September 04, 2005

Delicate Sound of Chunder

In a lot of ways 2005 so far is typified by Alone in the Dark and A Sound of Thunder; two films that aren’t really offensive in any way but so essentially poor in their craftsmanship that they bugger the imagination. How could, in other words, they possibly have happened? Much of the conversation about what’s wrong with our culture is the malady of being too comfortable in our culture. Our visual knowledge is over-developed, the thinking goes, to the point that everything’s become shorthand while nuance, more often than not, flies to the wayside.

(Consequently, the breath of fresh air some feel with 2046 and Broken Flowers is, to a large part, breathed from slow lungs.)

See, but, that implies that the people making films and shows nowadays have assimilated a lot of other films and television, when I suspect that the truth is a lot of these people are just aware of film and television without any sort of consideration of what’s been seen – that any sort of analysis of what’s been seen is steadily devalued at the same rate as all other forms of intellectual discourse in the United States. It’s the danger of feckless consumption.

Watching Alone in the Dark and A Sound of Thunder exactly approximates the experience of reading a book by someone who doesn’t actually know any English (like Robert James Waller, for instance, or that jackhole who wrote The Celestine Prophecy). They’re movies made by people who don’t seem to have ever taken a moment to consider what it was that worked about one thing and didn’t work about another – the product of people who think that leaving your brain at the door is a good idea and possible in any case; people who make no bones about admitting that thinking is hard for them and, most tellingly, mutually exclusive from any ability to have pleasure. Cultural artifacts like this happen because in this time and this place (and for some time now), being critical is bad manners.

With the former costing around $20m and the latter upwards of $80m (two years ago), Alone in the Dark and A Sound of Thunder have squandered $100m between them before PR and distribution costs. And that’s not just one person, that’s a whole bunch of people getting together and agreeing that, for their money, they’ve assembled the right cast, the right crew, the right screenplay – that they’ve found a winning combination to not only make their hundred mil back, but maybe a tidy profit to boot albeit most likely in overseas and home video sales. (I’d like to believe that somewhere along the way someone thought that they might be making a good movie, but, seriously, if you wanted a good movie, you wouldn’t be associating yourself with names like Uwe Boll, Christian Slater, Tara Reid (!), Peter Hyams, and Ed Burns.) All of these people have seen movies that have succeeded and believed that in seeing them, they have understood them.

With only about a dozen or so viable, intelligent film critics left gainfully employed in the United States: paladins for the medium in all the glorious pretense of that claim, I do wonder if the parasitical arrangement between critics and the movies they review isn’t closer to a symbiosis.

But then I read Roger Ebert’s review of A Sound of Thunder and, as is his tendency now and again, he’s made a few really puzzling errors in his review. It doesn’t matter that much here, but I suspect that it did matter a lot in his Rules of Attraction review in which he asserts something happens which most certainly does not - and then changes the offending paragraph in the online edition (the one for posterity, but not the one that matters) after what I fantasize to be a lot of angry letters. I don't care if you hate it Roger, but at least do a better job pretending to have seen it.


Ebert talks about “saber-toothed eagles” appearing in future-Chicago which, although no stupider than what actually does appear, don’t appear. He mentions the scene where “a giant brontosaurus” attacks, but it’s not a brontosaurus and, neither of us being a paleontologist, we’re told by this idiot film that it’s not a brontosaurus and is actually an allosaurus. I don’t know what an allosaurus is, but I do know that a brontosaurus is what Fred Flintstone rode to the gravel pits, and that thing doesn’t look a thing like this thing. Is he making a joke? Maybe he is, and it must be an elaborate one because later he misquotes a line about “brontosaurus blood.” Does it matter? Naw – not in terms of the two-star “aw shucks” review he gives this thing – but what does matter is that he wasn’t paying very close attention to this film to which he’s now offering a patronizing pat on a head. And not paying attention may be only what the film deserves, but is also part of the reason why films made by cinematic illiterates happen.

I think if you don’t like movies very much, you smirk about films like Alone in the Dark and A Sound of Thunder. You feel superior to them in a way as unwise and puzzling as feeling superior to approaching hurricanes and rising floodwaters.

But I was well and truly curious about why anyone would go to a film like this and, in going, why did they stay? So I went to a “civilian” screening of A Sound of Thunder on a Friday afternoon. With me on this ill-advised sojourn: five other lonesome souls, one of which, a middle-aged lady in a cardigan (in the middle of summer) left twenty-three minutes into the film which, I’m guessing, is early enough to still get your money back. I heard no comment, no snortles, no cell phone, no crinkle during the entire film – it was the most polite audience I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a film with in about five years – and afterwards, stealing a page from Joe Queenan, I offered them a refund of their ticket price ($7.00 matinee. Bargain!) if they didn’t like the film in exchange for them telling me why they didn’t leave after the five minute mark when any question of its extraordinary ineptitude could any longer be rationalized away.

The only couple was comprised of thirtyish Jake and his girlfriend Cayleen. They went because Jake had read the Ray Bradbury story when he was a kid and had sort of been looking forward to this movie – they both thought it was “okay” and politely declined my offer to refund their cash. Jake said that he just went to movies to relax and have fun and implied that he resented it when they made him think. “Critics, man, every single movie out there you can find some who likes it.” Why not pick one you agree with and stick with him? “I hate critics, their job is to hate everything.”

Me, too, Jake – especially the ones that liked Fantastic Four. Cayleen said that this wasn’t her cup of tea, that usually she liked other kinds of movies (“like what?” “I dunno, something with John Cusack in it?”), but that she didn’t mind going to the occasional “guy flick” with Jake. I told Jake that he was a lucky man. “I know it, brother!”

Peter had read the story, too, and now in his early fifties, he liked to go to shows earlier in the day before the “kids” got out of school. Peter thought the movie was “pretty bad” but that he never left a movie before it was over. I asked him if he thought it was funny and he said “no, it wasn’t a comedy.” I like Peter a lot. Peter took the seven dollars.

Fifty-four year old Bob had, yep, read the story as a kid and was curious about the film. He asked me why it wasn’t reviewed locally and I told him that it had been screened late on a Wednesday night and that the deadlines for major dailies is generally Wednesday afternoon. “Why would they do that?” Well, Bob, they do that so that you can’t say that they didn’t screen it for the press but you still can’t write a review of it. Bob thought A Sound of Thunder was the worst film he’d seen all year (and he goes once a week) but didn’t leave because he’d bought popcorn and a soda and so was already into it for over twenty bucks. “Besides, it was nice to be in air conditioning.”

Couldn’t argue with him there. Bob took the seven bucks, too.


Alex Jackson said...

1. I have actually gone my entire life having never seen an Uwe Boll film. This wasn't at all hard, but I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't catch a whiff for myself and see what all the commotion is about. Then again, it might be a better use of my time to finish out the rest of Ingmar Bergman and Werner Herzog's oevre.

