Defending “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

There is a moment one hour and forty-three minutes into Stephen Daldry’s film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close that I think turned many people off – critics and the public alike — to this well-intentioned, thoughtful, and engaging film. Young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is playing the six voicemail messages his loving father (Tom Hanks) left for his family while trapped inside the World Trade Center on the tragic morning of September 11, 2001. Oskar has kept these messages for himself and hides them in his bedroom closet. It is all that he has left from what he calls “The worst day.” He plays Message #6. We hear the muffled and inhibited voice of Mr. Hanks repeat the question, “Are you there?” “Are you there?” The message then, abruptly cuts off. The camera, tight on Oskar, then immediately pans to a television showing the North Tower implode and fall to the ground. It is a heart-wrenching moment – and an image that has stuck with me since seeing the “Best Picture” nominee. And I’m sure exactly what Mr. Daldry’s intentions were for this carefully choreographed scene.

I know many resented and were outraged by the fact that “Extremely Loud” was even nominated for the top Oscar prize. I’m not exactly sure why. I personally did not place the film in my own Top 10 of the year, but I did it give a strong 3-star rating. Did people feel that the movie manipulated our feelings? My answer to that is, “Well, doesn’t every film do just that?” I have heard from others that they felt that the novel by the very talented author Jonathan Safran Foer (which is the source material that the movie is based on) took a very tragic event and simply “cashed in” on the misery of others. I could not disagree more. I read the book. I enjoyed it very much. To me, it was just one small (and at times, magical) story to stem from one horrific event that affected thousands…millions of people in many ways. I don’t think Foer was trying to capitalize on anything and, in reading the novel, I never felt that the author was being disrespectful in any way.

My question is — Are people so touchy about 9/11 that any piece of art that is inspired by it (songs, books, photography, film, poetry, etc.) is frowned upon with utter contempt? I know numerous television specials and documentaries that have been aired about that fateful morning. I walk through Barnes and Noble and see dozens upon dozens of books on the subject. Are all of these authors just greedy and trying to exploit the feelings and lives of others who have suffered? I choose not to think that. In the same manner, I choose not to think that the U.K.-born Daldry – and everyone involved with the making of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close were taking advantage of America’s misfortunes. It’s a simple father-and-son story…gentle and unique and poignant. Everyone gets so outraged so easily and we’re all so politically correct…honestly, it’s quite nauseating. Perhaps Foer wrote this as his own homage to those affected by 9/11 and his intentions here were nothing but genuine. I choose to think that. I also choose to believe that Mr. Daldry sought to create a film that would move everyone who saw it in a positive and inspiring way. For those who are offended by the movie, I would simply say that there are so many other things in this world to be offended by….this movie is should be the least of your worries.

The Versatile Blogger Award!

OK, since I have only been doing Magic Lantern Film Blog for a few months, I’m kind of new to this and just found out about “The Versatile Blogger” from a couple of other sites. And to my fellow film bloggers, I still have no idea what a “Meme” is!!! Help me out here! 🙂

The Rules for the Award are:

1- Thank the person who gave you this award
2- Share 7 things about yourself (see below)
3- Pass the award along to 15 who you think fantastic for whatever reasons! (if not 15, as many as you can)
4- Contact the blogs you picked and let them know about the award.

So, ok…thank you to the 3 guys at the very cool, very diverse Go, See, Talk movie blog. Also a big thank you to Aiden at the clever and witty Cut the Crap Movie Reviews film blog. Your nominating me has given me undue pressure I now place on myself — and just more work to do on this gorgeous weekend – so thanks for that! 

Seven things about myself that most may not know? Hmph…this is tough as I tend to be an open book. I’ll try to stick to everything movie-related here.

1- I have to give much credit to my friend, Lorne for becoming a HUGE Woody Allen fan. Before Lorne was able to convince me back in high school, I didn’t see much to Woody Allen and never cared for his work. Perhaps I just didn’t “get him” at the time. Now he is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers who always gets my $10 when a new movie of his comes out. Thanks, Lorne! And Woody – how about making a really great movie again…and soon!

