Emmys 2014: Best and worst moments

Emmys 2014

There is no shortage of snubs with which to fault the Emmys and Television Academy every year, but at the end of the night, all that matters is whether the telecast was entertaining. This 66th edition, hosted by Seth Meyers, had its moments: some great, some not-so, some cringe-worthy.

It was a history-making night, though … I wrote my 6,000th Tweet some time around 9 p.m. tonight.

For a complete list of winners, visit IMDb.

You can also look at my ballot here, which is not at all an attempt at predicting the winners, just me picking my favs from the nominees. (You can also read about the Emmy snubs, back when the nominations were first announced, which seems like years ago, but was just in July)

BEST

- Billy Eichner; Lord. To get acquainted with Billy Eichner’s antics, please spend an hour or two on his YouTube page. Eichner and Meyers took to the streets of New York to play “For a Dollar.” See the clip here.

- Julia Louis-Dreyfus, winning and presenting; The funniest woman alive. Full stop.

- Ricky Gervais presenting; He came out to present writing for a variety special and decided he would also give the speech he wrote for his supposed win for best actor in a comedy series, which he lost to Jim Parsons.

- In Memoriam; Sara Bareilles’ voice is great and after her performance, Billy Crystal memorialized his friend Robin Williams. It was sweet and understated and funny. This was followed by a montage of Williams being funny everywhere, every way. It stung. Hard.

- Moira Walley-Beckett winning the writing award, drama, for the outstanding Breaking Bad episode, “Ozymandias.”

- Bryan Cranston winning the best actor, drama, Emmy. Walter White is an iconic character because of Cranston and the show would not have been nearly as addictive without his magnetic work. And he beat the over-lauded Matthew McConaughey.

Breaking Bad, for being one of the best drama series ever, having one of the best final seasons ever, for being the best drama of the year.

GOOD

- Seth Meyers’s opening monologue; I found him more comfortable and funny than he usually is during his monologue on Late Night. He started off slow, but finished very strongly, celebrating television as the booty call who is always up, unlike the movies, who makes you put on pants and buy $40 worth of soda.

Sherlock winning everything: I loved Sherlock, a fun and funny puzzle of a series with outstanding performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, winners tonight. But I am surprised at how well it did. On top of two acting Emmys for Cumberbatch and Freeman, Steven Moffat won for writing. All categories in which Sherlock was up against The Normal Heart and/or FargoThe Normal Heart and Fargo won best television movie and best miniseries, though.

- Weird Al Yankovic; Adding words to instrumental theme songs, the man with the most emotive face in show business jolted the Emmys back to life, with a little help from Andy Samberg.

- “The only person from ER to ever amount to anything, Julianna Margulies.” – Seth Meyers introducing The Good Wife star.

- Yay to Sarah Silverman winning the writing for a variety special Emmy for her outstanding special, We Are Miracles.

- Julianna Margulies, for the very well-deserved Good Wife win.

BAD

- Jim Parsons winning best actor in a comedy, again; His speech was sweet and Parsons is likeable, but I find Big Bang Theory grating at best.

- The Q&A; I liked the bathroom key bit with Josh Charles and Andre Braugher, but the rest fell flat.

- Stephen Colbert; I know, I know. It hurts to even think about Colbert even being in a “bad’ list, but his bit tonight about his imaginary friend Roscoe was odd at best.

WORST

- Ty Burrell winning best supporting actor in a comedy; Over Andre Braugher, over Fred Armisen, and Burrell’s Modern Family co-star Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Burrell’s work isn’t bad, just not as good as the other nominees.

- That Julia Roberts montage; Before a commercial break, the Emmys decided to highlight the Oscar winner’s work in The Normal Heart, a juicy scene in which she throws a lot of folders around and screams. She didn’t win, but the Emmy’s stalker-obsession with movie stars during a night when it claims to celebrate television comes off as pathetic.

- I love Key and Peele and Key & Peele, but why, why, why were they only enlisted to present the accountants tonight? Their Comedy Central series was a nominee, writing for a variety show.

- Ughhhh, using the great and funny Sofia Vergara as a prop for the Television Academy’s president’s speech.

Emmys 2014: If I could vote

Emmys on NBC Aug. 25 8 p.m.

The Emmys are on a Monday? In August? Yeah.

It happens when the network airing the awards show – NBC this year – doesn’t want to devote a Sunday in September to an awards show where it might leave empty-handed (can The Voice repeat a win in the reality-competition program category?) when it could air a ratings juggernaut like Sunday Night Football. The host networks also pimp out their own people during the broadcast so this year, Late Night‘s affable Seth Meyers will be emceeing TV’s biggest night.

