As if we needed any more proof that America was mad for the CIA in 2012, Saturday night's Producers Guid Awards gave further credibility to the mania by handing out some of its highest honors to Ben Affleck's fake-CIA-movie film, Argo and Showtime's jazzy runaway hit, Homeland.
The guild's 24th annual awards for excellence in film, television, and digital media were announced during a ceremony at the Beverly Hilton. Argo's snapping up of top film honors (the Darryl F. Zanuck Award) puts it at the forefront of the Oscar race for Best Picture. The PGAs have a fairly decent track record when it comes to selecting the film that takes home Academy Award gold — 73% accuracy, to be exact, which includes the 5-year streak the Guild has been on since 2008.
Homeland secured itself yet another gold for Best Drama Series during the night as well, reminding us all (yet again) that we love a jazzy biopolar super-CIA-genius more than anything else. (Especially if it involves Mandy Patinkin!) For an agency so shrouded in secrecy and mystery, it sure is popping up in our entertainment a heck of a lot.
But there was more than just covert operations and genius secret agents winning awards: both Brothers Weinstein (Bob and Harvey) accepted the Milestone Award in a teary-eyed speech from presenters Quentin Tarantino, Robert De Niro, and Robert Rodriguez. Future Star Wars helmer J.J. Abrams also accepted an award of his own: the Norman Lear Achievement Award. Not too shabby for a man with undoubtedly much of his already-impressive career still ahead of him
Check out the full list of winners, below!
Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures
Argo (Warner Bros.)
Producers: Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Grant Heslov
Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures
Wreck-It Ralph (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)
Producer: Clark Spencer
Outstanding Producer of Documentary Theatrical Motion Pictures
Searching For Sugar Man (Sony Pictures Classics)
Producers: Malik Bendjelloul, Simon Chinn
Norman Felton Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Drama
Producers: Henry Bromell, Alexander Cary, Michael Cuesta, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Chip Johannessen, Michael Klick, Meredith Stiehm
David L. Wolper Award for Outstanding Producer of Long-Form Television
Game Change (HBO)
Producers: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Jay Roach, Amy Sayres, Steven Shareshian, Danny Strong
Danny Thomas Award for Outstanding Producer of Episodic Television, Comedy
Modern Family (ABC)
Producers: Cindy Chupack, Paul Corrigan, Abraham Higginbotham, Ben Karlin, Steven Levitan, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morton, Dan O’Shannon, Jeffrey Richman, Chris Smirnoff, Brad Walsh, Bill Wrubel, Danny Zuker
Outstanding Producer of Non-Fiction Television
American Masters (PBS)
Producers: Prudence Glass, Susan Lacy, Julie Sacks
Outstanding Producer of Competition Television
The Amazing Race (CBS)
Producers: Jerry Bruckheimer, Elise Doganieri, Jonathan Littman, Bertram van Munster, Mark Vertullo
Outstanding Producer of Live Entertainment & Talk Television
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Producers: Meredith Bennett, Stephen Colbert, Richard Dahm, Paul Dinello, Barry Julien, Matt Lappin, Emily Lazar, Tanya Michnevich Bracco, Tom Purcell, Jon Stewart
Outstanding Sports Program
Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
Outstanding Children’s Program
Sesame Street (PBS)
Outstanding Digital Series
30 Rock: The Webisodes
[Photo Credit: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage]
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It’s a sad state of affairs that the biggest joke in parody films anymore is often the film itself. What passes for satire these days elicits plenty of strong reactions… but rarely is laughter among them. This week, theater audiences will be dragged to A Haunted House a send-up of all the found footage horror films of the last few years; Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, The Devil Inside. These of course are just the movies we can tell will be skewered based on the trailers. The movie stars, and was co-written by, Marlon Wayans; herein lies the potential for concern.
The Wayans Brothers — Marlon, Damon, Shawn, and Keenen Ivory — have been making films together, or at least collaborating on each other’s projects, for a long time. Though Damon has been involved the least, over the years they have put-together a number of comedies designed to lampoon certain film genres and trends. In 2000, Keenen Ivory directed a film written, at least in part, by his brothers Shawn and Marlon. It was called Scary Movie, and, like A Haunted House, it took aim at the spate of horror films popular at the time of its release. The really scary thing about this particular movie is how it marred the art of parody for many years to come.