2- Jackie Gleason was my hero growing up. I wanted to be him. I think he was the main reason why I became a theatre student and became so heavily involved in acting, directing, writing, etc. More than just a wonderful comedian, I found him to be an extraordinarily talented actor who never really got his due as a film star. Brilliant in The Hustler and gives a wonderful performance in Gigot, as well as Nothing in Common. I think Gleason is the reason I started smoking at a young age. Thanks, Jackie! You are always missed…

3- I used to trick-or-treat with my next door neighbor who I had a severe crush on for only about 12 years or so. I distinctly recall one year when the two of us went to see a double feature of Grease and the PG-version of Saturday Night Fever. After trick-or-treating in our own neighborhood on Halloween, we decided to reap everyone’s mass quantities of leftover Halloween candy by trick-or-treating in a different neighborhood on November 1st. We put on sad faces and told people that we were away visiting grandparents in Florida and never got to trick-or-treat. We went dressed as Danny and Sandy from Grease…and boy did we hit the motherload!

4- The first movie I can remember seeing in the theatre was the delightful Pete’s Dragon at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Another early memory was when I was 7, my father took me and my younger brother to see Superman. He had me and my brother waiting on line while he went to find a parking spot. we waited and waited and my brother was perfectly fine. I don’t know why, but I started to freak out thinking dad left us and wasn’t coming back. I think I started to cry as my mind began racing as to where he went and what would become of us. Our rotten father had abandoned us!!! A few minutes later, my father walked up and was so upset at my wuss-like behavior that he took us home. No Superman that night. What a shameful display…

5- I love Roadhouse. I’ll just let you take that in for a minute and absorb that. And I’m a fuck-you-up if you laugh at me! And if I can’t, Sam Elliott will come hunt you down and do it for me…

6- I once dated the niece of director Armand Mastroianni, who is known mostly for a few horror movies, including He Knows You’re Alone (1980) which featured the feature-film debut of one Tom Hanks. Mastroianni has since directed for a number of successful television shows and has another film in the works. He appreciated my fascination and admiration for Marlon Brando and I remember him taking down a beautifully framed poster of Brando from off his wall and giving it to me as a gift…one of my most prized possessions. I have always remembered that kind gesture.

7- Not film, but still relates…the only fan letter I think I ever wrote was to Kim Fields — yes, Tootie on TV’s “Facts of Life.” I just thought she was so hot! The show was shit, but I had such a huge crush on this woman. Sadly, she never returned my letter, professing my admiration for her work and her smokin’ good looks. The hurt still festers. Oh, yes…I did send Marlon Brando a couple of birthday cards too…although I’m sure he didn’t look quite as attractive on roller skates as Kim Fields.

Now for those film bloggers who I think are doing an extraordinary job. These are movie sites I try to visit each day and see what everyone is writing about — and to read their opinions on all things movie related. Apologies to those if someone else has already nominated you…

  • Top 10 Films — a very fun, in-depth site with a lot of intriguing Top 10 Lists. Covers a wide array of genres & makes for great debate.
  • Movie Mobsters — Great design/layout; knowledgeable, excellent writing and a lot of fun to read. I check it out daily always love to read Heather’s comments on everyone’s blogs.
  • CinemaFunk — Aaron’s site is a great read for film fans. Some great analysis on movies, past and present. Easy-to-navigate look to the site with helpful links throughout. An intelligent read.
  • Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews — Dan is very young, but he knows his movies…and more importantly, he knows how to write about them. Nicely laid out site, highlighting current movies and old ones too.
  • Kicking Up the Darkness — Evan only posts occasionally, but he knows his movies. He’s a witty writer and a horror buff. So for any horror movie fans, you may want to check his site out. Has a nice Top horror movies of the decade list which is a good one.
  • CinemaObsessed — Angie and Chantale are two funny gals! A wide variety of stuff here including movie news, funny 89-second film reviews and their own witty take on everything going on in film.