It’s easy to fault the Emmys when they overlook so many great performances every year; 2014 was no different. But there really is so much great TV being produced that inevitably someone amazing gets left out. But the Emmys’ allergy to network television (no Good WifeScandalParenthood and Hannibal drama nominations?) and change (Downton Abbey, again? Melissa McCarthy over Mindy Kaling?) were especially infuriating this year.

Rather than try to predict how the Television Academy will vote, I decided I would just fill out a ballot picking my favourites from each category. Here’s whose box I’d mark an X in, if I could vote. 

Emmy ballot 2014 Chris Hanna

You can download your Emmy own ballot via Yahoo/Scribd. The Emmys air on NBC/CTV on Monday, Aug. 25, starting at 8 p.m. They’re hosted by Seth Meyers.

Film review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

Director Lasse Hallström’s The Hundred-Foot Journey is like a dessert: sweet, but too much of it is a bad idea.

Car trouble leads the Kadam family, Indian expats travelling from London – where the “vegetables have no soul,” according to the family’s gifted cook/middle son Hassan (Manish Dayal) – to spend a night in the small town of Saint-Antonin in the South of France. Out on a stroll and guided by fate or the voice of his dead wife, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) sets his sights on an abandoned building across the road from the Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred restaurant run by the stern and tough Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Logic would have it that the kind of clientele that would visit the Saule Pleureur and Maison Mumbai, the Indian restaurant the Kadams want to open 100 feet from Mallory’s eatery, could not be more different. But this is a movie that defies logic and completely deaf to how real, sensible people would react in the situations in which it places it characters. Mallory and Papa are on a mission to sabotage each other’s establishments, unbeknownst to them that Marguerite (Catherine Le Bon), a sous-chef at the Saule Pleureur, and Hassan have become friendly. In fact, Marguerite has turned Hassan on to French cuisine, and now he is pursuing an apprenticeship at Madame Mallory’s sophisticated restaurant. The conflict throughout the film is mostly playful and resolved almost as quickly as it arises.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

The Hundred-Foot Journey is well-acted and it’s enjoyable enough, but it’s often corny. During one of their conversations, Marguertie and Hassan agree that “food is memories.” Marguerite tells Hassan that recipes have no use in books, and that he “must find them in your heart.” Some of the dialogue between the French chefs and between members of the Kadam family is in French and Indian, naturally, but the film isn’t subtitled. Instead, the characters either repeat their own lines in English or another character translates them. This was incredibly annoying to sit through, not to mention that subtitling these scenes could very realistically have shaven about 10 minutes from the film’s runtime.

At 122 minutes, this Journey is far too long, especially when considering it’s the sum of parts of much superior films. Hallström’s Chocolat is much more charming and Pixar’s Ratatouille was much more honest in its depiction of the cutthroat world of French cuisine. Of course, those movies don’t star Dame Helen Mirren, and while she and Montreal actress Charlotte Le Bon steal the show, it never seems like the film’s intention. The women in Journey, when faced with a challenge, turn cold, bitter and rude. The men (Puri and Dayal) are funny, likeable, charming and heroic in the face of opposition. Still, Mirren and Le Bon’s roles were meatier, much like Emma Thompson’s in Saving Mr. Banks, which treated its female protagonist similarly to those in The Hundred-Foot Journey. Mirren’s Mallory could have been a Miranda Priestly-esque character, but facing off against the Kadams, she comes off as a mean-spirited bully.

★★ (out of ★★★★)

Film review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

Science fiction has already had a great year at the movies – the warped Snowpiercer, the excellent Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America 2, and the critically-acclaimed-yet-to-be-seen-by-this-writer-who-hangs-his-head-in-shame Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch, Jonathan Glazer film Under the SkinGodzilla reboot, and Tom Cruise vehicle Edge of Tomorrow. With Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, the genre’s streak of greatness continues, and will likely do so until the end of the year, with Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and the penultimate Hunger Games instalment still to come.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel and director James Gunn (known before this for the great indies Slither and Super) make an action star out of Chris Pratt (known before GOTG for mostly playing loveable, bumbling, well-meaning fools, like Andy Dwyer on NBC’s fantastic Parks and Recreation). Pratt is Peter Quill, a resident of Earth who gets abducted by aliens as a child in 1988. Fast-forward 26 years and he’s an intergalactic thief with a penchant for ’70s pop and Motown music on his “Awesome Mix Vol. 1″ tape. We follow him, dancing, singing and lip-synching his way through a heist: Quill steals a sought-after orb as easily and confidently as Pratt owns the lead role in what is likely to become Marvel Studios’ new “it” franchise. A sequel, to be helmed by Gunn, is already slated for 2017.

