Sunday, February 28, 2010

Roland Emmerich Is the Shakespeare of Our Time

Hear me out on this, and I will stand by this statement: Roland Emmerich, director of Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and most recently 2012, is the William Shakespeare of the modern age.

This is on my mind for a couple reasons. 2012 comes out on DVD on Tuesday, and if you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so. And, in recent news, it was announced that Mr. Emmerich will soon be directing a thriller about the theory that Shakespeare did not write his plays-- set in the time of Shakespeare. So, it’s probably safe to assume that the world won’t be ending in this one.

2012 is a movie I liked-- a lot. It’s ridiculous and goofy and sentimental, but it is all of those things in the name of entertainment.

Now, take Shakespeare’s “The Twelfth Night.” If you’re familiar with it at all, you know that it is ridiculous and goofy and sentimental but also that it is damn entertaining.

And, there’s the thread. They are entertainers. Shakespeare was the most popular playwright of his time. We know this because he is the most popular playwright of our time. His plays have survived hundreds of years, not because they advanced the medium of the theatre and of the written word, but because they were massive hits. Everyone wanted to see them, and mass audiences still want to see his plays.

It is a joke among writers that if there is an original idea to be conceived, Shakespeare already did it. Commonly ignored is the fact that anything Shakespeare did the Greeks did first. But, the point remains that if all ideas can be boiled down to 400-year-old plays, then those plays must have been comprised of key facets of the human experience.

Shakespeare then took the human experience and multiplied it to the nth degree and invented pop culture. Scholars have spent years and will continue to spend years looking for the deeper meaning in “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Richard III,” and so on down the line, but the truth is that the meaning is right there on the surface.

The plays are fantastic entertainments that one need not think too deeply about to have a good time. Anyone who pretends that the plays of William Shakespeare are anything more than mere melodrama ratcheted up for visceral thrill and emotional response is doing a disservice to himself and to the pure joy that is Shakespearian farce.

And, for melodramatic farce, look no further than Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum traveling to outer space to infect an alien mother ship with a computer virus. Strike that, look further back, and you may find that Shakespeare already did it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Avatar 2

It’s been a week since the Academy Awards nominations were announced, and there is very little to report on the Oscar front.

So, let’s talk sequels. A recent viewing of James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day has revealed to me what most already knew: Cameron knows how to write and direct a sequel. He does not use sequels simply to cash in on popular films.

With Aliens, he expanded the universe presented in Ridley Scott’s original. He took the horror and claustrophobia of Alien and blew it up into a massive action-adventure film that tells a cohesive story.

Similarly, he used T2 to expand on the lore of the first film and filled out a story of which audiences wanted more. His sequels are bigger, bolder, and often better than their predecessors. All of this brings me to Avatar, which has recently become the highest grossing film of all time.

Cameron has already stated that he has enough material for two sequels to the best-picture-nominated 3D spectacle. But, one thing at a time-- what can we expect from Avatar 2? How could he possibly top the biggest movie of all time?

In thinking about it, I decided, “Why think about it?” Let’s just be happy with what we have: the best film-going experience in a generation. So, see it. See it again. See it a third time. It’s a big screen movie and must be seen that way.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Academy Awards Wish List: Nominations Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, in the early hours before the sun comes up, Academy Awards nominations will be announced. There are any number of places on the Internet, beginning with the sidebar of this page, where you can look up predictions for who and what will be nominated.

I do not predict anything, and I presume to know nothing. Full disclosure, I do have a list of predictions, but I’m not crazy enough to publish them. Rather, in keeping with tradition, I will posit my ideas for what should have been nominated in this category or that. It’s like a wish list. So, here is my wish list for tomorrow morning in the top six categories.

All listings alphabetical


Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker-- a deliberately paced, wonderfully controlled film that rewards the viewer with something new every time

James Cameron for Avatar-- a singularly great vision from a singularly great visionary, Avatar is a film that could never have been made by anybody but Cameron

Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man-- you can’t make the best picture of the year and not be among the best directors

Spike Jonze for Where the Wild Things Are-- he made childhood real, and that is a feet unmatched in recent cinema

Lars Von Trier for Antichrist-- this is a dangerous, provocative, and difficult movie, which proves Von Trier’s boast that he is the “greatest filmmaker in the world”


Four of these actors ended up on my top ten performances of the year list. The last, Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker gives such a subtle, nuanced performance that it can not be ignored.

Colin Firth for A Single Man; Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker; Sam Rockwell for Moon; Peter Saarsgard for An Education; Michael Stuhlbarg for A Serious Man


Each of these performances is so different, and each actress plays a woman at a different stage in her life. One is deciding what her life is (Mulligan); one is deciding what her life is worth (Gainsbourg); what her body is worth (Grey); what her love is worth (Cruz); whether or not she has enough love to give (Rudolph). They are all great.

Penelope Cruz for Broken Embraces; Charlotte Gainsbourg for Antichrist; Sasha Grey for The Girlfriend Experience; Carey Mulligan for An Education; Maya Rudolph for Away We Go


Among these, there are a Jew hunter and a Jew, a monster and a tyrant, and a soldier whose life is in upheaval as his life is in peril.

James Gandolfini for Where the Wild Things Are; Anthony Mackie for The Hurt Locker; Christian McKay for Me and Orson Welles; Fred Melamed for A Serious Man; Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds


Two of these women (Portillo and Lothor) appeared in little seen foreign dramas as support for the primary men in their lives. In a way, they are both subservient, but one relationship is built on love and mutual respect, the other on hatred and degradation. I urge you to see both films.

Lauren Ambrose for Where the Wild Things Are; Melanie Laurent for Inglourious Basterds; Susanne Lothor for The White Ribbon; Julianne Moore for A Single Man; Blanca Portillo for Broken Embraces


This year, the Academy expanded the best picture race to include ten films. As such, my wish list for best picture nominees mirrors exactly my top ten films of the year. Here, they appear in alphabetical order.

Antichrist; Avatar; Drag Me to Hell; The Girlfriend Experience; The Hurt Locker; Inglourious Basterds; Moon; A Serious Man; A Single Man; Where the Wild Things Are