Larks & Recs: Snake Oil, I Saw the Devil, and the 96th Oscars

Ryan Gosling in a pink suit and sunglasses, singing at the Oscars

This week, Caemeron Crain wants to sell you on Snake Oil, Hawk Ripjaw recommends I Saw the Devil, and Clay Dockery wraps up their coverage of the Oscars with a look at the broadcast of the ceremony itself.

Snake Oil

Caemeron: I’m a sucker for a good game show (and sometimes even a bad game show), so after I ran out of episodes of The Floor to watch on Hulu I decided to check out another recent entry from Fox: Snake Oil, hosted by David Spade.

The basic premise of Snake Oil is fairly straightforward. Various products and services are presented and the contestants have to decide which they think are real and which ones are fake. Each contestant is paired with a celebrity advisor to help them in this task. Season 1 features the likes of Adam Devine, Rob Riggle, Christie Brinkley, Bethenny Frankel, and others.

As host, David Spade kind of seems like he doesn’t want to be there, which is odd since he is also the show’s producer, so I think this is just the latest permutation of his schtick. If you think about it, a kind of cynical detachment always has been.

Regardless, the real fun of watching Snake Oil is in playing along, trying to determine what’s real and what’s not. For the first two rounds, the creator (or fake creator) of the product is available for questioning, which gives us a bit more information to work with. There are also infomercials shown for the products, but these have all been made by the show and are more like comedy sketches than anything you can make valid inferences from.

It’s often hard to figure out what’s real and what’s snake oil, since the real products tend to be on the line of absurdity and some of the fake ones seem weirdly plausible. My only criticism is that I often wish there was more information provided. By the time we get to Round 2, the contestants can only question one of the two “businesspeople” on stage, and in the final round there’s none of this at all—they have to guess which product is fake out of a plurality of options just based on a brief description of each.

Still, the show is a good time. I hope it gets a second season.

I Saw the Devil

Hawk: It’s over a decade old at this point, but it still reigns supreme as my favorite revenge thriller: I Saw the Devil is a South Korean film from director Kim Jee-woon. It opens with serial killer Jang Kyung-chul (Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik) abducting and dismembering the fiancée of Korean special agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun), who sets out on a path of relentless violence to punish the killer as brutally as possible.

I Saw the Devil is grim, depressing, and extremely, intensely violent—easily one of the most vicious revenge thrillers I’ve seen. It barely goes a couple of scenes without another savage sequence of Soo-hyeon or Kyung-chul brutalizing another character. It does, occasionally, have moments of black humor to balance out the bleakness, but it never loses sight of Soo-hyeon’s anguish.

It takes a slightly different approach to the revenge thriller: rather than the protagonist spending the entire film working his way through the bad guys to finally face his quarry in the final act, Soo-hyeon hunts down Kyung-chul relatively early on in the movie, beats him to within an inch of his life, and lets him go, only to do it over and over again. He wants Kyung-chul to suffer. Meanwhile, Kyung-chul continues his rampage of violence against innocents.

I Saw the Devil is not for everyone. It is bleak, sadistic, and unflinchingly brutal. But for the revenge film connoisseur, it is a must-see. It’s an excellent film: the cinematography is beautiful and the emotional and action beats hit perfectly, and at over two hours it still doesn’t overstay its welcome. Even after all of this time, when rewatching it I found it impossible to look away.

The 96th Academy Awards

Clay: It only seems fitting to conclude the series of Larks centered around the Academy Awards with a final entry about the show itself. There were a lot of factors going into the show this year that made it one of the most hyped Oscar telecasts in recent memory. It had very successful and popular movies on display, a seasoned host, and the potential to be a great show. And, despite the complete predictability of the winner, I think it actually succeeded.

Oppenheimer always seemed destined to be the big winner, and indeed it was. The movie won the biggest prize at the end of the night and picked up six other trophies as well. Christopher Nolan can finally hoist his Best Director Oscar. It turned out that Paul Giamatti was no match for Oppenheimer himself, Cillian Murphy, in the Best Actor race, and it would have been an absolute stunner if Robert Downey Jr. hadn’t taken home the Best Supporting Actor prize. Downey was also, as expected, the front and center star of the show and, now that he has his Oscar, I think they should keep him coming back.

Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer
Screenshot/Universal Pictures

The Oscar telecast needs the “Jack Nicholson seat” to be filled with someone special and, ever since Nicholson himself stopped coming to the ceremony, it has seemed that the producers keep searching but can’t find their star. It is absolutely clear that RDJ could be that star—he is one of the most popular performers in the world, he has multiple nominations, and he now has a win—but none of that is what really matters in that seat. What matters is the charm, and the willingness to go along with jokes and basically set the energy of the room. And the energy of the room is important to the TV viewers at home. When the stars are unhappy the show is boring and disengaged.

Downey absolutely crushed it in that role at the 96th Academy Awards. He laughed at the jokes, including the ones aimed at him, even the overlong dud about his past drug use, and basically kept the whole thing moving. By the time he won his Oscar and gave his usual pithy, self-deprecating but somehow also incredibly hubristic speech, he was already a clear winner of the night. Of course, as key as playing the Nicholson role may be, it isn’t the only factor in whether the show works.

The host is also considered a key cog, and a bad host can kill any awards show (see Globes, Golden) but only the most absolutely gifted hosts can make a show better. And Jimmy Kimmel actually seems to bring that; he doesn’t have the showmanship of Hugh Jackman, nor the versatility of Steve Martin, nor does his sense of humor resonate with me at all, but what he does have is the amazing skill of actually being a great “host.” He knows when to slow things down for a big moment, and when to speed things up when it is becoming a snoozefest, and of course he can keep a calm head when something insane, like the wrong winner being announced, pops up. All in all, I would much rather have Kimmel at the center of the show than most other people (and with 4 hosting gigs in the past 7 years, the producers seem to think so too.)

I thought that the ceremony might have become a coronation of Oppenheimer but, though it won the big awards I already mentioned, along with Cinematography, Score, and Editing, that left a lot of other prizes for the other great films of 2023 that scored nominations. The Zone of Interest picked up the expected prize for Best International Film and also managed to beat out Oppenheimer for the Best Sound award, which it absolutely deserved. (If you are following closely, you may want to know that I did finally bring myself to watch the movie, early in the morning on the day of the ceremony. It was an absolute masterpiece and I never want to see or think about it again.)

A lot of other films got one award. Da’Vine Joy Randolph took home the one absolute lock of the night, and gave an amazing speech to open the show, as well as giving Giamatti a chance to show his charm and support. Godzilla Minus One got to show off some cute Visual Effects Godzillas (on screen and in real life). And the Academy did decide to give richly deserved Screenplay awards to Justine Triet and Cord Jefferson. Hayao Miyazaki and Wes Anderson won, but didn’t come to the ceremony, which really only affects me because I absolutely love their films and would have liked to see them on stage. But none of that had much of an effect on the show, other than avoiding the Oppenheimer sweep.

Of course one film with one win was not like the others. Barbie’s only win was for Billie Eilish in Best Song, as it lost out on all of the other technical awards that many thought it might snap up. Poor Things won in Costumes, Hair & Makeup, and Production Design, which I think were all deserved but definitely caused Barbie not to have a lot of success in terms of actual wins. But what it did instead was allow Ken to, once again, steal the whole show. Ryan Gosling (along with Simu Liu and the other Kens) performed an absolutely rollicking, showstopping version of “I’m Just Ken” and it was fantastic. So, as with the history of cinema in 2023, Barbie may not have won, but it provided  the most memorable moments.

Well, most of them. The other most memorable moment came with the one true surprise of the night: Emma Stone beating out Lily Gladstone for Best Actress. The race had been close but with their SAG win most people were already handing the award to Gladstone. Instead, Stone is now a two-time Oscar winner on a career trajectory that could put her up with the all-time great Oscar winners. Gladstone was amazing, and absolutely deserving, and her win would have been a great and meaningful moment (and also her loss meant that Killers of the Flower Moon was completely shut out). But a lot of people have seemed to think of her loss as a travesty. I can’t count myself as one of those people. She was great, but so was Stone, and as for the history—I read one commenter say that there will never be another chance for Lily, or a Native actress, and if that’s true, then a win here certainly wouldn’t have done anything to fix the problem. I think, and hope, that the best thing would be for Stone and Gladstone to be right back on this stage next year. Give great roles to actresses—full stop.

And so, the 96th Academy Awards is over and we already start prepping for the 97th. (Have you heard of a little film called Dune 2?) In the end, while the ratings were only slightly up, the show itself was thrilling, well-paced, and had a lot of incredible winners. And that is really all I can ask for.

Written by TV Obsessive

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