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If you’re so inclined to pay attention to award season, then you probably know (or glanced at your various feeds on Facebook or Twitter) that the 87th Academy Awards happened and there were quite a few politically charged moments that will undoubtedly garner more attention and discussion than the actual show. This is hardly new territory for the Oscars. The ceremony may be an over-long self-congratulatory tribute to Hollywood, but as far as ratings and viewership go, the Oscars, in one night, still reach more people than the average one-hour drama. It’s not Superbowl numbers by any means, but it still puts the award show in the advantageous position of political theater if one seizes the opportunity. And during the broadcast several award winners did their damnedest to do some carpe dieming.
Prior to the ceremony, the Oscars were already under fire for whitewashing the categories, snubbing critically acclaimed Selma director Ava Duvernay and star David Oyelowo but still nominating the film for Best Picture and Best Song. As noted by the Hollywood Reporter, this is the second time in two decades that the lineup of nominees was all-white, the timing of which couldn’t be worse in light of the racially insensitive emails leaked during the Sony hack and the Academy’s supposed promise to give diversity a greater focus. Is it any wonder that host Neil Patrick Harris’ opening joke – “Today we honor Hollywood’s best and whitest. Sorry…brightest.” – and his sharp response to the audience applauding David Oyelowo during an interstitial bit – “Oh, sure, now you like him.” – were met with nervous laughter and timid applause? The saving grace of the snub, however, was the stirring performance of “Glory” by Common and John Legend that brought the audience to tears. Legend later used their Oscar win for the song to point out the parallels between Selma and current racial tensions in the United States.
Nina Simone said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live. We wrote this song for a film that was based on events that were 50 years ago, but we say that Selma is now, because the struggle for justice is right now. We know that the Voting Rights Act that they fought for 50 years ago is being compromised right now in this country today. We know that right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850. When people are marching with our song, we want to tell you we are with you, we see you, we love you, and march on. God bless you. [Source: Democracy Now]
The Oscars also served as a platform for women to make their voices heard through any and all means. Before the ceremony even began the Oscars were at the center of a Twitter campaign spearheaded by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls community and the Representation Project called #AskHerMore, which called upon correspondents covering the show to ask actresses more engaging questions about their work instead of asking about their clothes. Reese Witherspoon brought attention to the campaign on Instagram and on the red carpet, which Robin Roberts of ABC utilized in her coverage, though it sloughed off towards the end. Luckily, Witherspoon and fellow actresses Julianne Moore and Lupita Nyong’o were keen to talk more than fashion.
Once the show was in full swing, it was Patricia Arquette who took the stage after receiving the Best Supporting Actress for Boyhood and stated plainly to Hollywood and the viewing audience:
To every woman who gave birth to every citizen and taxpayer of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America!
The rallying cry brought the house to its feet in applause and produced what will probably the greatest GIF ever of Meryl Streep.
Arquette’s speech was a definite response to the Sony emails between studio executives discussing the wage discrepancies between actresses and actors. And while we might roll our eyes at the idea of an actress getting paid more money, we still have to remember that it’s a job and, like any of us nine-to-fivers, if a woman’s skill set is the same as a man’s, then she should get paid the same amount. America’s workforce isn’t guided by gender roles anymore, but it is a country where single-income families are the norm and if a woman is the head-of-household, then what she isn’t being paid adds up. Arquette’s words similarly ring true for the state of Hollywood and its treatment of actresses. As indicated previously, beauty is often the topic of choice on the red carpet instead of the phenomenal work accomplished by women in the industry. The worst kept secret in Hollywood is the shelf life of an actress’ time in which she goes from sexy leading lady to fourth-billed, middle aged nag. By paying actresses less money, Hollywood reinforces this outdated attitude, valuing marketability over merit.
The night wasn’t just full of calls to action. Some speeches were poignant messages of understanding in the face of societal pressures and stigmas. After winning Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, Graham Moore, bared his soul, saying:
Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do. And that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard. In this brief time here, what I want to use it to do is to say this: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now, I’m standing here and I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere: Yes, you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird, stay different. And then, when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.