That’s about it. Every other blog I know has already been cited (and I’m sure these have been also). Hope I did this thing correctly. As always, your pithy comments are always encouraged. Hope everyone has a great Father’s Day!!! Now what the hell is a meme….

Peter Eramo’s Postmortem on the Oscars – The Highs & Very Lows of the Ceremony

OK, so I went 14 out of 21 in my picks (I wasn’t even going to bother venturing a guess in the ‘Live Action Short,’ ‘Documentary Short,’ and ‘Animated Short’ categories). Not so very bad. I went out on a limb on a couple and was thinking that some of the awards would go to those who, you know, actually deserved it, rather than those who ran stellar Oscar media campaigns. In the end, if you bet on the chalk in most of the categories and just stuck with the favorites, you probably fared better than me. I am surprised because Oscar usually likes to distinguish itself from the other, “lesser” awards ceremonies.

In any case, it is a few days later and I thought that since I wrote two posts on this blog leading up to the Academy Awards ceremony, that I would tie a nice little bow on it and write a postmortem on the actual telecast: the highs, the lows, the funny, the embarrassing, the deserving, the unworthy, and the simply moronic. And I’m not getting into who wore what – whose dress was “to die for” and who picked a catastrophic ensemble….I don’t care about that. Not important. Unlike the previous few years though, I thought the ceremony for the 82 Annual Academy Awards was not nearly as boring. True, the list of winners was all pretty hum-drum and predictable, but the show itself…not half bad this time around. Here is a list of all the highlights and lowlights in no particular order:

OUR HOSTS

All things considered, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin played off each other quite nicely. Really, the host of the Oscars has only the first 10-15 minutes to worry about. It’s pretty much gravy from there, making a brief showing here, a quick cameo there. And they were relieved of most of their opening by Neil Patrick Harris’ song and dance number, “No One Wants to do it Alone.” Martin and Baldwin did have some very funny jokes written for them including one where Mr. Martin referred to his role in “The Jerk” when he said to Best Actress nominee “Gabourey Sidibe and I have something in common: In our first movies we were both born a poor black child.” Some good one-liners throughout and the two did an admirable job as hosts.

MORON OF THE NIGHT

Easily Elinor Burkett. What a train wreck this one was. “Who is Elinor Burkett?” you ask. She is the producer of the Oscar-winning documentary short, “Music by Prudence.” When writer/director Roger Ross Williams came up to the podium to accept his award, he just started his speech when Barracuda Lady came up and pulled her best Kanye impersonation. Yes, the two have had tremendous artistic differences with the film and even had a lawsuit between the two (which was settled out of court). I have no idea who is right and who is wrong – but Ms. Burkett made herself look like a fool, ambushing Mr. Williams in such fashion. Look at the YouTube video – he just stands there dumbfounded, almost wanting to laugh, while she is ranting and raving in a semi-incoherent manner.

IT’S ABOUT TIME

No, not Meryl Streep winning (more on that in a bit) – but Oscar’s tribute to the horror genre in their well-edited Horror Montage. I’m no horror buff by any stretch, but horror films play an integral role in the motion picture industry and this brief mosaic was a nice reminder of that. Just because horror films are rarely recognized come Awards season, that doesn’t mean there is no merit to them. In fact, so many great horror films (domestic and international) have gone straight to DVD without much of a theatrical release at all. Here, we got to see a nice mixture of some of the most memorable horror films in cinematic history, from “The Blob” to “The Shining” – and did I see a quick glimpse of “Leprechaun” in there for good measure???

NOT VERY ‘PRECIOUS’ AT ALL

Boy, did Mo’Nique come across like Queen Diva or what??? They can spin this any way they want – as if she wasn’t backslapping her fellow nominees, but when she started off her pompous speech with, “I would like to thank the Academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics,” a backslap was exactly what she delivered. I’m not saying she deserved the award or didn’t deserve it – she just came across here as arrogant and bitter – no class or grace whatsoever. And to bring up Hattie McDaniel? Give me a break. I was shocked to read all of the kudos pointed at her in the blogs and articles after-the-fact. Were they watching what I was??? Show a little humility…Come on! Even Samuel L. Jackson was rolling his eyes after this disaster of a speech!