2. Allosaurus, isn't that like a small T-Rex? And what was the error in Ebert's Rules of Attraction review?

3. Seven dollars for a matinee? I hope it was a nice theater. I pay 4.50 to 5.00.

Anonymous said...

Boll is bad. I think you should watch the first 10 minutes or so of House of the Dead just to see what all the hoopla is about. But believe me, I heard what I thought was the hyperbole before I watched the thing on Starz, and I still wasn't prepared for how bad the thing was. It's awful.

Anonymous said...

The most telling line of Ebert's review: "There’s a fundamental difference between movies that are bad because they’re willfully stupid ('Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo') and movies that are bad because they want so much to be terrific that they explode under the strain." There's a lot of truth in that sentence, but it contains the potential for a dangerous trend: stupidity in cinema has become so common that it's easy just to just glaze over poor films that aren't outright moronic. Lately, when horror is concerned, I've become so accustomed to watching drivel like

Anonymous said...

(Sorry, internet cut off there.)

The most telling line of Ebert's review: "There’s a fundamental difference between movies that are bad because they’re willfully stupid ('Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo') and movies that are bad because they want so much to be terrific that they explode under the strain." There's a lot of truth in that sentence, but it contains the potential for a dangerous trend: stupidity in cinema has become so common that it's easy just to just glaze over poor films that aren't outright moronic. Lately, when horror is concerned, I've become so accustomed to watching drivel like Alone in the Dark and Boogeyman (and their hyperactive editing scheme) that I'm beginning to prefer feeling merely apathetic towards pale imitations of Halloween and The Shining (like Hide and Seek), instead of cheated and angered by what essentially adds up to a horror movie-music video. (Not Thriller.)

That "charitable" feeling is starting to wear off, however. The Skeleton Key -- essentially a calmly-shot, dark arts version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre -- was just intolerable. (Aside: is it just me, or is Ehren Kruger one of the most obvious screenwriters, in terms of keeping its characters motivated? Skeleton Key's daddy complex, Brothers Grimm's magic bean drama...)

As for A Sound of Thunder specifically: Not that you need me telling you, but this is what happens when you try to expand material best suited for a ten-minute short film into ninety minutes. With the source material for feature-lengthers getting shorter and shorter these days ("Inspired by..."), I predict that eventually you'll see a $100 million film version of The Shortest Science-Fiction Story Ever Written:

"The last man on Earth sat in his room. There was a lock on his door."

Don't ask me how, but I'm sure Uwe Boll would find a way. You ever play the original arcade game House of the Dead? It shouldn't surprise anyone that it's almost literally nothing but government agents blasting through zombies. Takes about fifteen minutes to play through; fun at fifty cents, for what it's worth.

And Alex, five dollars! You lucky bastard.

-- Ian

Anonymous said...

A couple of questions/comments in response to this blog entry:

-I agree that there is an almost disturbing rash of people who think it's rational to hate film criticism out there, but it only gets out of hand when there's some investment in what's unspooling on the silver screen. I don't think you'd argue that many people went to see Alone in the Dark, relatively speaking, but films like Fantastic Four, or Oscar bait like Million Dollar Baby, The Constant Gardener, and Ron Howard are a different story. In some ways I can understand the kneejerk emotional response -- raincloud on your sunny day and the like -- but when it takes the shape of an argument, I have to wonder about how monstrous people allow their sense of entitlement, or ego, or whatever you'd call it, to get. I think one of the most oft-repeated phrases that makes my blood boil is "I'm not asking for Shakespeare." Well no, buddy, but neither are critics, and you know this. It's a way of implying that the only reason crap gets poor reviews is because critics have impossible standards -- it's really because they're more responsible about what they recommend than your best friend. If anything, I think most critics have relaxed standards. But then, this almost always is only a problem when the project means something to someone. You won't hear many people defending Alone in the Dark because it was a victim of the film snob community's lofty expectations -- not so with Fantastic Four, which was "fun, for what it was" (which is basically a concession that the movie wasn't fun at all), or Dukes of Hazzard, or Super Troopers or, sadly, kids' movies. The biggest offender of critic proof films, beating out the middle-aged woman demographic and the horny teenage boy demographic by a narrow margin. Parents don't ask a lot out of the entertainment provided for their children, which is ironic, but plopping them into a cushioned seat is an excuse to shut them up and try to ignore them for several hours. Where was I? Oh, but crap movies without a demographic or fanbase are usually allowed to be skewered. People probably smirk at Gigli, even though Dukes of Hazzard "doesn't have to be Shakespeare" because it's made by and for a pack of fratboys.

-this probably belongs in an e-mail, but whatevs. Walter, you mentioned that there are maybe a dozen or so critics who you think take their job seriously or perform it adequately? Care to share a few names and maybe some information on what it is you admire about them?

Anyway, I enjoyed your post.

Walter_Chaw said...


1. You won’t believe it. I swear that Boll does not have the first quiver of a hint of a clue what he’s doing. Ed Vood, if you will, though I’m not sure about his intentions.
2. Yeah, small T-Rex. According to the flick, it’s also a very slow, possibly retarded, maybe blind (or vegetarian) T-Rex. Ebert’s original review, the one published and widely syndicated on the date of the flick’s release, asserted that the Van Der Beek character had sex with his gentleman admirer. Pretty bad mistake to make in a review that was – before its online rewrite – a lot more damning.
3. They’re all nice – just no personality.

Kruger, man, I’m surprised that guy’s still getting work. How many lead ducks does it take to kill buzz nowadays?

More than a short-story stretched too far (and you’re on to something there, though stuff like The Birds, Rear Window, A Face in the Crowd, Short Cuts, 2001, Re-Animator, Freaks, The Killers, Memento, Smooth Talk, Jesus’ Son were short stories that stretched pretty okay – I know you’re not speaking in absolutes, just clarifying the point), Ray Bradbury’s stuff is damnably hard to translate into another medium. Rod Serling had asked him to do a half-dozen adaptation for “Twilight Zone” but only ended up producing one (the one with the robot granny) because, and I’m paraphrasing, Bradbury was great to read but hell to say. I like Something Wicked This Way Comes pretty well and Fahrenheit 451 works because of Truffaut’s hang-ups, but the Rock Hudson The Martian Chronicles is criminal – as is the script that Bradbury did for that Peck/Huston Moby Dick.

I think that at root, Bradbury is a children’s writer – a lot more so than Roald Dahl, I mention apropos of nothing – and that after a certain age, his stuff just isn’t readable free of irony.

I like your thoughts about scapegoat-ism in regards to critically-sanctioned shitters like Gigli and Jersey Girl and, sho’ nuff the predominance of hatemail we ever get comes in defense of the unholy trinity of Ron Howard, George Lucas, and Michael Bay. For what it’s worth.

Critics I believe to be principled and more or less consistent? (After the gang at FFC, of course – ha ho! self-promotion.)