Moore’s speech struck a chord, tapping into the cultural atmosphere of isolation and alienation towards anyone deemed “different”. Whether you’re gay, straight, queer, trans, or just left of center, the truth of Moore’s words can apply to just about anyone. It was especially moving given that earlier in the broadcast Dana Perry, producer of the winner for Best Short Subject Documentary, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, dedicated the award to her son who’d committed suicide in 2005 and proclaimed that suicide needed to be talked about “out loud” before the orchestra played her off. After the speech, Perry told reporters:
We need to talk about suicide out loud to try to work against the stigma and silence around suicide because the best prevention for suicide is awareness and discussion and not trying sweep it under the rug. [Source: ABC News]
When I was studying archival science in college there was one particular lesson that remained prominent: if you’re not in the record, then you don’t exist. The same is true of media and if there’s really an overall message to take away from this year’s Oscars, it’s that visibility equals legitimacy. Those in charge of crafting the Oscars ceremony love to wax poetic about how film reveals things about human nature or how the movies are a reflection of our society. So what does this year’s smattering of nominees say about our society now? Who are we? What do we value? Whose voice is coming through louder? Who has a voice? We need to see ourselves and we need to be challenged to experience the uncomfortable truths of our society. The movies can’t completely solve these issues, but it’s a familiar medium, a language we all speak, and those responsible for honoring the industry’s achievements might do well to realize that when they cast their ballots next year.
Oh, Jupiter Ascending, you had such high aspirations and yet you failed so badly at achieving anything short of “so bad it’s good” status as a movie. It’s unfortunate too when you consider the latest high-concept space-opera wannabe movie from the Wachowski siblings is the only main stream release film to come out this year that isn’t an adaptation, sequel, or reboot of an existing property. Unfortunately, originality is the only thing going for it as the movie slogs around from beautiful set piece to beautiful set piece with no rhyme or reason given to the actual plot or developing any of the characters beyond their archetypal role. But I can tell you right now it’s the most fun you’ll have at the movies until Age of Ultron comes out in May!
For the curious: Jupiter Ascending is about the titular Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian-born immigrant working as a cleaning lady in Chicago, who finds out she’s the genetic reincarnation of the deceased matriarch of the Abraxas family – an intergalactic dynasty and corporation of millennia old humans who’re responsible for “seeding” the Earth. The discovery of her new-found regality, which comes with ownership of the Earth, puts Jupiter in the middle of an economic power play between the three children of the late mommy Abraxas with Earth serving as the brass ring for all parties involved. The oldest of the siblings, Balem (Eddie Redmayne), however, is more than ready to “harvest” the Earth – cull the population to make a goo-like regenerative serum from human genetic material – if it means keeping the planet, and it’s profits, out of everyone else’s hands. Oh, and Channing Tatum plays a human/wolf hybrid named Caine who’s basically there to continually save Jupiter and fly around on his fancy gravity-defying boots.
So where did the movie go wrong? Well, just about every aspect of the film is problematic. Some of these problems are clearly the result of the film’s delayed release by Warner Bros. from July 2014 to February 2015 for reshoots and an extended post-production schedule. It’s understandable that the studio might be concerned with another high-concept science fiction movie from the Wachowskis considering their last foray, Cloud Atlas, was only saved from being a financial bomb by the international box office. Add to that the popularity of recent sci-fi action hits like Guardians of the Galaxy and, to a lesser extent, Edge of Tomorrow, and it’s not surprising that the studio would set aside pseudo-philosophical exposition and world-building in favor of what’s proven popular to audiences. That’s what Hollywood does.
The result of such late demands and changes, however. is a movie that’s edited within an inch of its life. The first act suffers the most from these edits. The choppy exposition and lack of transitional scenes only serve to introduce characters quickly and push the plot forward so they can get to the next action piece. For example, Jupiter, in need of money to buy an expensive telescope, decides to sell her eggs to a medical facility. While she’s in the waiting room fidgeting nervously, the nurse calls her name and the immediate scene following is Jupiter being put under anesthesia and fighting against the nurses while groggily saying she’s changed her mind. There’s no scene of Jupiter getting prepped for the procedure or watching as the nurses set out their instruments, nothing that would make her uneasy and lead to doubts. It’s a lazy cut from nervous to full on fighting against the overly insistent nursing staff all for the explicit purpose of getting Caine into the operating room to save Jupiter from assassins faster. I’m not kidding that the movie hinges on Jupiter being kidnapped or handed off from one crazy Abraxas sibling to the next so she can be put in a position where Caine has to rescue her, which means pew! pew! pew! BOOM! and scene. Rinse and repeat. When all is said and done, Jupiter is nothing more than the film’s maguffin, or more accurately, the sexy lamp.