The second Oscar that the film took (in a bit of an upset) was the Adapted Screenplay award which went to Geoffrey Fletcher. In doing so, Mr. Fletcher became the first African-American to win the screenwriting Academy Award. A terrific honor. But was it me, or did it sound like this guy ran 26 miles before coming up to the podium? Have a clue as to what you wanna say, guy. His speech was so incoherent and so bad that Steve Martin had to immediately joke about it by saying, “I wrote his speech,” which was met with laughter throughout the theatre.

BLUE MAN BEN

Why is everyone all over Ben Stiller? I give this guy credit. He is absolutely willing to commit 100% to the joke and make an ass out of himself to get a few laughs. Good for him. Last year, if you recall, he came out looking like Joaquin Phoenix, mimicking his much publicized stupidity on David Letterman’s show. That was funny. This year, he came out in complete Na’vi make-up and wardrobe from James Cameron’s Avatar.” Mr. Stiller was there to present the award for Best Make-Up, which, ironically, “Avatar” wasn’t even nominated for (a glaring oversight to begin with). Stiller was absolutely committed to the role (especially when he spoke in the ancient tongue of the Na’vi) and had some outrageously funny lines. Great delivery – and whoever did the work on those piercing yellow eyes – great job! I thought this was a great, humorous highlight of the evening. I don’t think he disrespected “Avatar” in any way (though a few of Mr. Stiller’s peers did just this throughout the evening) – and I thank him for being such a willing sport.

INTERPRETIVE DANCE OVER SONG

Did we really need to see all of those dance numbers choreographed to all five nominees for Best Score? Was this necessary? How many people watching on their flatscreens at home used this allotted time as their bathroom break for the evening? Come on – you know you did! I have nothing against dance at all – in its time and place. What bothers me greatly about this was that the producers decided to go with this bit (which took a bit of time) over actually having us hearing the songs that were nominated in the Best Original Song category. I am still upset that I did not get to hear “Take it All” (from “Nine”) and of course, the beautifully written “The Weary Kind,” which rightfully took home the gold. I was thrilled to see that it won the Oscar and I would have loved to see Ryan Bingham perform it. That moment was taken from us – all in the name of interpretive dance – show me your Fosse hands, people!

A FITTING TRIBUTE

The “In Memoriam” tribute dedicated to those in the motion picture industry who died during the year is conducted without fail during each Oscar ceremony. I look forward to this part of the telecast as I find it to be a pleasant reminder of those who have passed on – those who we have admired from afar whether it be an iconic celebrity or a cinematographer who most don’t know, but we love their work.

This year was especially exciting for me because the legendary troubadour James Taylor sang live on stage while the video montage was being shown. I have loved J.T. for years and years and he is without a doubt my all-time favorite musical artist. His appearance was a total surprise to me and I instantly received a text message from my brother saying: “J.T. and the Oscars? Is your head about to explode?” True, I could barely contain myself as I watched the names and faces pass on screen and listened to the voice that, like a very fine bottle of wine, only gets better with age. He performed the classic Beatles song, “In My Life” and did a wonderful, stirring job with it. And dressed in his black tux and bowtie – he looked handsome, elegant and skilled. I equated the event to that of the delectable Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup: two totally separate entities coming together to make a most delicious noise. A wonderful Oscar moment – and done with class, taste and heart.

While I am on the subject, those of you screaming about the omission of Farrah Fawcett –SHUT UP! All I’ve been hearing for the past few days was how “shameful” it was that she was left out of the tribute. Please! Yes, it is true that she did do some film (she was actually damn good in Robert Duvall’s powerful “The Apostle”), but (1) she is recognized mainly as a television star and (2) the tribute is never able to squeeze in every single person connected with the film industry. In fact, I give those who make these decisions some credit for keeping some in that most may have never heard of (composers, editors, et al) and not the iconic Charlie’s Angel. On top of this, I have to hear Ryan O’Neal vent about this like it’s a slap in the face?! Perhaps Mr. O’Neal should pay attention to more important matters like how to properly parent his son so he doesn’t wind up dead or in jail again.