Jonathan Rosenbaum (still)
Andrew Sarris (sometimes)
Duncan Shepherd (all the time)
Armond White (even though)
Scott Tobias (yes)
Filmbrain (intimidating)
Ed Gonzalez (despite Ebert’s affection for him)
Glenn Erickson (authentic)
Daniel Kasman (clean writer)
John Powers (when he reviews things anymore)

and probably a couple that I’ll be sorry that I forgot to list when I wake up.

The Captain said...

I'd like you to attack me, here. I have two movie collections; one including my favourite films and those that I've enjoyed watching enough to warrant several viewings - Fight Club, Finding Nemo, Pulp Fiction, Punch-Drunk Love, Citizen Kane, Wonder Boys, Adaptation, the X-Men and Spider-Man series, The Conversation, Freddy Got Fingered the Alien Quadrilogy, Blue Velvet, just some.

I also have another collection dedicated to bad movies. Not just bad, per se, but excitingly bad, often unredeemingly offensive and very entertaining to watch. Most of them I've bought on ex-rental at my favourite video store or very cheaply second hand, in order to avoid giving my money to the studios responsible. Find in this collection the likes of Robot Monster, Troll 2, the Leprechaun series, a direct-to-video Disney or two, even Soul Plane and Alone in the Dark. Yes, I own them both. I find Soul Plane highly amusing because of how insanely, disgustingly offensive it is. It's a disaster and it's horrific (I'm still at a loss to explain how anyone ever could have thought up a scene in which it turns out the pilot learnt to fly with the Taliban, let alone thought it would be funny in any way but a "holy shit, did that actually happen?" fashion) - a completely competent, completely atrocious misfire of a film that has no understanding of why the stereotypes it portrays aren't so much funny as hateful and racist (and sexist, etc).

On the other hand, Alone in the Dark is completely incompetent and much too incompetent to be offensive; a true spectacle of illogical, incoherent ridiculousness. There were many a "What the hell just happened?" when we watched this; as you so amusingly described in your review, the final scenes boggle the mind: there is seemingly no way any rational human being could have written what happens across the film, then gone on to shoot it and edit it just as poorly. And yet it happens, without any explanation - it's almost satire; the overused line "a blueprint on how not to make a movie" is so fitting. I found it hilarious, so unbelievably random and incoherent that it was funny. I find both of these films amusing for the reasons described, and I don't believe I hate film. I don't smirk at Alone in the Dark, I laugh heartily at it, in the same way we all laughed at Manos the Hands of Fate when it received the MST3K treatment. Am I an idiot?

Walter_Chaw said...

I have, in my collection currently, John Frankenheimer's Prophecy and Arthur Penn's Target - both of 'em are horrible, and both of them are hilarious. I have a thing for movies by filmmakers I revere that happen to suck eggs.

I used to be a huge fan of MST3K, too - particularly the Manos episode.

But lately, I've started to wonder about exactly the kind of drive that pushes me to laugh at howling incompetence. There's no other reaction but to laugh at stuff like Alone in the Dark of course, and, being a fan of John Waters (currently double-tasking listening to the commentary he recorded for the special edition of Cry-Baby), I respect that kitsch appreciation can be a noble pastime. But I'm not always sure that I'm noble in the moment - just afterwards when I find justification for my prejudices and instant reactions.

Let me offer this: that I'm sure you're not an idiot for liking this stuff on a "holy fucking shit" level. Exactly the level that I find myself drawn repeatedly to the scene in Prophecy where a camper in a starfish-shaped and colored sleeping bag gets slammed into a tree by a guy in a partially-animatronic bear suit. But I'm not sure what you are (or what I am) for liking it - something different than what I'm talking about, I think. Being able to say that it's shit and you like it because it's a reverse blueprint is demonstrating a knowledge and respect for film even when film knowledge appears to have been jettisoned with the proverbial bathwater in these sterling examples.

There's a big gulf that separates junk appreciation from junk veneration. You mention your incredulity that the makers of Soul Plane never once considered how their shit could ever stink like it does - but that, more often than not, goes unmentioned in reviews for equally reprehensible (and far more purposeful) films like, say, Napoleon Dynamite.

The suggestion isn't that the only reaction to Alone in the Dark and A Sound of Thunder is a smirk - but that smirks, and mirth, and any other arch reaction is inappropriate. Like a Waters film, you either play ball or you get out of the ballpark - zero stars or four stars, shit or get off the pot. I watch a ton of my most-hated flicks on HBO when they get into rotation - there's a fascination in complete failure as it's as hard to be distinct in that way as it is the other - and so the source of my curiosity about the audience for this dino-disaster was if the people who went (and stayed) were there to punch holes in it, or were just there to suffer it. . . archly.

If rather than enjoy it as you might (as I sort of did - it certainly didn't make me mad), to do as Ebert seems to have done and decided to (that word again) smirk his way through it and then write a condescending, passionless, essentially careless review about one of the few genuinely distinctive pictures of 2005.

I hope I convey a sense of outrage in mine (set to publish on Wednesday) mixed with a sense of wonder instead of what I perceive in Mr. E's as a sense of paternalism and then the adult-to-kid brush-off. It's too easy to dismiss this kind of film - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes along only once or twice a year and, sure enough, so does stuff like Soul Plane.

Ignore at peril and, I'm afraid, most critics with any kind of pull. . . do.

Rachel said...

I feel I need to apologize to you, Walter. My father, who tends toward good taste yet has some weird affection for the military films of old, had been pressing me to see "Gunga Din" for well over two years. When I saw your review I felt I had to show it to him, if only for his (typical) comically flustered reaction. I did not forsee him writing you hate mail, figuring, "What person, having a life, does that?" In his defense I don't think he's seen it in quite awhile, and in any case, finding catharsis in "Alexander Nefsky" and "Victory at Sea" episodes, he has continued to oppose real, unecessary war.

I have been wondering if seeing "Gunga Din" is worthwhile for the education it'd give me, the same way watching old David Niven comedies has taught me how much the 60's really, really hated women.

en said...

I've been following the ffc website for a short while now and have read through the napoleon dynamite review and the top 10 worst films list which covers it and I'm struggling to understand the arguments against it.

Could you explain this stance on the film to me in more detail?

The Captain said...

Allow me - Napoleon Dynamite is unfunny, bland tripe disguised as a movie about a bunch of sympathetic weirdos who we're fooled into thinking we're liking when in actual fact we're despising them. Like a carnival freakshow, we're invited to watch all the different freaks and spit on them with the others in the film - hatefully and dismissively - before the tacked on ending with Napoleon's stupid "dance of popularity" sending us out to the carpark thinking we were rooting for Napoleon and his dud troop the entire time. Witless and without its own follow-through, its immense popularity can be traced to the youth group who has founded it as their own on the basis that they appreciate the weirdness, when in actual fact they mock and bully it in the same way that the bullies throw around Napoleon in the film.

It's also not funny.

Bill C said...

Yup, that about sums it up.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there is something about fare like Soul Plane that is, on at least some level, conscious of how terrible/offensive-without-being-overtly-funny it is. I would call it a misinterpretation of Mel Brooks' original, spectacular '68 version of The Producers, where "Springtime for Hitler" is greeted with the sight of a bug-eyed, slack-jawed audience. It's still funny today, partially because we have the knowledge that audiences from 1968 were essentially struck with the same feeling.