It should be conceded that comedy is arguably the most subjective genre of film; there is no collective sense of humor. However, in terms of its basic construction, Scary Movie should be studied in film schools as the precise method by which one should not produce a parody film. It is laden with the cheapest, most insubstantial jokes designed to shock audiences or at least play to their basest impulses. There’s a downright sophomoric fart joke in the opening seconds, and the mentality of “when in doubt make a sex joke” seems to be the driving force. Not that the humor need be G-rated, but the lazy raunchy comedy here is on par with a porn parody more than a studio comedy.
One of the big problems with Scary Movie is that it doesn’t just poke fun at horror films. It makes several references to topical pop culture footnotes throughout that fall flat time after time. We are treated to such gems as Prince in his yellow jumpsuit, Dawson’s Creek gags, and a segment lifted from that atrocious “wassup” beer commercial. These references don’t just sail past our funny bones, but they also give the movie a desperately dated feel. Yes, these guys were “satirizing” horror movies from a specific era, but none of the pop culture nods are necessary and, as the years continue to distance us from Scary Movie, will only serve to limit its audience and effect. As the franchise continued, the pop culture roasting became more prevalent than the horror movie mockery.
The success of Scary Movie at the box office has turned out to be extremely unfortunate for the art form of comedy, particularly spoof comedy. There are six writers credited on Scary Movie, incredible considering the crippling weakness of its script. Two of those credited are Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. These two continued to work on the Scary Movie sequels before branching off into the subset of films known as the “movie movies.” These cinematic faceplants included Date Movie, Epic Movie, and Meet the Spartans, films less about crafting intelligent parody and more about serving as ephemeral pop culture hat racks. The formula became, “hey, (insert topical personality or character), what are you doing here?” immediately followed by that character inexplicably getting hit with a large object. Funny.
Back in the 1980s, the standard for spoof came at the hands of Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker. These were the guys that brought us Airplane, Naked Gun, and Top Secret. They knew how to balance lampoon of established material with unique sight gags and slapstick. As much as it would seem apt to judge Scary Movie as a cheap imitation of these masters, David Zucker and Jim Abrahams actually came aboard for the woefully inept Scary Movie 4. To continue lording their work over the Scary Movie series is hypocritical.
Instead, let us examine 1988’s I’m Gonna Get You Sucka!. Like Scary Movie, I’m Gonna Get You Sucka! was directed by Keenen Ivory Wayans and acts as a parody, casting a cadre of legends and lovingly spoofing the tropes of blaxploitation films of the 1970s. The comedy in the movie comes not only from references to the films it is lampooning, but also in the comical lead characters and situations that stand on their own. The movie was clever, plot-driven, and expertly blended cultural satire into the narrative. Why did none of this translate to Scary Movie?
It may have something to do with the old adage of too many cooks in the kitchen. On the one hand, it is understandable that the other Wayans would favor a collaborative writing process given their roots in the sketch comedy show In Living Color, but when the number of writers on a single movie becomes a running gag throughout the life of the franchise, there’s a problem. “From fourteen of the sixteen writers of Scary Movie” was actually used as a comedic tagline at one point.
But we can then hold out some hope for A Haunted House. Though Keenaen is not involved, only two writers are credited. If we may offer any advice at all to co-writer Marlon Wayans, it would be to look to his brother’s I’m Gonna Get You Sucka for screenplay structure inspiration; clever standalone jokes, minimized toilet humor. We would also warn against using the Friedburg and Seltzer model of crowding that haunted house with nothing but pop culture junk. Our optimism here may be paltry, but after such a disastrous trailer, we’re hoping against hope that this won’t be just another bad joke masquerading as a satirical comedy.
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Open Road Films; United Artists]
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Following the colossal impact of Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino’s reputation kept him a cult favorite straight through smaller pictures like Jackie Brown the Kill Bills and even the less impressive Death Proof. But 2009's Inglourious Basterds proved that Tarantino was capable of extending his reach to new viewers utilizing his unique stylistic sensibilities to harness rich booming emotional stories. In the wake of Inglourious we expected the same marriage of style and substance from Django Unchained. An immediate follow-up to the 2009 masterpiece Django keeps in step with Inglourious in framework: they’re both period pieces both stories about a people’s oppression both vehicles for the tremendous talent that is Christoph Waltz. But where Tarantino’s World War II wonder felt like a meticulous melding of his outsider auterism and mainstream dramatic cinema Django is more an example of Tarantino’s heightened confidence as a result of Inglourious — he has conquered the mainstream world and now can infuse it with everything he might have been holding back last time around. But this is where Django falters: while roundabout conversations and stylistic violence are a staple of Tarantino’s work here his usual gambit feels overdone and more than a bit worn out.
