this movie boast one of the best dragons I’ve seen to date!) and magic.  Despite the MPAA citing “frightening images” as the reason for a PG rating, I welcomed the intense fantasy battle sequences and creatures that continuously made me feel like I was watching a Guillermo Del Toro fairytale (ex. Pan’s Labyrinth) – leaving me extremely happy.  I found myself particularly fond of the wispy special effects used to accompany Maleficent’s various enchantments (anything wicked – like the curse on Aurora – is lit in vibrant hues of green, whereas anything bright or gentle flows in a combination of shimmering gold and glowing yellow), and the special effects like this served this production very well.

What’s more is that Jolie’s makeup and costume design (by Anna B. Sheppard) only add to the allure of the fantasy and aura surrounding this classical villain – and there’s of course, Jolie’s performance.  Boosted by Sheppard’s striking costume and a host of prosthetic makeup, Jolie has a commanding screen presence.  She’s enchanting and embodies the villainess perfectly by displaying unparalleled physical, emotional, and vocal skill.  She thrives most in subtle moments where eye contact and facial expressions are essential.  There’s a way she operates in this role that seems natural, yet calculating and ultimately beautiful.  There is a motive behind every move – and then of course, there’s the evil laughter  (I love the moment during Aurora’s christening when her straight face is overcome by a devious smile and her dark laugh!), and she nails it.

Jolie’s level of performance stands out – and perhaps this is where an “off” feeling may become evident to some viewers.  Stefan (Sharlto Copley), Maleficent’s adversary, is miscast throughout the entire movie.  None of the actors playing Stefan during any stage (childhood, adolescence, adulthood) feel right opposite the actresses playing Maleficent, there just seems to be an overall lack of chemistry. This made me thankful for the limited Maleficent-Stefan interactions, but made me wonder if the roles were simply type-cast.  There are far more interesting interactions to be had, partially between Maleficent and Aurora (Elle Fanning), but mostly between Maleficent and Diaval (Sam Riley).

Maleficent and Diaval

Sam Riley, “Diaval,” will be an underrated part of this movie – only because he may become lost in the shuffle amidst the three nutty fairies and host of kings, guards and princes wandering about.  Riley makes an intriguing accomplice, and is the only cast member that truly feels right when paired with Jolie.  Then again, his character is the second most developed.  We are provided with clear motives for his actions and learn just enough about his character and his compassion to care.  At least that’s how it’s written – and therein lies Maleficent‘s greatest downfall.

Maleficent is the most solid character of all, then again, this is her story, so she should be, but why should I care about anyone else involved (I should!)?  The rest of the characters, save for Diaval, fail to be anything other than accessories splattered into the story for the sake of Maleficent having someone to interact with.  This is a problem plaguing most of Disney’s recent live-action adaptations including that womanizing mess known as Oz, the Great and Powerful (2013) and the mediocre Alice in Wonderland (2010), which were both vehicles for James Franco and Johnny Depp, respectively (despite having other capable cast members).  Maleficent’s problems aren’t nearly as bad – in fact, you could probably overlook them if the casting was right, but even proper casting couldn’t make up for a middling story.

Overall, Jolie’s performance and the gorgeous special effects make Maleficent a worthwhile endeavor – it’s just a little frustrating when a performance like Jolie’s is surrounded by mediocrity.  The movie could have done without the first and last ten minutes and it would have improved.  The idea and basic foundation is right, it’s just a shame the overall execution of the story and its characters couldn’t be totally the same.

Grade:  B+

Note [may contain spoilers]:

I’m curious to know, based on the last two Disney fairytales (Frozen and now Maleficent) if Disney’s feminist themes and twists are preparing us for a lesbian princess. It’s an interesting thought – one I’d be interested to explore in the comments section below! What do you think about Disney re-defining how they present “true love?”

 

The Lone Ranger (movie review)

The Lone RangerOK – I finally got to see The Lone Ranger!

Having done so, I’m confused – why is there all this negative buzz flying around?  Why have the pompous mainstream critics broken out their thesauri to shred it? I don’t get it.  Then again, some critics didn’t use a thesaurus at all, yes, I’m looking at you Joe Williams from the St. Louis Post Dispatch – and my eyes are buggin’ like a Minion’s:

“Except for the dynamic finale, The Lone Ranger feels like a long, slow ride to the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump.” – Joe Williams (score:  50/100)

Trust me when I say this, I had to warm up to the idea of even going to see the movie.  Johnny Depp as Tonto? I couldn’t wrap my head around that one for the longest time.  I thought he was going to be Jack Sparrow’s Native American (Comanche) cousin – which, to a certain extent, he was.  Then I saw a television spot about three weeks ago and decided I was hooked – and had been dying to see this movie ever since – guess what – I’d go see it again!

Read Joe Williams’ review of “The Lone Ranger”

It’s a summer blockbuster – it’s purpose was to breathe new life into a classic character and to entertain the masses.  That goal was easily achieved.  I don’t think Disney’s intention was to create a cinematic masterpiece, or something able to compete with the art-house films that make the critics coo like babies.  That said, I really enjoyed this movie and its storytelling model.

I love a story that fluctuates between old-time America (ca. 1930s) and older-time America (ca. mid-1800s).  It provides a sense of nostalgia that you can only duplicate with movies.  The flashback model is a proven success, but The Lone Ranger could have used less fluctuation and just stuck with the story in flashback for longer intervals (like Titanic or Water for Elephants).  I didn’t find Tonto, the old storyteller as captivating as young Tonto (until the very end), and therefore could have done with fewer scenes of old-man Depp.

THE LONE RANGERLike always, when it comes to these odd-ball characters, Johnny Depp actually turned in a good performance.  Sure, sometimes he acts like Captain Jack with different clothes and face paint, but overall, he was entertaining and had some of the most comedic lines.  Typical of him in these types of roles, but as the adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – he was fine.  Tonto was fun.

Arguably, Tonto may have been less fun if he weren’t paired with Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger (kudos to the casting director – Denise Chamian).  Hammer is charismatic, there’s no question – but something about him in this role just clicked perfectly.  I think it was his voice, combined with his stature.  He looks and sounds like a classic Western movie star – and his character is built up perfectly as the underdog – Armie Hammer in the title role simply works (too bad The Lone Ranger is under-performing at the box office, I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel).

Track the financial success of “The Lone Ranger” on Box Office Mojo

Aside from the few technical goofs (Golden Gate Bridge – incomplete/complete in the 1930s?), there are some train sequences that really get your heart racing and simply provide really nice action, particularly the finale.  And then there’s the music that just really sucks you into the moments and the pace.

William Fichtner - Lone RangerMaybe the thesauri-pods (ahem, dinosaurs) and I watched a different movie, but from where I was sitting (directly in the middle of the theater) this movie was a win – a fun story and adventure, and it’s one I won’t mind hearing or taking again.  I say job well done.

Oh, did I mention,  I really liked Helena Bonham Carter (as Red Harrington), Ruth Wilson (as Rebecca Reid), and William Fichtner (as Butch Cavendish)?  Of course I didn’t – but now you know I did.  I think Fichtner did a great job in his villainous role – he was pretty despicable.

Grade:  B+