As someone who considers himself generally desensitized to being offended, feeling genuinely shocked (not necessarily appalled) at something completely outrageous is a great feeling, if only because I rarely feel it anymore. The closest conscious equivalent for me is the three-second gap in Team America: World Police, after the first outcry of "Everyone Has AIDS!" Of course, digging deeper into the song reveals a heavier meaning.

This is what fare like Soul Plane lacks. Parker, Stone and Brooks all had some hidden agenda with their offensiveness; not just to offend, but in a way separate the easily-offended from those who can look past the outward surface. Team America's "Everyone Has AIDS" is a stinging condemnation of Rent and its (perceived) expectation for accolades simply for using the topic of AIDS as a point of reference; The Producers is a criticism of the audience, for allowing ourselves to become so flustered by an obvious parody of Nazism -- even the "Springtime for Hitler" number is more ridiculous than anything. (It is of course ignored that the film was created by a Jewish man -- theoretically the most easily offended by such fare.) Soul Plane and its ilk is just racism for it's own sake, but I would say there's at least some attempt -- however misguided -- to acheive that same reaction that Mel Brooks got. The seed of thought is there, with the "reverse blueprint" as you mentioned it, though applied incorrectly.

-- Ian

Jonathan said...

Out of curiosity, since it concerns a personal favorite film of mine (and, sadly, I can certainly offer plenty of first-hand evidence to counter LaEbert's assertation that its take on modern campus life is unrealistic), what was the factual error in his Rules of Attraction review?

Alex Jackson said...

Jonathan this has already been answered! Ebert said that Paul and Sean had sex when in fact it was just a masturbation fantasy.

Quite a large factual error. Bigger then him writing that they killed La Tenia in Irreversible, but certainly not as large as mistaking an allosaurus for a brontosaurus.

Anonymous said...

The first movie I ever saw was a lousy one ("The Shaggy D.A."--as if you cared) so, perhaps my lifelong passion/addiction/subjective loathing for films helped to develop a symbiotic relationship with junk from an early age. As a fan of horror movies, I've spent inumerable hours absorbing an unhealthy amount of questionable art and, about an equal amount of time defending my taste for those films. Notions of good & bad are notoriously subjective--twenty years ago, I probably would have insisted the best movie ever made was "Star Wars", fifteen years ago--mired as I was in my "Tortured Young Man" phase--I probably would have picked "Blow Up" or "A Clockwork Orange" and, ten years ago--you'd find me bitterly claiming that "I Liked Pulp Fiction before it was COOL Dammit!" Nowadays, I'm still reeling from the realization that no, Mark Hamill cannot act, "Blow Up" is tailor-made for introductory film courses (Abject Pretension 101) and "Pulp Fiction", though still pretty swell--sags under the weight of its many imitators. This is why "Top Ten Lists" always seem to be a fruitless exercise--geez, Ten years ago I probably would have thought "Garden State" was a masterwork. Hitting the Zeitgeist G-Spot is a lot easier than actual transcendance I suppose.Anyways, shortly after I got my first DVD player--I began to amass a collection of weird titles that left some of my cineaste friends questioning my sanity. Sure, defending "Halloween", "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or "Suspiria" is no problem; things get a lot stickier when you're talking about folks like Lucio Fulci or Jess Franco. Personally, I think that there are stylistic flourishes throughout the works of both directors that put a lot of modern work to shame--(I still have weird nightmares involving that white-eyed girl from "The Beyond") But, at the same time, I find myself a little reluctant to call it a "Good" film. The problem is, that they don't make "Bad" films like they used to. Even truly wretched films like "Manos" or "Jail Bait" betray a undeniable streak of inventiveness and good cheer that is mostly absent from the wretched films of today. Horror and exploitation films achieved their greatest sucesses when they were marketed from town-to-town like gaudy freak shows--instead of the 8,788 screen explosion enjoyed by genuinely unwatchable films doomed to failure. This is also why the unassuming potboilers of the past like "Jaws" and "The Godfather" seem to enjoy such a long, well-regarded shelf life: Even the breezy junk of the past--is often infinitely better than the current movies winning awards and gigantic marketing pushes. I also don't believe this is just a by-product of my growing maturity--certainly, there was a lot of crap on the screens during the hallowed Seventies (Burt Reynolds owes much of his career to this fact)--but, this was also the time Pauline Kael was taking five pages (!) to discuss De Palma and Altman (In a National Magazine no less) and, if you didn't want to see the new Ali MacGraw movie--even smaller towns and cities often had a decent second run screen or, at least a sticky grindhouse showing some Jackie Chan. Even the much despised eighties spawned some of the most important work from David Lynch, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch and David Cronenberg in the midst of the Touchstone Assembly Line and the dubious rise of Oliver Stone. So, when Roger Ebert awards some measure of praise to irredeemable junk like "The Longest Yard" or "The Honeymooners" (I haven't seen the dinosaur flick yet) he is perhaps unconsciously admitting that being honest would be akin to cutting his own throat. This is only a problem because Ebert is the main beneficiary of the this cannibalization of movie criticism.Ebert is a thoughtful, well-educated man who discusses "Stars" and "Thumbs" with an objectivity that assumes thumbs and stars have any meaning in the first place. Ebert excuses himself usually by asserting that his critical objective is to assess only the intentionality of a particular film--rather than the film itself, allowing him to easily manipulate his point of view, without actually having to risk alienating Blockbuster and the studios. So then, his quandary over awarding a positive review to "The Longest Yard" is resolved by concluding that the film achieved its goal to be misogynistic, homophobic and deeply stupid and is therefore a good film. Of course, Ebert is not stupid so, the transitory nature of his point-of-view also allows him to trash movies that personally offend him "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or, that he doesn't understand ("Dogville")--all the while maintaining his well-honed populist screed that he's only looking out for you folks! So, we're left with a vicious cycle where Ebert can easily deflect criticism by claiming he views every film purely on its own terms. To me, this type of paternalistic omniscience seems particularly arrogant--read his glowing review of "The Cooler" where he directly implores his readers to watch for the (alleged) brilliance of a particular scene, and cringe at the patronizing assumption that people read movie reviews because they are seeking irrevocable truths rather than talking points or challenging perspectives. More distressing are some of Ebert's positive reviews. Consider his four-star rave of "Mulholland Drive" wherein he actually says that he doesn't feel like engaging with the text of the film (Because, as he claims, the film isn't meant to be discussed--natch) then goes on to offer his standard, lengthly plot summary/Funny Quip At End routine. Ebert is still the most important film critic in North America (notice I said important--not best) much like Spielberg is probably the most important director. Both of them have evolved their populist sensibilites into lucrative careers--and, both of them are powerful enough to challenge themselves in their respective fields--but, reluctant to do so. Why would Ebert get rid of his star system? After all, he's become a star himself.