The story takes the charismatic King Schultz (Waltz) a pre-Civil War dentist-turned-bounty hunter on a mission to assassinate a trio of known criminals. He teams up with slave Django (Jamie Foxx) — whom he apprehends by murdering his masters — because investigations have led him to understand Django is someone who can identify by sight the targets in question. A moralistic opponent of the very idea of slavery not to mention a big-hearted romantic Schultz agrees to both grant Django his legal freedom and to help him rescue his beloved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a sinister slave owner in exchange for his assistance in completing a montage of bounty missions.
The pair’s early journeys offer a good deal of fun — the first act of the movie is chock full of Jedi Mind Tricks imparted by Schultz upon enemies of the conquest Kill Bill-ian cutaways and an off-kilter vignette that plants a horde of Klan members in goof-around banter that would be more at home in Blazing Saddles. But once Schultz and Django arrive at the plantation of the dastardly Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio who has fostered a great deal of excitement with this casting but downplays any opportunity for memorable madness) to rescue Broomhilda the fury of the film dips. Several meandering exchanges between Candie and his visitors (employing the façade of slave traders interested in purchasing some of Candie’s prized Mandingo fighters) precede a dinner setting that is established to grant the heroes certain triumph or certain doom. Where this chapter of the story should easily be the most engrossing — akin in form to Inglourious’ high-anxiety bar showdown or Pulp Fiction’s diner robbery we never break a sweat. Even when suspicions arise — courtesy of babbling house servant/secret mastermind of the Candie operation Stephen’s (Samuel L. Jackson whose performance is a gem) watchful eye — we’re never too worried about the outcome. The stakes are never presented with as much weight as they deserve.
But alongside this absence of substance there exists overstuffed style: far too many “endings” to the movie (as Tarantino feels the need to tack on new forays for Django long past the story’s expiration date) one too many shootouts a few too many bad guys (the sheer number robbing each of his effective villainy) and conversations that even devoted Tarantino fans will find to be rambling. And while all this could be prepared successfully it would need something more below the surface to make it work. We never really get to know Django and we’re dealt a “damsel in distress” so flimsy we never form any real attachment to her. As such we never feel in danger even in the film’s hardest moments. And while we might have fun at a few points along the way without this gravity it doesn’t quite feel like a successful journey.
How do you spend your lazy Sundays? Perhaps Sunday is your day to tackle that mountain of dirty laundry accumulating unchecked in the corner of the closet. Or maybe Sunday is when you catch up on all the important napping you’d been putting off during the rest of the week. But for me, Sunday is the day I revisit some of my all-time favorite films. This week, I found myself charting some quality time with 1989’s action classic The Killer starring Chow Yun-Fat. This got the ol’ synapses firing in my brain and pondering the rollercoaster career of its celebrated director: John Woo.
Why We Love Him
John Woo is truly a living legend. Growing up, Woo was a survivor of the slums of Hong Kong and would often use the local movie house as a way to escape his less-than-ideal life. He became enamored of the directing talents of Akira Kurosawa and Jean-Pierre Melville: two masters I happen to admire as well. Woo’s first job was working as an assistant director at the renowned Shaw Brothers Studios. These biographical tidbits would inform his career and make him one of the preeminent names in action cinema.
In 1986, Woo directed a gangster film called A Better Tomorrow in which he cast an up-and-coming young actor by the name of Chow Yun-Fat. He was impressed with Chow Yun-Fat’s work in other films and appreciated the fact that this young man didn’t look like the typical gangster. Ironically, this smash hit would lead to several subsequent collaborations in which Chow Yun-Fat would be Woo’s go-to anti-hero; sort of the Toshiro Mifune to Woo’s Kurosawa. The two tent pole collaborations to follow would be The Killer and 1992’s Hard Boiled; two films on steady rotation around my house. Woo has admitted that much of The Killer is based on Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.
But despite these influences, in his work with Chow Yun-Fat Woo established a style and approach all his own. He would often use slow motion and incongruently soft music to underscore his ultraviolent gun battles. He also made a habit of including shots of pigeons in flight to signal a coming gunfight. His work began to get noticed stateside by young directors like Quentin Tarantino, who borrowed heavily from Woo’s City on Fire for the plot of Reservoir Dogs.
What Happened to Him?
As I said, Woo began to garner quite a bit of attention stateside, not just from film fans and aspiring auteur directors, but by Hollywood as well. Woo landed his first American project in 1993 directing Jean-Claude Van Damme in Hard Target after Van Damme himself campaigned to the studio on Woo’s behalf. But somehow, Woo was unable to duplicate in America the success he enjoyed in China. Despite some marginal commercial returns, none of his U.S. films captured that same combination of action and artistry for which he had become famous. After Hard Target, there was Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Mission: Impossible II, and Windtalkers…none of which were well-received critically.