THE DOLPHIN IS CENSORED

The Cove” took home the Oscar for Best Documentary. A truly remarkable, horrific, eye-opening film for sure. The award is well-deserved and I was elated to see it win. During his acceptance speech, producer Fisher Stevens referred to the main subject of the film, the courageous, dedicated and heroic Ric O’Barry. Mr. O’Barry then (remarkably in character) lifted a poster-board reading “Text Dolphin to 44144.” The orchestra immediately started to play (their cue to walk off the stage) and director Louie Psihoyos was never able to give his brief speech. I thought this was uncalled for. Let the man hold up his harmless sign – if you saw the film, you know how worthy this cause is! It makes me more upset because of all the previous political statements made by presenters and winners of past telecasts. Were they cut off as promptly as the artistic team of “The Cove” was? I don’t think so. I simply thought it was a poor decision.

In case you were interested, this is what Psihoyos emailed the media regarding what he would have said had he been allowed to: “We made this film to give the oceans a voice. We told the story of The Cove because we witnessed a crime. Not just a crime against nature, but a crime against humanity. We made this movie because through plundering, pollution and acidification from burning fossil fuels, ALL ocean life is in peril, from the great whales to plankton which, incidentally, is responsible for half the oxygen in this theater. Thank you, Black OPS Team for risking your lives in Japan — and thank
you Academy for shining the brightest lights in the world on THE COVE……Japan, please see this movie! Domo Aragato!” Wish I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth!

THE VICTORIOUS BAD BLAKE

At last, Jeff Bridges gets his Oscar. Great performance, great speech – long overdue. Though of no surprise to anyone, it was a pleasure to watch. I no longer get to call him our country’s most under-rated actor (as I have been for well over a decade), but it is absolutely worth it now. Great to see the Kodak Theatre stand for the Duderino. Touching to hear him speak of his parents. And Michelle Pfieffer’s introduction was poignant and sincere as well. Here’s to you Bad Blake!

BABS OVERDOES IT

When Martin Scorsese took home the Best Director award a few years ago for his much over-hyped, and somewhat over-rated “The Departed” we knew he was going to win before the winner was even announced. Why? Well, the choice of presenters for this category that year was clue enough – with Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas handing the statue to their longtime colleague. This year, when we saw Barbra Streisand make her way across the stage, the odds-on-favorite to win became a shoe-in. We knew right then and there that Kathryn Bigelow would make history by becoming the first woman to ever win the award. True, she was the favorite here; I picked her to win though I surely did not feel she was deserving – and still don’t. Plus, I also considered this to be an anti-Cameron vote as well, with James Cameron rustling many Hollywood feathers over the years.

So there was Babs. And she looked so giddy right off the bat with the prospect of a woman finally winning. I thought her commentary here was not necessary either. Upon opening the sealed envelope, she commented, “Well…the time has come.” A bit over-the-top, don’t you think? Perhaps I am just upset because I still don’t believe “The Hurt Locker” was all that it is cracked up to be and that the media helped enormously in its many wins on Oscar night. I will give it a second viewing and perhaps I will feel differently. Perhaps not.

STILL RECUPERATING

I am still trying to get over what I perceive to be those undeserving who actually went home with an Academy Award. I knew Sandra Bullock was the media darling and the favorite to win. I couldn’t pick her. I think Ms. Bullock said it best with the very first thing she said in her speech: “Did I really earn this or did I just wear y’all down?” She knows it herself and she’s saying so right there. Way to get out there and campaign, campaign, campaign! And see what ya get? A nice, shiny Oscar. Again, very weak category this year and very few great leading roles for women in 2009, but Carey Mulligan clearly gave the strongest, most multi-layered performance of the five. Ms. Bullock is fine and I hope she continues to choose better roles in better films, but I will say it again: This is not an Oscar-worthy performance by any stretch of the imagination. I am still having trouble saying it: “Sandra Bullock…[gulp]…Oscar-winner.”