Not that anyone in the cast comes off that much better. Perhaps there were deleted scenes that fleshed out the characters more, but studio meddling can only be blamed for so much when there are significant structural and character problems that had to have been in the script from the get go. The Wachowskis have previously been criticized for favoring style over substance and it definitely shows in this case. Jupiter is the damsel in distress with no significant wants, needs, or motivation after learning she’s essentially Queen of the Universe. Not even the bare minimum of effort is put into making her remotely interesting and it doesn’t help that Kunis’ go-to reaction to everything is just “meh”. Presented with a new dump of exposition or yet another inconvenient kidnapping, Jupiter takes it all in with about the same amount of emotional heft you’d find from Twilight’s Bella Swan.
Unlike Edward and Bella, Caine and Jupiter at least have some chemistry, which is mostly due to Tatum’s natural charm since he’s given very little to work with as a the brooding, tortured, and misunderstood hybrid soldier with a chip on his shoulder where royalty is concerned. SO TORTURED! All of this so there can be some sort of class conflict to serve as romantic tension between the literal dog soldier and the low-born turned royal special snowflake. The three Abraxas siblings don’t have much to offer beyond what you’d expect from warring elites with mommy issues. Redmayne’s Balem rasps and whispers his dialogue in an attempt to be more interesting than his cartoonish, Oedipal tyrant role will allow; Douglas Booth’s Titus is the hedonist looking to steal some of the profits from his brother; and Tuppence Middleton’s Kalique, though the least threatening, is perfectly happy to play Glinda the Good Witch to the whole proceedings by using Jupiter as a proxy saboteur. The only believable relationship in the entire movie is between Caine and Stinger (Sean Bean), and that mostly consists of punching, betrayal, and motivational speeches – though not necessarily in that order.
The awesomely awful final product, however, is still one of the most entertaining movies to come out amid the Oscar-baiting drudgery in theaters right now. Even when it’s trying to be super serious, Jupiter Ascending comes off as goofy craziness and I love it for that! The smallest detail, like character names, produces a loving groan of “Really?” from me. Bean’s Stinger is a human/bee hybrid, get it? Caine is part dog, Get It? There’s a human/elephant hybrid named Nesh, GET IT?! Obvious names are obvious! The dialogue is either overly heavy-handed or so amazingly cheesy you’re not sure how the actors managed to say their lines with a straight face. It’s a movie that wants to be grandiose in its execution but for every huge effects shot of a space ship riddled with decadent golden statues there’s an obvious green screen moment of Channing Tatum trying to make fake skating with Kunis riding piggyback look cool. It’s not cool, it’s hilarious especially if you think about Tatum miming skating while making faces for the slo-mo shot. Even as I typed that sentence I started laughing to myself. And the Brazil-inspired bureaucracy sequence (complete with Terry Gilliam cameo) was priceless in its complete disregard for what the film had previously established in tone and style. Oh, Jupiter Ascending, never change!
Actually, I’d like to see the shooting script for Jupiter Ascending or, at the very least, I hope the Wachowskis put out a Director’s Cut of the film. I’m curious about what was so obviously cut from the movie and whether or not it would make the story better or add to the insanity. I know the Wachowskis don’t like to put out alternate cuts, or do commentary, but I think Jupiter Ascending would only benefit because to say that that the film is a hot mess is a bit disingenuous. For all of the special effects and fast-paced action sequences, there are some interesting ideas and valiant attempts at world-building going on throughout the film. Maybe the Wachowskis were too ambitious or overreaching, but I’d rather filmmakers were too ambitious and failed than played it safe and succeeded. Hollywood, unfortunately, doesn’t see it that way. I’m confident though that despite its poor performance in theaters, Jupiter Ascending will reach cult status when the DVDs and Blu-Rays come out. And I look forward to the movie nights that follow.
So, have you seen Jupiter Ascending? What did you think?