Where’s He Been?
In 2005, John Woo became the fifth Chinese director to be accepted to the board of judges for the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. In 2007, he directed a videogame called Stranglehold, which was based largely on the tropes of his own filmography. But Woo was far from retired from filmmaking. He returned to China to complete his epic period films Red Cliff and Red Cliff II. But these films were cut down into one film for international audiences. The compact film, simply Red Cliff, was released in 2009 in less than fifty theaters stateside; making it very difficult for any of us to have seen a John Woo film in theaters since 2003’s Paycheck.
There isn’t a goodly amount of concrete data available concerning Woo’s next project, although there are whispers that his next film is called The Red Circle; interesting given the fact that Le Circle Rouge was a landmark film from his mentor Jean-Pierre Melville. What isn’t clear is whether this will be an international production or perhaps his return to Hollywood. In any event, I would love to see Woo return to the character-driven, artistically fascinating gangster action operas that made him the legend he is today. I would also love to see John Woo become a household name in America again.
How refreshing that Chan’s gone public in dismissing John Fusco’s script to this fantasy epic as unimpressive. He’s right. But what difference does it make when all we want to see is Chan and Li kicking butt? And The Forbidden Kingdom offers plenty of opportunities for them to do just that. So what whimsy excuse has Fusco and director Rob Minkoff come up with to unite Chan and Li? Well they have essentially fused the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West--which features the mythical hero Monkey King--with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Only this time Mark Twain’s “curious stranger” happens to be a wimpy kid (Michael Angarano) who’s whisked back in time to ancient China with the aid of the magical staff belonging to the Monkey King (Li). For no other reason than to pander to American audiences Jason’s charged with the task of freeing a trapped-in-stone Monkey King from the grasp of the powerful Jade Warlord (Collin Chou). Jason may possess a Quentin Tarantino-esque knowledge of kung fu movies but he’s no Bruce Lee. Enter Lu Yan (Chan) and the Silent Monk (Li again) two mighty warriors who not only join Jason’s quest to defeat the Jade Warlord but also make like Mr. Miyagi to train him in the way of the martial arts. Chan rehashes his Drunken Master shtick so there’s much humor to be found in his wine-guzzling immortal’s efforts to vanquish his foes while fighting under the influence. And as usual Chan makes inventive use of the props that he gets in his hands. He even shows off his aerobatic moves while caked in old-geezer makeup as the owner of the store where Jason finds the staff. As the Monkey King and the Silent Monk Li throws more punches than he utters lines of dialogue. Li though has twice as much fun as Chan with his two different roles. The Silent Monk lives up to his name but when the action starts the wushu-trained Li comes across as stronger swifter and nimbler than the older Chan. Looking very much like Curious George with his pulled-back hair and lengthy sideburns Jet Li reveals a charming playfulness as the giggling Monkey King that we’ve not seen in his Hollywood-produced bloodbaths. Angarano though is bland and boring. He’s Shia LaBeouf without the personality depth or comic timing. Yifei Liu as the vengeful Golden Sparrow proves to be as much a lethal weapon as her male counterparts. Decked out like Halle Berry in X-Men Li Bingbing is delightfully malicious as Golden Sparrow’s nemesis Ni Chang. She also exudes more menace than the oily Chou. So it remains unsettled as to who would emerge victorious if Jackie Chan and Jet Li duked it out for bragging rights (my money’s on Li because his characters possess a killer instinct that Chan’s nice guys lack). But director Rob Minkoff--responsible for The Lion King and Stuart Little--knows what’s important when it comes to The Forbidden Kingdom . It’s all about the big brawls baby. With the invaluable assistance of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon marital arts choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen Minkoff ensures that Chan and Li are always busy doing what they do best. He doesn’t reign in Chan and Li--whose easy rapport is evident from the beginning--or cut short the furiously executed skirmishes that boast everything from stick fighting to wire fu. Then again that only appropriate considering The Forbidden Kingdom sets itself up from its funky opening credits as a homage to Hong Kong action cinema. Still The Forbidden Kingdom does grind to a halt whenever Chan and Li take a breather. The story’s tired and predictable the dialogue’s grating and the comedy’s forced--though it’s quite amusing and cathartic to watch Chan and Li knock around the ineffectual Jason. For all its flaws though The Forbidden Kingdom offers the priceless spectacle of Chan and Li kung fu fighting. And those cats really are as fast as lightning.