Walter_Chaw said...

No need to apologize – hope I don’t have something to apologize for in the response if there was one.

You oughtta’ check out Gunga Din some time, for sure, it inspires the same kind of feeling in me as seeing Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby in blackface (Swing Time, Holiday Inn). I can see that there’s something about the performances that are at least, on the surface of them, laudatory – just as they can’t help the era into which they’re born, I can’t help the era into which I’m born. But with Gunga Din there’s a very conscious equation of the Indian porter with an elephant – but not as smart – an ugly bit of colonial paternal racism that (just like Man on Fire: haven’t come all that far, I guess) has the minority throw himself on a white nuclear grenade. . . or white fraternal grenade as the case may be. It hasn’t aged well at all like a lot of the canon (like Birth of a Nation, for instance), and though it may evoke a certain kind of ossified bonhomie, it also reeks of the sort of attitudes that made England the ogre for a long, odious, stretch.

For the record, I’m a big fan of “Victory At Sea”. Especially the soundtrack.

en & Captain:
Yeah, what he said – and in about 700 words less than I would’ve needed.

Have you seen the unrated cut of Team America? The sex scene shits on a few taboos. Literally.

I like the distinction that you draw – a lot like something a more vital Ebert once said about The Evil Dead II that it wasn’t a splatter movie, but a movie about splatter movies (or something to that effect).

Yeah, Rules of Attraction is a favorite of mine, too.

The Shaggy D.A. is one of my wife’s fondest childhood memories. Cannily, we’ve declined to revisit it for fear that it disappoint as many childhood faves inevitably do.

I’m with you on horror films – big fan of them. I like to think of them as the indicator species in that for as sensitive as film is as a rule to the toxicity of our culture, horror films are almost always the first. I’m fond, too, of your term “Zeitgeist G-Spot”. That fucker’s huge.

I think you put your finger on what ails me in 2005 in particular, this long shrug for films that do nothing to impassion on the one hand and nothing to enrage on the other. The “much-despised” 80s mainstream, though, are home to me the most fertile period in fantasy and science fiction in the United States since the Cold War. My affection for the period, despite the Yellow Peril running rampant, probably has a lot to do with my coming of age in the movies long about 1981 or so. The first movie I saw in the theaters was Star Wars, the first movies I saw in the theaters that really kicked me in the short pants were The Empire Strikes Back and Dragonslayer - child of the blockbuster.

And your points on Ebert? Only this to add: that this declaration that he can approach each film in isolation is the same vain assertion that he criticizes most vehemently in regards to the MPAA’s belief that its members can remain unmoved by the constant parade of “depravity” from which they seek to shield the delicate public. Subjectivity, of course, being the greased pig that you describe, Ebert’s right when he skewers the thought police on their hypocrisy, and hoisted on his own most-compelling petard when he plays out the tired old “on its own terms” song and dance.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Oooh... alot of ebert haters here. well, i must admit that i do find his attitude about hollywood films as "I see it for what it is" is abhorable, condescending and downright stupid and he gives **** to horrible post 90's psuedo-intellectual, "independent" trash like "crash" this year, but that's a different story.

But... I think ebert is still one of the best mainstream critics out there. film criticism is getting raped by entertainment writers (read janet maslin) these days and i think ebert is one of the few mainstream critics that not only have substantial knowledge of cinema but also have , dare i say, good taste. i mean, c'mon, dude's gotta put food on the table ! i don't know how long ebert would be able to keep his job if he started giving thumbs-down to every single studio-release. 90% of shit out there is garbage, you know it, i know it. and that is going to be the trend unless some radical event (say, nuking of NY) shakes the society to it's core. happened after WW2 and 'Nam. didn't it ? THe only rational ending to collective stupidity of masses is cultural stagnation and unavoidable self-destruction. So people like ebert are just survivors. i think he clearly understands good from bad. he just made a choice to make compromise with garbage to push the good ones through. people like rosenbaum didn't, and so he goes unpublished in any mainstream paper despite his iconic stature. all i know is, i find that when ebert review his 4 star movies, you can genuinely feel his love for cinema and his "great movies" section is actual true indicator of his taste. it was a great help to me, when i wanted to know more about cinema and i'm sure it'll help others in future. it is sometimes hard for people in the game to see things clearly. when i was outside the cinephile arena, all i knew was about this guy ebert who reviews movies on sunday night and his "great movies" section was like peering down the rabbit-hole for me. so you can deny his credibility as a critic but not his impact.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i also think that ebert, despite giving glowing to teeth-cringingly bad films like "crash" and "cooler" (thanks for reminding me of that one, ohh... did i hate it). he also does some good by pushing some reallly good small films through.he's been pushing david gordon green like crazy since the dude came out. right now his pet one seems to be "duma", it'll be something else tommorow. all i'm saying is, he does more good than harm.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Captain said...

His impact is part of the problem, though - because Ebert is so well known and so well versed, supposedly, in what he does, people trust him and look to him for their movie choices. So when he takes bad movies so lightly, trashing a terrible film and then giving it a light 2 stars, he's doing a terrible job as a critic, and yet being so influential, that's troubling. Consider his trashing of Revenge of the Sith followed by a rating of three and a half stars - he's making a mockery of what he does.

On the subject of that influence, sometimes I wonder if the mediocre Million Dollar Baby wouldn't have exploded to insane popularity had it not been for his glowing review, which seemingly set off a chain reaction to other critics all over.

My question is, Walter, why do you still read Ebert? Despite a deep dislike for him, I still give him a look over for the reason that he'll occasionally review something half-decent that's independent or otherwise unheard of, that there's no way I could have heard of otherwise, being outside of the USA. That, or his negative reviews occasionally make me chuckle, like his attack on Freddy Got Fingered. But make no mistake, I'd never read him for actual good film criticism - thankfully there's a place like FFC to set the record straight on what is and isn't worth a damn.

Anonymous said...

I’ve been reading Roger Ebert since the early eighties (and watching his show since the PBS Days)—so, I’d like to insist that I don’t hate Ebert; he is probably one of the most significant reasons that “Film Criticism” is even considered viable outside the tonier enclaves of “The New Yorker” and “Film Comment”. As an introverted (and, somewhat weird) kid—I remember looking forward to his PBS show (with Siskel) and his “Dog of the Week” segment (inevitably trashing some terrible horror movie). I must have been one of the only kids in Steeltown that saw “My Dinner With Andre” during its theatrical run---largely inspired by Ebert’s glowing review. However, even at a fairly young age—I became bored with the aggressively middlebrow tone of his print reviews and cringed at his purplish excesses (especially when indulging in his fondness for gorgeous starlets and small-town Americana) and tendency to rely on overlong plot summaries for the bulk of his reviews. More recently, I’ve become rather chagrined at how Ebert has let some of his consistently good qualities slide. Traditionally, Ebert was pretty good at attacking the racist and sexist qualities of many mainstream films (As someone who loves “Blue Velvet”—I’m not sure he’s completely wrong about that one). Nowadays, he often gives hateful, big-budget shit a pass (“The Alamo, “The Passion of the Christ”) while saving his invective for Rob Schneider, Tom Green and other Hollywood lightweights.