Everyone wants the orb and while some know about the frightening power it yields, only one, GOTG‘s main baddie Ronan (Lee Pace), wants to use it to destroy planets. Ronan is one-dimensional, hell-bent on levelling his enemies’ planets. He’s all evil, with not much background. At first it seems he is a puppet for Thanos (Josh Brolin, in a motion-captured performance), the Marvel villain that will likely link the Guardians world to the Avengers’. Ronan sends Gamora (Zoe Saldana, a bad ass in this role), who has plans of her own to sell it to The Collector (Benecio Del Toro) for a pretty penny, to retrieve the orb from Quill. There are also two CGI characters, a tree named Groot voiced by Vin Diesel, who only ever says “I am Groot,” and a Pesciesque raccoon named Rocket voiced by Bradley Cooper. On paper, the duo seem odd, at best, and a total disaster at worst. In reality, they elevated the fun tenfold, playing off each other and providing laughs aplenty. Groot and Rocket are bounty hunters, and Quill is worth 40,000 units, the currency used on the many planets they visit. The quartet gets arrested and sent to an intergalactic prison where they meet Drax (Dave Bautista), from a planet on which metaphors and sarcasm do not exist. Nothing goes over Drax’s head, the strapping Herculean alien proclaims, because his reflexes are too quick. The quintet escapes in one of the most thrilling and funny scenes in the 121-minute film. There’s nary a dull moment in the film. Gunn hops from one scene to the next, with the jokes also never ceasing. The film also stars Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Djimon Honsou, Michael Rooker, Laura Haddock and Peter Serafinowicz. There are a lot of people, but the zingers aren’t split evenly, with Pratt, Cooper, Diesel and Bautista eliciting the most laughs, with the most outrageous lines or exciting action scenes.

While I commend Gunn on the challenge of making the Guardians ensemble feel familiar, friendly and likeable right out of the gate – without the luxury The Avengers had of most of its ensemble being ultra popular by virtue of their standalone films – it felt like there were a few things that were left unexplained or under-explained, especially when it came to the different planets in the galaxy. The CGI throughout is great: it’s probably second to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this summer. The set pieces are impressive and Groot and Rocket are gorgeously animated. The planets all look really cool and different from any alien planet we’ve seen, and different from each other, but with no background provided, it’s a lot of flash and not much substance. Of course, with a Guardians sequel coming in three years, that world is ripe for exploration. Guardians of the Galaxy is a blast and a wonderfully immersive first entry in the series.

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Film review: Boyhood

BOYHOOD - 2014 FILM STILL - Ellar Coltrane

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has been wowing critics and audiences since its première at Sundance in January. The acclaim is universal, boisterous and very enthusiastic. (The film has a score of 99 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 9.4/10)

Boyhood follows Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from age 5 to age 18 as he goes to school, plays video games, goes to college, and everything in between. The film is gorgeous and exquisitely shot, finding beauty in the mundanity of everyday tasks, of life and its ups, downs and middles. There is no plot to speak of, just the journey you are on with Mason and his family.

It’s not unusual for films to span years or decades. Boyhood does, but it’s unique in that it was filmed a few weeks at a time over 12 years using the same cast and crew. Kudos to everyone involved for committing and trusting that the end product would be spectacular, and not just a feat or gimmick. The cast includes Coltrane, who does great work though he doesn’t get the meatiest or juiciest bits; many times, Coltrane’s performance was just a look, a sigh or an eye roll. But if Linklater is Boyhood‘s brain and Coltrane’s Mason is the film’s soul, then Mason’s mom Olivia, played by Patricia Arquette, is the film’s heart, turning in her best work ever. The cast is rounded out by Lorelai Linklater (the director’s daughter) as Samantha, Mason’s older sister, and Ethan Hawke, who plays their absentee-but-wants-to-change dad. Hawke is no stranger to Linklater films: he starred in the director’s sublime Before Sunrise trilogy, which follows a couple (Hawke and Julie Delpy) at different stages in their relationship. Boyhood isn’t a four-person film, just like lives aren’t shaped by just parents and siblings: Marco Perella, Cambell Westmoreland, Richard Robichaux and Cassidy Johnson may not get top billing on Boyhood, but their characters helped build Mason into the 18-year-old we see at the end of the film.