And even though the Best Picture category seemed like it was down to two films (“Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker“) and there was no surprise to it, I am still trying to cope with the idea of Bigelow’s war film winning the evening’s most prestigious award. I feel very strongly that “Up in the Air,” “District 9” and “Inglourious Basterds” were all superior.

“VOICE OF THE 80’S” HONORED

Being in my late 30’s, I sadly had no choice but to grow up during the horrid decade that was the eighties. I graduated high school in 1989 and the films touched by John Hughes permeated the decade. “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” are pretty much a staple of 80’s films, right? It is safe to say that John Hughes was “the voice” of film in the eighties on a certain level. I see that, I understand that, I accept that.

Having said that, I had very mixed feelings about the tribute to Mr. Hughes on Oscar night, which was led by 80’s prom queen Molly Ringwald and the very talented (and still working) Matthew Broderick. On one hand, this was a very sweet, touching, tasteful homage to the late filmmaker who passed away much too soon in August 2009. The video medley of films that he worked on was edited quite nicely and when 80’s stars such as Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, & Ally Sheedy came out to speak about their mentor and friend, it was a nice touch. I get all of that.

But was this honorary tribute truly necessary? I mean, in all, John Hughes directed only eight films…eight. He mainly worked as a writer and a producer. Not a big deal at all, as he was still surely a very creative aspect to the films that he did not helm. What bothered me was I don’t remember any Oscar tribute resembling this one for much more accomplished directors who have died – I’m talking about the great Sidney Lumet, Alan J. Pakula, the exceptional Sydney Pollack, John Sturges, the ingenius Ingmar Bergman, the auteur that was Stanley Kubrick, Richard Attenborough, Akira Kurosawa, and the list goes on and on. Why does John Hughes merit this? Because his movies were more “popular”? He was never at all nominated for an Academy Award and his films were mainly targeted towards adolescents. We like them now in part because it is nostalgic – it brings us back to our own days of graduation. So though touching and well-done, I felt that this tribute to Mr. Hughes was gratuitous. Will Woody Allen get this sort of treatment when he passes? (And let us hope that is a far, far way off.) What about Mr. Coppola? Scorsese? David Lynch? After this, I sincerely hope so….but I’m not holding my breath.

MISCELLANEOUS TIDBITS

Cameron Diaz: Rehearsal would have been nice. Come prepared.

Sean Penn: I love ya! I really do. But I’m still trying to figure out what you were saying.

Tina Fey and Robert Downey, Jr.: Loved the writer vs. pampered actor schtick. Great stuff.

– Zac Efron, Tyler Perry, Taylor Lautner, Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart, Amanda Seyfried: WHY???!!!

Tom Hanks: Was he just running late for a dinner reservation or something? Never saw an envelope ripped open faster than that.

– What was with the bizarre Lamps-R-Us backdrop?

James Cameron knew that eyes were on him and played a good sport throughout the night, taking all the ribbing in stride. At least on the outside. And he stood and clapped for Ms. Bigelow before just about anybody. Well played, Mr. Cameron.

– I want to see more clips from the actual performances being nominated! Each year they never show enough. Showcase the films being honored so people at home will think, “Huh…that looks good. I gotta go out and see that.”

– “Up in the Air” goes home empty. Cold, man. I thought it was a dead-ringer for Best Adapted Screenplay. You could make the argument that the film deserved Best Picture honors – as it was a much stronger film than “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” in addition to be more topical and making a great, subtle statement on our country today. Years from now when we look back at the films of 2009, this is the one that leaves its mark.

So it’s now mid-March 2010…a new year of films to catch up on. I hope it is a stronger year than last. A lot of new blockbusters that will start to rear their heads in a month or so. I will keep posting on this blog with various “Best and Worst” lists as well as film reviews throughout the course of the year…until the Awards season is upon us once again in December 2010.

As always, I cannot wait.

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