Anonymous said...

It seems like Ebert bashing is a pastime among film buffs. I, for one, "still" read Ebert because I find him intelligent and occasionally insightful, and because while his integrity may be compromised, I'd hope that such discerning filmgoers as yourself would have enough of your own to avoid seeing films like The Longest Yard just because he says it succeeds with its target audience. Which isn't to say I never disagree with the guy (I always disagree with his philosophy), but it's not like the man's opinion is as worthless as some of you seem to believe. Or at least I don't think so. But I wouldn't see or avoid a movie based solely on his say-so.

Walter_Chaw said...

Frankly, I doubt I'd be doing this job if it wasn't for Ebert. I started reading his movie yearbooks like novels back in the late '80s - making lists as I went. His "Great Movies" column is vital, populist film history, and many have suggested (not me among them) that he give up his weekly column in favor of just focusing on that kind of pop scholarship. Was a time, Ebert was the beginning and the end - and a damned fine writer, too.

Now, though, by compromising his principles and his voice, he seldom ever writes the definitive review of a film anymore and, more, he is indicative of a lot of really bad trends. Understand that it isn't a lot of film historians and scholars that are hiring film critics around the country to write for their entertainment sections - it's a lot of people who see Ebert's continuing popularity and influence and figure that these are the kinds of people who should be hired. Fluff, entertainment writers, heavy on plot regurgitation and cute turns of phrase. Quipsters. Most mainstream film reviews don't have an opinion anymore - I read an unusually cogent local slam of the Coens' Ladykillers that ended with a three-star rating. Now. . . where would they get the idea to do something like that?

The biggest mystery of the modern newspaper biz is that their targeted "Joe Lunchbox" demographic not only doesn't exist, but apparently also doesn't read. If only newspapers targeted people that read, a lot of our problems with discourse would fade away.

Big irony here is that Pauline Kael, Ebert's mentor, never in her career held a major daily position. Say what you will about her - and I more respect her legacy than like or agree with her - but Kael never compromised her voice so much as to be employable by the local beagle.

There's a question of soul here - not just making a living.

A chat I had with my wife the other day involved whether or not I'd take a job at an unnamed paper when it became available, if it meant that I had to write in silly puns, in monosyllables with middlebrow platitudes - and we decided that I might as well just hang it up and go into academia if it came down to that. Pay's better nowadays in any case.

But anyway, the long and short of it is that a lot of cinephiles' reaction to Ebert nowadays, mine included, is more than likely a result of being "stung" by the man that most of us looked up to for the longest time. If he was just a twit instead of a nice, smart, well-versed man who happens to wield a lot of power (not only Million Dollar Baby but Charlize Theron's turn in Monster, let's not forget, were deeply influenced by his hyperbole) - I doubt there'd be much talk about him at all. I don't hate Ebert, I feel betrayed by him.

He could change things - but he doesn't - the "fat one" is finally living up to that unkind appellation: in bed with Disney and his TV sponsors to provide 3-star reviews of stuff like Brother Bear or fatally equivocal reviews of garbage like Home on the Range. In trying to represent what he believes are all of his audience's tastes - he's turned very much the politician.

He turns a pretty phrase on occasion (and he might even care deeply now and again) but he can only really be trusted to aim for the middle of the road. . . for the readers who can't read, and the viewers who don't watch.

And that hurts all of us.

Anonymous said...

I think the point here is that Ebert's opinion is anything but "worthless". (see-Shalit, Gene). Certainly, if that were the case--I doubt if anyone would spill much ink on this topic. I read Ebert every week myself--with the realization that though there may be more enlightening criticism out there--and, aside from what I perceive to be his dwindling integrity--he obviously respects films and filmakers. Ebert's extensive influence over filmgoers is evident in the suggestion made by "Anonymous" that the purpose of film reviews is simply "Whether you should see something or not". Assuming that "discerning fimgoers" would automatically avoid an Adam Sandler movie--again, supports this "text-only" approach which Ebert favours. The point is not whether I should see the movie--the point is, what movie did the critic see? Ebert's success is symptomatic of a culture which treats most film reviews as inherently disposable consumer guides--making movie criticism the only critcal profession where its considered a liability to--y'now--criticize. (even sportswriters bash the home team) Taking a quick inventory of his "star ratings" last year--I see that Ebert gave "favourable" reviews to over 70% of the films he reviewed last year. When everything is good--what isn't?

Walter_Chaw said...


Film criticism is the beginning of conversation, not the end of it - and it most certainly isn't a consumer report.

Not that most folks post-Ebert would know it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

That's exactly the thing... i can see through the BS he dishes out, in the name of *** reviews, that he gives. "million dollar baby" was so fucking overhyped. hollywood was just goin' gaga over that one. i've seen it twice and i have no flucking clue about what makes it a masterpeice. to me, last year, the best film was "3-Iron" by kim ki-duk which i saw in Toronto IFF and best american film was "eternal sunshine..." and someone needs to be shot for not releasing it in oscar season. not that give a fuck about oscars, but it certainly deserved one over trite like MDB, Ray (IF I HAVE TO SEE ONE MORE OF ASSEMBLY LINE BIOPICS EVER IN MY LIFE AGAIN ...) Neverland (irritating at worst, banal at best). Oh... and I also didn't like Vera Drake.

Getting back to the point, Ebert does limit his pool to just hollywood trite (indie and studio)and he does recommend bad films, but, i realize he doesn't recommend it to me but to the more casual filmgoing audience. there I was walking out of the worst experience i had, had in a theatre after completion of Bad Boys 2 (ebert hated this one just as much as i did)and this guy walking behind me said "Dude ! that was the funniest and the best action movie i have ever seen". i could've stabbed him in the forehead but i didn't want to stain my shirt.

ebert recommends films like "the longest yard" to what the target studio audience is. how can you blame a critic when it's the audience that wants to lap it up that shit like leftover maple syrup on pancakes. i agree with him most of the time in films he hates and he loves. middle is what i disagree on.

Anonymous said...

Touche? But calm down. You're assuming that's all I think film critics are good for. Why would I give a damn if he was occassionally "insightful" if all I needed to know was whether he gave the film a thumbs up or a thumbs down? And, moreoever, why would I be reading a film blog? My response, while confrontational, was not so much universal as it was addressed to people who think Ebert can't recognize a good film from a bad one anymore. If your particular problem with Ebert is the trend that his approach has encouraged in popular film criticism then I can't really argue against it, because I agree; in fact I don't think I wrote anything to imply otherwise in my last post. I guess what I meant by that comment is that he's unreliable as someone with an interest in cinema but that the things he has to say in regards to it are still interesting. And yes, it does say "Anonymous" where a proper name should be next to my posts. Good on you for noticing. I don't know if you surrounded it with quotes because you were being smug or because you felt uncomfortable referring to someone as Anonymous, but preemptively, seeing as how I think I've been fairly civil, I'd appreciate it if you didn't throw my elected anonymity in my face. Or, if you want, I can change it to "John G."