Some have written that scenes Boyhood reminded them of their own childhoods. This is true; Boyhood is a walk down memory lane for many things, including music, fashion, technology and politics. Some of the best scenes involved some interaction between the characters about those things: early one morning, Mason is annoyed by his sister’s singing of “Oops… I Did It Again;” a character later gets into trouble for playing with a 20Q at the dinner table; later, a McCain/Palin sign is stolen from someone’s lawn. Mason plays XBOX, GameBoy Advance, and Aaliyah’s “Try Again” plays at a party. The film has a strong sensibility for what was in when it was filmed, so it really serves as a time capsule for the last decade, good and bad (Remember Gotye? That song that you used to know is in the film too). Among the film’s highlights – and since Boyhood, with its snappy dialogue and long tracking shots plays like a Linklater Greatest Hits film, it’s not a stretch to suggest every sequence is memorable and important – is the kids getting The Talk from their dad, who complains that he learns more about his daughter “from her Facebook page than our scintillating conversations.”

But even if you aren’t a white boy living in Texas or the child of divorced parents or a skinny awkward teen who hated your mom’s boyfriends or a young adult unsure what to do with your life, Boyhood will at the very least let you live and feel and see those things through Mason. If that’s not cinema, what is?

I went into the screening with the highest of expectations because of the buzz surrounding the film. It really, really doesn’t disappoint, and how could it? Linklater is one of the most versatile American filmmakers (he has Dazed and ConfusedSchool of Rock and Bernie to his name among others). If anyone is able to create characters that are real, relatable and compelling, and have us yearn to follow them and their stories for years, it’s the genius behind the Before series.

Boyhood is playing at Cineplex Forum and Cinéma Excentris in Montreal.

★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Seven reasons you have to see Life Itself, the Steve James documentary about Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert Life Itself

Any fan of cinema owes it to him or herself to see Life Itself, which premièred in Montreal on July 11 and is screening exclusively at Cinéma du Parc. (It’s not available on-demand in Canada yet.) The most famous film critic of all time died at the age of 70 in April 2013, but he leaves a rich legacy behind, to say nothing of all the people he’s inspired and turned on to cinema. Life Itself is a great biographical documentary with compelling, raw and honest footage. Here are seven reasons you have to see it:

It’s directed by Steve James, the acclaimed director of Hoop Dreams.

It’s incomplete, and that’s OK.  There were questions director Steve James asked Roger Ebert (about the future of film criticism and Ebert’s own career) via email but Ebert never got a chance to answer due to his deteriorating health. It lets you imagine what he would have answered. I think he would be optimistic, arguing that the Internet has made film criticism a wholly collaborative endeavour. His own website, rogerebert.com, is the perfect example of that, archiving every review he’s ever written and enlisting contributors from around the world to write and report about cinema.

Interviews with Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Ava DuVernay, Errol Morris help shed a light on the kind of impact he had on cinema and filmmakers. Scorsese said when Ebert gave an unfavourable review to The Colour of Money, even though Ebert had presented Scorsese with an honorary award a few years prior for Raging Bull, Scorsese knew Ebert was being fair and doing his job – Scorsese cared what Ebert thought not only because of his influence, but because of his respect and love of the art form; Herzog dedicated his documentary Encounters at the End of the World, a gorgeous film, to Ebert; DuVernay appreciated the exposure he gave her film I Will Follow, which likely wouldn’t have been seen by as many people without Ebert’s praise; similarly, Errol Morris’s first documentary Gates of Heaven was lauded by Ebert, to whom Morris credits his career. Morris has gone on to direct the documentaries The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, an Oscar winner for best doc.

An anecdote by Ramin Bahrani helps reaffirm the generous man Ebert was. The director of Man Push Cart recalls receiving a gift from Ebert, which Ebert himself received from actress Laura Dern: a jigsaw puzzle that Alfred Hitchcock once gave Marilyn Monroe. Ebert said it’s Bahrani’s responsibility now to give it to someone he deems worthy.

It takes Ebert’s autobiography Life Itself as a jumping-off point, and builds on it to cover his entire life, though archival video footage, old photos and new interviews with the people who knew him best, pre- and post-Pulitzer. The book was first published in 2011, after which Ebert’s health gradually worsened, so the film is as up-to-date as it can be.

