February 23, 2008


Normally I wait until movies I've reviewed are out of the theaters before I post my full review of them on-line, but, with the Academy Awards on Sunday night, I figure I'll put up the whole "Juno" review below for anybody interested in the Best Picture race.

And here are my reviews of the other Best Picture nominees:

No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Michael Clayton

I'm rooting for "No Country," but it's a matter of the glass being 2/3rds full (Javier Bardem's and, especially, Josh Brolin's roles) and 1/3rd empty: Tommy Lee Jones's old sheriff. I sometimes wonder if Jones, a liberal, intentionally sabotaged author Cormac McCarthy's reactionary soliloquies by mumbling them incomprehensibly. Jones's poor performance in "No Country" contrasts sharply with his excellent one in "In the Valley of Elah." But if they took out Jones's mumbling, then it would be an exciting 100 minute long updating of "The Terminator," which was a pop culture landmark, but not the kind of film they give Oscars to.

In contrast to "No Country," I came out of "There Will Be Blood" feeling the glass was half empty.

Others in contention for major awards:

Eastern Promises
- Best Actor
La Vie en Rose - Best Actress
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- Best Director, etc.
In the Valley of Elah - Best Actor
Gone Baby Gone - Best Supporting Actress
The Assassination of Jesse James -- Best Supporting Actor
Sicko - Best Documentary
Once - Best Song

Here's my "Juno" review from The American Conservative:

Last fall, I received a half-dozen invitations to screenings of a "quirky" comedy about a "whip-smart" pregnant teen hipsterette who plans to give her baby up for adoption by an affluent couple. With my finger planted firmly nowhere near the pulse of popular opinion, I tossed each one out, thinking: "To listen to teens with attitude, for this I need to leave the house?"

So, in the wake of "Juno's" Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Director (Jason Reitman of "Thank You for Smoking"), Actress (petite 20-year-old Ellen Page), and Original Screenwriter ("Diablo Cody," which is the pole name of 29-year-old self-promoter Brook Busey, whose confessional blog became popular when she started working as a stripper), I ended up paying to see it.

Juno, a cute tomboy who dresses in flannel shirts like Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and has a snarky pop culture reference ready for every situation, turned out to be just as insufferable as I had expected. If she's so whip-smart, why'd she get so pregnant after one evening with a bright but baffled cross-country runner (the subversively blond and bland Michael Cera from "Superbad") with whom she says she's just friends?

Fortunately, my wife, who admired "Juno" greatly, patiently explained to me the film's considerable subtleties until even my clueless male brain could begin to grasp them.

First, though, let's dispose of the controversy over the purported politics of "Juno." Is Juno betraying feminism by choosing adoption over abortion? Sure. Yet, there's no mystery why Hollywood heroines (as in the recent "Knocked Up" and "Waitress") almost never have abortions: because babies are adorable and abortions are hideous. Nobody -- including, and perhaps especially, pro-choice ideologues -- wants to think visually about abortion.

What is interesting is how Cody's semi-autobiographical screenplay undermines teen movie status clich├ęs about attractive but moronic jocks and cheerleaders lording it over the brilliant, funny, but socially oppressed rebel outcasts (who presumably get their eventual revenge by moving downtown and writing screenplays about high school).

This conventional dichotomy between the successful versus the cool is embodied in the infertile couple whom Juno finds to adopt her baby. Jennifer Garner (Alias) plays the yuppie wife who maintains a spotless McMansion in a gated community while also working long hours in a corporate career. Jason Bateman (Arrested Development) is her slacker husband, a grunge guitarist turned advertising jingle composer who sees in Juno a kindred spirit with whom he can debate whether the greatest year in rock music history was 1977 (Sex Pistols and Clash) or 1993 (Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville).

Indeed, Juno's personality appears modeled on Phair's complex combination of masculine power-chording indie cred, feminine inner self, and shocking statements calibrated to draw notice. That's only natural because the screenwriter was 16 and living in Chicago's suburbs when Phair's second album "Whip-Smart" came out. Phair was everything Cody must have wanted to be: famous, hip, talented, sexy, and living downtown in Wicker Park, the "Guyville" where all the cool guys in Chicago punk bands hung out.

As Garner's adoptive mother-to-be obsesses over which shade of medium yellow to paint the nursery, her husband starts to feel like an exile in girlville. Talking to a maverick like Juno makes him wonder whether he should move back downtown and get a loft.

Yet, the one thing today's youth hates more than being uncool is parents divorcing. When it comes to raising her baby, Juno realizes, being a soulless corporate drone is a good thing. Kids these days want parents to be boring. The shock helps Juno begin to understand herself better.