Anonymous said...

Yikes. Only on the web, would the use of proper punctuation be interpreted as an act of spite--and I can't speak for everyone, including: "Hollow Stuffed Man"--but I'm very calmly, deliberately disagreeing with some of your points--nothing else. I think this blog is a great idea, and I love the debate--so, unless someone is being deliberately rude or inconsiderate--can we just assume that no one is out to get anyone?


Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Changing the topis... I rented herzog's "heart of glass" last night. tried to watch it but after half-an-hour i just had absolutely no fucking clue what the film was about. so i turned it off. i might try it out one more time before returning. i'm a big fan of herzog, more in spirit than in content. but i love "aguire", "fitzcaraldo" and
"stroszek". don't care much for the rest. one thing that always bites me about herzog is that his films never seem to have a flow, other than "aguire" maybe. cuts always seem abrupt and sometimes it even feels like going from one skit to another. that is i think one of the single biggest turn-off his films have for me. is it just me ?

Walter_Chaw said...

Hmm. . will chew on the Herzog question. First thoughts are that I find him to be remarkably fluid as a director but I may be buffaloed by the throughlines rather than the editing.

Heart of Glass is a tough one, in any case.

Go see Grizzly Man - one of the best movies of the year and almost a shoo-in for this year's best of.

Want to ditto, too, Dave's call for peace. I know online hostility and I didn't catch any. Of course, I know how easy it is to misinterpret e-communication so let me second the suggestion that we presume civility until we can't.

Off to intro/discuss Spirited Away.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I did see grizzly man, in april i think, at HotDocs film festival in toronto. spectacular film. i was reminded of herzog's quote in "burden of dreams" when he talks about true nature of jungle being cruelty and murder. what was fascinating for me was the fact that timothy treadwell has absolutely opposite beliefs from that of herzog, yet herzog still finds his eccentricities so fascinating.

i was watching oprah the other day (i love to cringe at stupid shit), and it was about this guy who calls himself a dog whisperer. this guy was trying to fix oprah's dog's bad behaviour. what was funny to me was that throughout the interview oprah kept on refering to herself as dog's "mommy" and kept calling it her "daughter". it reminded me of treadwell's character and also made me think of the toll that modern capitalistic society has taken on people. capitalism may lead to overall progress and growth but it does allow a feeling "everyman for himself" to seep into mass conciousness to the point that everyone lives in their own cages and the only creature they can express love to is an animal. bill macy's character in magnolia says one of my fav movie quotes " i got love to give, i just don't know where to put it"... put it in a dog 'coz it can't talk back. timothy treadwell, is just an extreme exaggeration of this phenomena. his love for bears has nothing to do with love for bears, but just a need to love. the vacancy he felt for years due to the fact that his life is a constant dissapointment to his fantasies, piled up over the years to a point where he was "willing to die while protecting the bears from poachers". his desire wasn't to die for the bears. his desire was to know that someone did need him, even if it was just an animal. he was like one of the friends that everyone has that is willing to lend you money any time or the girl that has sex with everybody or the friend who says "i love you" all the time. just a way of finding acceptance. in the ultimate irony of life, he was maulled by the same creature he was trying to protect. to me the film was not about timonthy treadwell's love for bears or herzog's heavy-handed narration about his nihlistic beliefs, it was just about a confused little boy who didn't know why other kids didn't like him. herzog is right when he says that all he sees in eyes of animal is "half-bored intrest in food", where timothy seems all kinds of things. the point is not how irrational timothy's passion is, but how far he is willing to carry his burden of dreams, and herzog knows that all that well.

and that is why i was interested when you wrote in your review "As the film gets underway, you feel something like admiration for Treadwell--by the time Grizzly Man ends, you hope the grizzly bear that ate him took its time." I thought about the reason for your hostility for this character. Is he irrational ? yes. is he annoying ? absolutely. but i sure as shit would rather have a beer or twelve with this guy then some asshole insurance salesman. under all his eccentricities and stupidities i see an individual with deep craving to be loved (which may as well be a cultural construction) and appreciated, and that is endearing to me.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

feel free to comment.

Rachel said...

Just a quick aside-

Walter, have you seen Bruce Tinsley's depiction of Hu Jintao? Ho-lee shit.

Anonymous said...

Interesting analysis. Makes a lot of sense.

Anonymous said...

This is in reference to hmsm's review of Grizzly Man, bee tee double ewe.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Tinsley's depiction of anything makes me sad -- have you ever seen his depiction of Jon Stewart? It was part of a week attacking America: The Book for featuring a parody of a Mallard Fillmore strip, which, he claimed, was misrepresented as a real one. Besides proving himself completely incapable of recognizing satire (the last line of the fake strip - "Oops! I forgot to tell a joke!"), his Stewart looks like an ersatz Tim Burton claymation figure.

I follow Mallard Fillmore occasionally if only to shake my head that such fare could pass as a readable comic strip (much less a political one), and I can say from experience that Tinsley has an annoying habit of caricaturizing his targets beyond the point of any recognition. Lord knows the man couldn't decide on one stretchy-weird depiction of John Kerry during the '04 election. I don't really know what to say about this did-someone-even-look-at-it-before-publishing-it image -- the only recognizable feature being the glasses -- but I'd say chalk this one up not so much to racism but to Tinsley being a piss-poor cartoonist.

And Walter: I just picked up the unrated Team America DVD a few weeks ago. The scene didn't shock me so much as it made me gag. Even out of all the things they did in the theatrical cut, I admit that one came out of left field for me.

-- Ian

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i'm not much into comic strips but everytime i see them at the back of the newspaper and think it would be a good time-pass, it isn't. most of them are retarded with nothing to say. although ever sincei saw "crumb", i've wanted to read his comics.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s. team america was retarded. funny at times but it was too dramatic and real to be a spoof. i wonder what they were actually trying to do. they certainly know what funny is, i mean saddam fucking satan, what could be funnier (a manage-a-trois with bush, maybe... oh no... wait a minuite, my bad, we already have satan in there). puppet-fucking was hillarious. MPAA actually wanted to cut some parts of that scene because they were obsene. IT IS TWO PLASTIC DOLLS PRETENDING TO FUCK EACH OTHER YOU RETARDED BIBLE THUMPING ASSHOLES ! I honestly can't believe those guys sometimes. They go out and give NC-17s to films that should be shown to teenagers for free to beware them of stupidity and then mind-bogglingly cynical, racist, evil and overall reprehensible shit like Bad Boys 2 slip through as entertainment.

Alex Jackson said...

That link didn't work. Maybe this one.

