A Plot and Theme Play-by-Play at the 90th Oscars

As promised, here is a quick, play-by-play style recap of last night’s 90th Oscars (AKA: 90 Scars). I’ll comment throughout now that it is the next morning, and I will finish it all up with a neat and tidy summary so that we can all move along with our lives in a timely fashion.

I started a stopwatch so I wouldn’t have to keep looking at the clock, plus I don’t really understand time zones too well. So, these are the things that happened and the way I felt about them . . .

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Oscar Night Beckons – Predictions, Thoughts, and Jokes in Poor Taste

The Oscars turn 90 later today (AKA: 90 Scars), and I’ve finally seen every single film nominated in the Best Picture category.  So, it is time to reveal the Oscar plans over here at Plot and Theme.  Overall, I think this (read: 2017) was a strong year for film, and I am excited to start unraveling everything.  So, let’s start by discussing what you’ll be seeing on Plot and Theme with regards to the Oscars, Best of Lists, and the like.

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War and Heroism in Three Parts – Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”

In Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan tells three inter-twined stories of differing lengths and at different speeds, showing how the terrors of war and heroic acts associated with it can exist on various time scales. There are instantaneous acts of heroism, the bread and butter of war films, but also more considered, lengthy heroics on day or week-long scales. Nolan ties them all together by interweaving all three timelines into three separate but related stories of the Battle of Dunkirk. This structure is the overwhelming brilliance of Dunkirk, but Nolan also manages to pack each story line with startling action film-making on land, sea, and air. The result is a masterwork of structure, pacing and storytelling, replete with themes of warfare, heroism, and the true meaning of victory.

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“Okja” – a Dark Animal Rights Satire Firing at Anyone in its Sights

Like the past works of writer-director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host), Okja isn’t so much an allegory as it is an outright morality tale. The Korean filmmaker seem intent on tackling each and every woe of modern society, from the danger of radioactive waste (and by extension, the short-sighted profit-seeking of big business) in The Host to the accelerating divisions between the wealthy and the poor in Snowpiercer. In Okja, Bong once again wraps his morality tale in a bit of science fiction. The titular Okja is one of several genetically-enhanced pigs, bred for slaughter in an attempt to solve the world’s hunger crisis. Where The Host was an obvious Monster Movie, and Snowpiercer more of a dystopian science fiction film, Okja is mostly a dark piece of satire. It’s just not clear who Bong means to target with his barbs.

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State of the Blog – End of Year 2017

It’s update time here at Plot and Theme, and I plan to run through a whole heap of news and plans going forward. Those of you who read the blog regularly have certainly noticed the reduction of posts over the past few months, as well as a few things that I am behind on delivering. There’s reasons for each of those things, and hopefully by the end of this piece it will be much more clear how I am going to maintain an update Plot and Theme as it approaches its third birthday.

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“The Last Jedi” – Rian Johnson’s Rebellious Spark

There’s an underlying kernel of irony at the center of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is the freshest film in the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to add to the original trilogy. For all its flaws, it pushes the boundaries of the universe in many different directions, intent on being something new. At the same time, it is the tenth film in the franchise (three originals, three prequels plus the Clone Wars animated film, and the two Disney films). The routine solution for the tension between old and new has always been to side with the established lore of the franchise, occasionally to ridiculous levels. To the chagrin of many fans of the franchise, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) bucks this trend violently.

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“Justice League” Develops Banality into a Harrowing and Tiresome Art Form

If a committee of Warner Brothers executives got together to work their way through a 300 million dollar paint-by-numbers, it would look like Justice League.

With the odds stacked against it, no expectations, and the fate of exactly nothing of importance hanging in the balance, Justice League is still an utter disappointment.  The DC Extended Universe (DCEU) was recently buoyed by the impressive Wonder Woman film from Patty Jenkins earlier this year, but the franchise is back aground.  Justice League features a hodgepodge of messy scenes, poor storytelling, terrible CGI, lackluster characters, and no real stakes.  These failures are becoming hallmarks of Warner Brothers ill-advised attempts at a grittier version of Marvel, and the embarrassments are becoming too numerous to count.  I guess we’ll do our best.

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Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” is a Rote Dumbing-Down of the Classic Whodunit

Based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel of the same name, Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express disappoints by relegating the key elements of the mystery genre to mere mundane repetition.  All of the hard-boiled fun of Christie’s source material ends up feeling like a bland paint-by-numbers.   The movie contains a star-studded cast, with practically every character involved in the whodunit represented through an admirable performance.  But for a film that is ostensibly subtle, intriguing, and mysterious, too little respect is paid to the details.  The result is a lukewarm mystery where each blasé piece of detection by the legendary Hercule Poirot only makes the ultimate reveal more tired and disappointing.

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Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” Again Shows Marvel is Best with an Artist at the Helm

The Thor franchise may be the most unbalanced in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), home to what is perhaps the worst film in the whole MCU (Thor: The Dark World) as well as one of the stronger and more distinctive origin stories. Counting those two films and the Avengers movies, Thor: Ragnarok would be the fifth appearance of the God of Lightning, at it was entirely possible that the character and the particular comedic tone surrounding him would start to feel a little stale. Fortunately, we have Taika Waititi – a visionary comedic filmmaker perfectly at home playing in the MCU’s ever-expanding sandbox.

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“Kingsman: The Golden Circle” Is the Worst Kind of Sequel – One that Knows it Doesn’t Have to Try

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result of “getting the band back together” when the band broke up six months ago and everyone still hates each other so they just re-mix a few songs and release a “Greatest Hits” album. Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service was a sleeper hit when it was released in February of 2015. The film struck the perfect tone, balancing irreverence and absurdity with the clichés of the action spy genre, all the while telling a legitimately interesting story. As a critical darling, once the film broke even financially it was all but assured that a sequel would be made. Kingsman: The Golden Circle is the result – a film as derivative and unimaginative as its predecessor was refreshing.

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“A Ghost Story” Ponders Time, Legacy, and the Meaning of Loss

Writer-director David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a contemplative tone poem on the vast expanses of time, captured in a single relationship between two people.  As the two main characters reach a turning point about where they are going to live, a car accident removes one of them from the equation – except that it doesn’t. After the body is identified and the sheet pulled back, the body erects itself, walks out of the morgue, and starts observing.

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Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is an Insane Religious Allegory

Director Darren Aronofsky is not known for subtlety or crowd-pleasing. Afterall, his indie debut featured a mathematician obsessed with pi and orthodox Jews who thought his work was discovering the true name of God. He delved deep into every facet of drug abuse, focused a character study around a wrestler, used high-end ballet as a backdrop for a psychological thriller, and put Rock Giants in the story of Noah’s Ark. “Iconoclast” probably doesn’t do him justice.

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