As "Juno" reveals, the run-of-the-mill teen nonconformist is, as the screenwriter finally realized about herself in college, "a noisy, dramatic attention whore." Cody is too recognition-starved to stick to the party line about how the alterna-kids are free spirits. Instead, she's made herself a celebrity by spilling the beans about punkette girls like herself and Juno. Why do they tell guys that their three favorite bands are (to quote Juno) "Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Patti Smith, and the Runaways?" Because, to over-generalize, pretending to obsess over old pop culture minutiae makes smart boys notice them and it gives shy boys something to talk about with them.

So, why did Juno get pregnant? The same reason: for attention. At her middle class school, high IQ pregnant girls giving their babies up for adoption are as interesting to the masses as ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content and language.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Juno was watchable (I mean, I watched the whole thing) but badly forced.

m said...

Great call on the Liz Phair comparison- dead on- She is talented Cody not so much.

Antioco Dascalon said...

Any thoughts on why Katyn is winning the NYTimes poll for best foreign film... by 92%? Is this clear evidence of ballot-stuffing by online Poles?
I find it hard to believe that people have seen all 5 movies and 90% think that Katyn is the best, especially considering how everything else is split (nothing else gets over 50%). Is this perhaps an online campaign engineered by Poles?

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed by the accolades "No Country for Old Men" has received. If you enjoy seeing human beings being shot and gored in various ways and killed like cattle, then it's your thing. Otherwise, there's not much more to it, aside from some good performances and suspenseful moments. It's been claimed that the film is saying something deep about the nature of evil, but I don't know what that would be, aside from the fact that evil can be slickly embodied by a cool guy with big sideburns. Oh yeah, there's also supposed to be something deep in the film about moral choices - yeah, because the choice of whether or not to be a psycho killer is an important one we all face.

I'd say this film has a lot in common with "There Will Be Blood": both are long, plodding, pretentious, brutal, humorless and empty, though extremely well-made and well-acted. Maybe this the new formula for what constitutes a big "quality" project in Hollywood.

Steve Sailer said...

I can't imagine anybody besides Poles has seen Wajda's "Katyn" (about the Soviet slaughter of Polish officers at the beginning of WWII) -- it hasn't been shown in the U.S., as far as I can tell. I asked a friend who votes in the Academy Awards if he got a screener DVD of Katyn, but he hadn't.

If anybody knows how to see it, please let me know because I'd like to review it.

Anonymous said...

*If anybody knows how to see it*

Where have you been?


Anonymous said...

After seeing "No Country For Old Men", my thought was, if Tommy Lee Jones scenes were just cut out of this film, would it have made any difference at all? I know he's supposed to be the "Old Man" offering wisdom about the violent times we live in, but I didn't buy any of it.

michael farris said...

I'm pretty sure that the NYTimes poll is ballot stuffing by Polish readers.

I that for foreign language film only those that had seen all five nominees (in special screenings) were eligible to vote. That might not be a big group.

The Polish media is really hoping for a win but I'm doubtful. IIRC the Austrian movie has a more direct holocaust link and the academy absolutely lurves the holocaust so I assume it will win.

Antioco Dascalon said...

Don't they have to show a movie a couple of times in LA and New York in order to qualify for the awards? Did they just show Katyn the minimum number of times?
I am impressed that it even got nominated, considering the Communists are the bad guys.

Anonymous said...

Argent paladin: The Lives of Others was anti-Communist and won last year.

Anonymous said...

Talent danindc is not required. Merely hip, happening, and trendy posturing.

On that level, Cody Diablo has it covered. Probably the favorite for best screenplay because Hollywood is like High School with lots of money.

That explains Green Mamba why films like No Blood for Old Men get made. High School posturing about who is the coolest.

Anonymous said...

Fellow Conservatives:

I used to adore motion pictures.

Some of my favorites were:

North by Northwest
Casablanca (loved it)
The Third Man and A Touch of Evil
Charade (loved it)
Strangers on a Train
Anatomy of a Murder (loved it)
Purple Noon
The Manchurian Candidate
Flesh and Fantasy

There are many others Ive really enjoyed such as all the war movies most of you loved, flights of fantasy movies like Superman, Lord of the Rings, A few Bond movies, a few pirate-adventure movies (The Sea Hawk) and the like......... thats a sample of the many that Ive enjoyed. Considering those as background, my point it this:

Does anybody notice how the quality of motion pictures is really going down now?