And actually, I thought that Bad Boys II was a considerably better satire of the "war on terror" than Team America. Or at least a more honest one, the only defense of Team America that I have heard was that it was against "extremism". But that doesn't get us anywhere does it?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

The only thing BB2 was satire of was itself. A bad mouth, ugly, obese baby called hollywood action film . Now that I think of it, it might work as a satire on "war on terror" given the fact that there is no moral center in there. even the good guy is a bad guy. who cares if we have to drive a hummer through the slum to get the bad guy, as long as we get him. The funny thing is, it is completely unintentional. So it really is more honest, then satirical. isn't it ?

Walter_Chaw said...

I think my antipathy for Treadwell is a carefully-calculated by-product of Herzog's technique in his picture of only allowing certain information in while manipulating all other information so that the only conclusion left to draw by the close of Grizzly Man is that this dude was a serious fruit and, more, dangerous to the things he projected upon the most. Personally, however he's been spun, I don't have a lot of time for guys who spend a lot of breath on paranoia and how his closeted homosexuality has made it hard for him to keep girlfriends. "Don't girls like a patsy?" he asks - and, no, nobody likes a patsy, Tim.

Grizzly Man demands to be analyzed. I've seen it three times now in the theater (once PR screen, twice reg screen) and it has rewards each time. Almost as interesting is the audience reaction which erodes steadily into derision, unerringly. The film itself? As you say, it seems all to be about the will to be loved and, more, the desire to be famous.

As universal as that urge might be, I didn't find it endearing in him so much as pathological. Given my druthers, I guess I'd have to concede I'd rather the anecdotes stemming from a drunken night with TT than a random insurance agent, too, but if those are my choices for an evening, I'd also seriously consider sticking my head in an oven.

Re: Team America - "left field" is the right term for it. Bill actually tipped me off to it a few weeks ago but I only got around to looking at it off my Netflix queue the last couple of days and. . . wow. Strikes me as a sort of bait and switch thing, you know, do this and the rest of it doesn't seem that bad. Still pretty much hate the movie for its lack of anything substantive to say, but the unrated sex scene (and the rated one, come to think of it) is the only thing that really pushed any sort of buttons with any imitation of wit.

Rachel - holy fucking shit. What a nitwit. How long before that image is adopted as a mascot for a new baseball franchise? (The Cincinnatti Zipper Heads?) Taking bets now.

Re: BB2 being an honest depiction of the U.S. in the time of terror? No argument there.

The Captain said...

I have nothing to add except that your Sound of Thunder review was great, and:

It's the kind of film that creationists and other retarded people will like

made me laugh, a lot. Looking forward to eventually catching this atrocity when it eventually gets down under.

Alex Jackson said...

Well yeah, intentional or not, when taken as a satire Bad Boys 2 has far far more venom than something like Team America: World Police which is neutralized to some extent with sheer goofiness and mealy mouthed moralizing. I'd place Bad Boys 2 up there with White in terms of sheer ruthelessness.

The film has a sort of moral core, drugs are evil and drug dealers are terrorists on the level of Al Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan. And in destroying them, the ends justify the means. The film is like a remake of The French Connection that doesn't know it's a remake of the French Connection.

The racism is interesting. Will Smith is black enough to lend him a certain machismo and outlaw quality, but he's white enough to not be a nigger. He has a certain of nobility, which is brought out by partnering him with the "blacker" (physically as well as in terms of speech) Martin Lawrence who gets all the Steppin Fetchit gags. And so blacks are simultaneously lived through vicariously (and in a sense even glorified) by the audience while they are marginalized as racial inferiours.

I don't know. I'd reccomend that people see it at least.

Anonymous said...

"Team America" offered little of the satiric frisson available in many episodes of South Park. The "Rent" parody was funny--but, ultimately toothless (not to mention dated) in the midst of the casual homophobia and juvenille, obvious celebrity bashing (Micheal Moore is FAT!, Alec Baldwin is PRETENTIOUS!) I can get for free by reading the sub-literate postings on the Imdb. boards. Puppets screwing aside, I don't think actual satire is available in mainstream Hollywood product. I'm often tempted to read some of my shameful pleasures ("'Charlie's Angels' cleverly deconstructs classic feminine models and...ah screw it, me like Cameron Diaz--ook")as satire--mostly to justify my occassional but undeniable taste for genuine junk. Whenever the "Satire" label (often "Rollicking" or "Biting" of course) is slapped on mainstream product--its usually because the filmmakers are too chickenshit to approach politcal material without first establishing a faux-maverick persona that lets them skate around serious topics without having to establish a real point of view. Much like the excerable "Natural Born Killers"--"Team America" is the film equivalent of that smart-ass in your Poly-Sci class who makes inflammatory statements--then gets peeved when you ask him to back them up. So, if anyone gets mad at Parker & Stone--it's SATIRE. If anyone says--"Hey, isn't that bum-fucking analogy a little childish?"--Dude, I'TS SATIRE. Dudes, when you've got Bush, Moore, Penn, Garafolo et. al in your sights and all you can come up with are blow job and puke jokes--that aint satire; that's just freaking lame.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

I always get this feeling when I see Herzog films that I wanna hang out with people in them. Kinski, Bruno S, Clemens Scheitz and now Treadwell. Maybe it's my fascination with bizarre obsessive personalities. I always seem to see more in them then most people do. People become obsessed with things when they are trying to fill up other vacancies and slowly they just snap. To me what's interesting is how treadwell was when he was 8 or... 15. Everyone to a certain degree wants to be famous, some make compromises for it and some don't. What is interesting about treadwell is that he is so obssessed with it that he is willing to die for it. Anyone who would go that far for a dream, no matter how superficial or even stupid, I'll gladly have a few beers with. His obsession is a by-product of his frustration for not having a method of self-expression. Some people get into drunken fights because of it and some get mauled by bears. I'm not endeared to him as much as I'm endeared to what makes the guy tick.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Oh... and we do like your head so kindly don't stick it in the oven.

Joef said...

I find myself agreeing with Hollow man. Treadwell seems like a guy I'd like to try and figure out - making a desperately lonely idiot look like a desperately lonely idiot seems a little bit of a waste of time for Herzog. But then again, I think it's my own superficial view of the film.

I am, after all, a native of the country that gave the world Gunga Din and the Carry On films.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

i do think treadwell is a desperately lonely idiot, but i disagree that herzog wasted his time on him. there are many more desperately lonely idiots then you would imagine, most of them are doing jobs they hate and are buying ferraris when they hit their stereotypical mid-life crisis. well.. atleast the rich ones are. what makes treadwell different is how far he is willing to go to not be a desperately lonely idiot.

Joef said...

Man, have you seen the vitriolic on IMDB? It is terrifying. People actually wanted Herzog to play the six-minute recording of Treadwell's final moments on this Earth. Scary isn't it? Then again, I wonder what merit there would be in having shared (if sharing is really the correct word) the tape with the audience?

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

It's Herzog's nature not to include the "highlight" of the film, if you may, in the film. He's always been what is around the big event instead of the event itself. the north american audience wanting to see the clip just elucidates their desensitization towards sensationalism caused by everything from gossip rags to reality T.V.