Warts and all: Life Itself is really frank and honest, sometimes graphically so. In two instances, we see how Roger is fed – remember, his jaw was surgically removed years ago. But Roger is happy to let the cameras in and the documentary touches on his struggles with alcoholism, and his egotism. There are outtakes from his show with Gene Siskel that are funny now, but seem horrifying when you consider that two people who competed with each other so vehemently also worked very closely together for years. Siskel’s widow Marlene also recalls when she was eight months pregnant and Roger hailed a cab and got into it before her – and left! He’s a totally changed person now, she concedes, and it’s all thanks to…

Life Itself

Chaz Ebert: Life Itself is about Roger Ebert, but by his own admission in the book – and it’s made clear in the doc – there would probably be no Ebert without Chaz. Or at the very least, not this Ebert. Chaz and Roger were married for more than 20 years. She remained hopeful and loving throughout his illnesses and continues to support his work as she always had.

★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Life Itself is screening at Cinéma du Parc.

Film review: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Like the train that is the film’s namesake, Snowpiercer is in constant motion.

The Korean production by Joon-ho Bong (The HostMother) stars an international cast that includes Chris Evans in the lead role, with Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill, Kang-ho Song, Ah-sung Ko, Luke Pasqualino in roles of varying importance. It’s Tilda Swinton, though, who steals the show. In her third appearance on our screens this year (she’s in Terry Gilliam’s Zero Theorem, but it’s unlikely to get a Canadian theatrical release), and after a career resurgence thanks to her magnetic White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia in 2005, it’s clear there’s not much Swinton does wrong. In Snowpiercer, she’s Mason, a snobby bourgeois who dons a preposterous bob, fake teeth, expensive furs and colourful dresses and suits. She first graces Snowpiercer about 15 minutes in and her Mason is the first pop of colour in Bong’s moody grey-green film, lensed by Kyung-pyo Hong. You get Mason and what she’s about right away.

Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer

Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, the action thriller boasts one of the coolest sci-fi concepts: It’s 2031 and for 17 years after an environmental disaster froze Earth, a train has been chugging along on an cross-national railway carrying the planet’s human survivors. The train is humanity’s only hope, but it’s also developed a nasty class system. At the front of the train are Swinton’s Mason and other well-dressed, well-coiffed, bathed, steak eaters. At the train’s tail are Evans, Bell, Harris and Spencer’s characters living in overcrowded, dirty quarters with no windows. They’re fed protein blocks: they look like Jell-O, but you find out later they’re definitely not Jell-O. There are things that have gone “extinct” in the 17 years since the Snowpiercer started its never-ending journey – cigarettes, for example – but society’s need for justice remains: for throwing a shoe at a guard, a back-of-the-train passenger gets seven minutes of punishment; that’s seven minutes with his arm outside the train, at the mercy of the elements on Earth, immeasurably cold since 2014. Mason addresses the passengers, reminding them that everyone’s place is pre-ordained and the class system must be respected. “I am a hat, you are a shoe. I belong on the head. You belong on the foot.” She continues: “Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.” The screenplay wasn’t written by Friends‘ Rachel Green, but the shoes want to be hats, so Evans’s Curtis and co. devise a plan to take the train, one car at a time. To unlock the gates to get to the front of the train, they’ll need a security specialist who they’ll have to break out of the prison car (if he’s a security expert, why can’t he get himself out, quips one character). The film’s occasionally witty dialogue never compromises its serious matter: it’s a dark film that’s often very violent with lots on its mind and even more to say.

The journey to the front is where Snowpiercer shows off. We go through a school (my favourite sequence, for its craziness), a spa, a water-treatment facility and a nightclub: exciting and ultraviolent action scenes, exquisite sets and production design, matched perfectly to realistic costumes and hair. It’s sci-fi, but it all feels and looks real and plausible.

Harvey Weinstein, whose TWC distributed Snowpiercer in North America, reportedly wanted 20 minutes cut from the 126-minute movie, but everything in Snowpiercer is necessary for background, context, history and exposition. Where the movie could have saved some minutes is in having fewer slow-motion sequences. I counted at least six that just didn’t fit with the look and feel I thought Snowpiercer was going for – blame Zack Snyder, I guess, for ruining slo-mo for me. As it stands, though, 2014 is shaping up to be a great year for serious, dark and cerebral science fiction, with Snowpiercer and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes leading the pack.

★★★ (out of ★★★★)

Snowpiercer opens in Montreal July 18, screening exclusively at Cinéma du Parc in Montreal.