Oscar party: Since we last spoke, I had my annual Oscar Party, where some 16-or-so people cram themselves into my living room to watch the Oscars, compete for prizes, and eat awesome food based on movie puns (Grand Budapesto pasta, Bird Manhattans, Hot Judge Sundaes, the Theory of Everizotto, etc., and full props to Mel from work who made actual Mendl's pastries; my roommate even made golden statuettes for other distinctions, see right). Oscar pool-wise, I came in second, but I sort of came in first. See, over the past couple years, we've allowed for absentee ballots - friends who couldn't come, but wanted to participate, dropped off their entry in the pile of winnable DVDs and their predictions, then played from home. For the past two years, one friend who has NOT done this, Justin, has nevertheless claimed he had more correct answers than our official winner. We asked him to put his money where his mouth was, and yes, dammit, he officially won. Somehow, I don't think he'll appreciate the prizes as much as I would have (Robert Maillet's Monster Brawl? Bikers from Hell? That's some real blog fodder, right there). I got the stuff he already had (and that I didn't already own), which is just The Godfather, the awful Quebecois comedy Cruising Bar 2, and Save the Last Dance. Eech. I did not push for the new by-law that was immediately voted after the gala disallowing absentee ballots next year, but I sure voted for it ;-).
DVDs: Speaking of Oscar gold, also watched Whiplash, which a friend of mine called Rocky with a drum kit, and I couldn't come up with anything more clever than that. It's got great music, of course, and J.K. Simmons' performance is a great as they say it is. I want to coach improv the same way he does jazz - and I realize I almost already do, give or take some of the abuse; I do believe you need to push someone hard if they're going to be great - even though the film is somewhat ambivalent about his methods. Or is it? Maybe not so much. If anything, it makes true genius terrifying, whether you seek it, or know somehow who has it. That said, it's not a complex picture. The story is simple and the subplots don't necessarily lead anywhere. In that sense, it's a lot like its thesis - some things are just not important if you pursue your goal as single-mindedly as its protagonists do.
What We Do in the Shadows is a fun mockumentary by the makers of Flight of the Conchords about the secret life of vampires. Something in its look and themes made me think of Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive, and it's very much a cousin to that film. An awkward comedy about dude-bro vampires, where the other was an artsy meditation on immortality, but all the same, cinematic cousins. The characters we meet are killers by necessity, but sympathetic nonetheless, lovable losers whose shticks are sometimes informed by movie vampires (never waste a good idea). It's a take-down of the vampire mystique, showing them as goofs whose immortality has put them behind the times technologically and socially. A very fun film with a title absolutely no one can remember (maybe because of the after-credits sequence). I think I'm just going to refer to it in conversation as This Is Venal Tap.
The Man Who Knew Too Much is the next, and rather awkward, entry in my slow Hitchcock-a-thon. Its pacing is all over the place, with its sluggish vacation in Marrakesh sequences and post-actual-climax action, and its moments of physical comedy are at odds with the its status as a thriller. Its alarming over-use of rear projection is as distracting as Doris Day singing "Que Sera, Sera" (a contemporary distraction based on familiarity, since this is the film the song was written for!). So I completely understand why a lot of fans don't particularly like this one. However, there's just so much here I wouldn't do without. The creepy murder in Marrakesh, Doris Day's stellar performance as a distraught mother who is nowhere as weak as her husband thinks she is, Jimmy Stewart trying to feed her pills, the staging of the assassination at the Albert Concert Hall, the way Hitchcock deconstructs how music works in a suspense story... Uneven, but still has some iconic elements beyond its much-borrowed title. The DVD includes a good making of, vintage trailers, production photos and notes.
Audios: House of Blue Fire by Mark Morris is the last of its particular cycle of 7th Doctor companionless stories from Big Finish, one that introduces (back-doors, really) a new companion called Sally, about whom I have no real opinion at this point. That shouldn't be read as a criticism, it just took me by surprise when the Doctor eventually asked her aboard (something I've now denied you, sorry), and looking ahead, I'm now revising my initial assumption that these stories took place just prior to the TV Movie - he doesn't sport long hair on the cover, I now realize, and the next cycle apparently has Ace & Hex meet Sally so... Or perhaps there are two 7th Doctors flying around, and that's what the subtly laid in dialog about the TARDIS being white or black instead of blue is all about. I've gotten sidetracked... House of Blue Fire, ah yes. Well, it really feels like we're in the New Adventures because the Doc doesn't appear until the end of the first of four episodes... and the story is the better for it. I actually love the first half of this, where various characters wake up in an old mansion with no memory of who they are, each having to face a particular phobia and figuring out what's happening. In the second half, the science fiction and Doctor Who tropes take over and the story loses a lot of its mystery and magic. Morris says in the extras that he admires The Stones of Blood, which did the same things (gothic-to-space opera), which is not an admiration I share. Happily, the transition in House isn't nearly as clunky.