I cant even get excited enough to rent the damned things anymore. Im not that old (dammitt!!!!) and yet I'd rather *literally* watch an old documenturary about -whatever- subject (even on YouTube) than go so the standard "pretty well-reviewed" hollywood movie these days.

I have a theory about this, and its hopelessly depressing. They are making the movies the younger audience actaully likes, and since these kids and twenty-somethings have so little education and taste (and many dont even speak good English) we can expect more lukewarm product and not less as years go by, not less. A stupid population gets stupid entertainment that it craves.

Ive not seen any films in the last year and a half at least. There just has been nothing that I think would actually entertain me being made presently. No Country for Old Men looked the most intriguing to me, but I can tell its got a "supervillian" of the likes that never actaully exists in real life, thus is something of a cartoon pretending to be grittily realistic. Perhaps Im just not much for gritty realism then as presently served up..........

Anonymous said...

Steve the Katyn movie is advertised in the LA Times and OC Register as playing in LA. So I guess it did play a bit.

Anon -- the movie business is driven by a few mega hits that subsidize everything else. Which mostly loses money. Spider-Man movies, Star Wars, etc. make enough money to cover the losses. But overall Hollywood is in deep problems. Young men who make up the basis of hit movies are avoiding them for video games. Other people's money is used to make the movies and it's not inexhaustible. Movies like Crash, or Savages don't make money and probably lose it.

Meanwhile as ticket prices rise, attendance falls. And piracy (you could buy a high quality bootleg at LA swap meets of "American Gangster" BEFORE it was released theatrically so local media report) is an existential threat to Hollywood the way Honda/Toyota are to Detroit. High speed internet and folks like Pirate Bay are another (eventual more distant) threat. As are various plans by Wal-Mart and Best Buy to burn DVDs while you wait for $4 a disc.

Hollywood's future probably resembles the Music business. Disney tween pop aimed at the pockets of 11 year old girls, and American Idol stuff aimed at middle aged matrons. Platinum albums are now considered to be 50,000 sold. And there's no broadly appealing (profitable) acts. Just a million styles: emo, house, crunk, etc. across hyper-fractured audiences that won't pay much.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I believe the above. The movie business seems to be doing pretty well. They're making enormous amounts of money from overseas receipts as well. Movies have never been more lavish. And some of the movies themselves may not be showing a profit on paper, but there's plenty of money going around nonetheless. Also, at least in the immediate 10 year future, I just don't see the movie business being done in like the music business by online piracy, because the size of movies is so much greater.

Even now, it takes an hour or two to pirate a VCD quality movie, and a couple of days to pirate a DVD quality movie, so few people bother even with good broadband connections. It would take longer yet to pirate a Blu Ray.

Anonymous said...

This "alternative" grunge style was the norm for white kids when I was in HS in Seattle. If you really wanted to stand out as cutting-edge, you'd imitate the 50s style "rockabilly" look by cutting your hair short, sporting sideburns and dressing like Johnny Cash.

The real outcasts were bona-fide freaks who wore capes to school, sported plastic fangs and constantly muttered through their long, matted hair about the latest sci-fi/fantasy role-playing game. One could find them at all hours of the night monopolizing cafes with Magic card games, which eventually forced a Magic permaban from cafes that wanted to host normal people. Many of these are currently wealthy but socially dysfunctional employees at software companies. A couple of them are friends of mine, I should admit.

Without exception, all of the smart, white middle-class teen girls I knew who had babies instead of aborting them were Catholic -- mostly Irish.

It's been that way in these parts for a long time.

Anonymous said...

"the subversively blond and bland Michael Cera"

Steve must have a unique definition of "blond".

Antioco Dascalon said...

I think that's right. A blockbuster must be, by definition, targeted broadly. But we seem to be fragmenting as a society, which means that more low-budget "cult" movies will do well, as in make a profit, but it will be difficult for a high budget movie to do anything but appeal to the lowest common denominator: skin, car chases, explosions and bathroom humor.
When everyone went to the movies, there were lots of dumb and forgettable ones, but some gems. Today, you can't make an intelligent movie with a 50 million dollar budget.
Now, prices will tend to decrease due to technological innovation, but there are only a small number of distributors, talented actors, directors, screens, etc so those prices will not decrease. Quality movie-making will always be expensive but now the market can't support it.

Anonymous said...

A vapid attention whore perfectly sums up the character of Juno.

Thanks for pointing that out. I new something about her (beside her mannish looks) bugged me in that movie.

Steve Sailer said...

Here's a 2005 discussion board on Liz Phair's music featuring a contribution from Diablo Cody: