October 04, 2005

Notes from the Trenches

Busy day Monday with no less than three screenings, plus a courier visit that brought with it five screeners for next month’s Denver International Film Festival – more, the mailman delivered the latest batch of DVDs for me to put on my desk for consumption somewhere down the proverbial road including the first season of “Desperate Housewives.” I’m dreading it. It looks terrible. First two screenings (Separate Lies & Good Night, and Good Luck.) industry-only at Denver’s historic Mayan theater which didn’t stop some yay-hoo’s cell phone from going off during the afternoon show of Good Night, and Good Luck.. It’s not that mistakes aren’t made, it’s that the guy let the phone ring five or six times and then ring again to signify a message on the voicemail. I wonder if he thought that nobody would notice – I wonder if he hasn’t read the instruction booklet – and I wonder, too, if he’s just that big of an asshole. Maybe just deaf. I’ve gotta’ find a different job – this one’s been pretty bad for my blood pressure lately.

An idea that I’ve been kicking around with a colleague out here is one of a “looking at the critics” radio show or podcast that, every Monday or something, would look at the worst offenders among the week’s most pandering and/or worst-written film reviews as well as the best, most-balanced, perhaps definitive reviews of the films each week. The idea of definitive reviews for a film is an intoxicating one to me – not that there’s an end-all, but that there’s a review that touches on all of the salient points in a picture with enough agility to inspire discussion and a further unfolding of the text. (Like Pauline Kael’s take on Bonnie & Clyde for instance, or Roger Ebert’s on Pearl Harbor.) If I thought I was unpopular before. . .

The screening this evening of Domino was a public one at one of our nicer mall cinemas – but with an audience of only about thirty people, no bad behavior to report. The security, though, was a little out of hand – wanding, night vision, walking up and down the aisles – I was surprised not to get a pat down and a cavity search. All this for Domino - Tony Scott’s new motion sickness vehicle with a screenplay by Richard Kelly – the guy who wrote Donnie Darko for god’s sake. I don’t know the chronology of this project, but I expected a helluva lot more from the guy’s sophomore effort. To be fair, though, I couldn't see any moment of it well enough to even gauge the quality of the writing. It's a lot like Spun - with more guns.

Which brings up the question of fatigue. Writing fatigue, watching fatigue, fatigue fatigue - I wonder a lot if that last dip in the well isn't the last dip in the well. I heard an axiom somewhere sometime that a writer always reads more than he writes if he wants his writing to stay healthy and I try to live by that, but there are times that I'm acutely aware that I'm beginning to cannibalize myself. I think I've written something like, I dunno, a million words or so in the last several years - all on the subject of film - and there's an inevitable overlap. I find that I don't recognize things I've written even from a week ago on the rare occasion that someone quotes me back at me. The oddest sensation. I recall, too, an old friend and colleague of mine who told me that he knew it was time to get out of the game when he found himself sleeping through at least part of every single movie he saw now - reminds me of that old "Dick Van Dyke Show" episode where Dick gets in trouble with the law when his alibi is that he slept through a drive-in feature of The Guns of Navarone. Believe me, it's possible. And what's more alarming is the idea that I watch so much stuff that on the one hand I lose any kind of inspiration to write with any kind of heat on the mundane while perhaps giving too much attention to something just because it's novel.

What I do know is that I've been dreading going to the movies a lot lately and it has nothing to do with the movies.

Tuesday will find me at an industry screening of In Her Shoes followed by a speaking engagement at the Denver Public Library for the last of their road trip series: North by Northwest. The quintessential Hitchcock film if not necessarily his best (it’s a little long, let’s face it), find therein queer subtext, wrong man, trains, protean heroes, femme fatales, and Cary Grant. It’s got Eva Marie Saint as a sexpot in red and black (there’s a Lloyd Cole and the Commotions song called “Rattlesnakes” that says “She looks like Eva Marie Saint, in On the Waterfront" - I know just what they mean), and James Mason and Marty Landau as an oily pair of microfilm smugglers. With titles by Sal Bass, a score by Bernard Herrmann, and a script by Lehman – well, there you have it. Looking forward to it – it’ll be my last gig at the DPL until/if they ever get funding to do more stuff like it down the road. I’ve already been on this soap box.

Speaking of music, though, this is on my IPod this week:

"This Must Be the Place: Naive Melody" (live) - Talking Heads
"Pot Kettle Black" - Wilco
"Tangerine" - Led Zeppelin
"Sweet Thing" - Van Morrison
"Teenage Wristband" - Twilight Singers
"I'm Deranged" - David Bowie
"In Ohio" - Joseph Arthur
"Time of the Season" - The Zombies
"Cross Bones Style" - Cat Power
"Darkside" - Tanya Donelly
"A Fond Farewell" - Elliott Smith
"Hoist That Rag" - Tom Waits
"Ten Believers" - Latin Playboys
"Recoil" - Ani DiFranco
"Six Different Ways" - The Cure
"Labour of Love" - Frente
"Love is the Shit" - Spearhead
"Pale Blue Eyes" - Velvet Underground
"All Is Full of Love" - Bjork
"Lonely Lights" - Tarnation
"Happiness is a Warm Gun" - Beatles
"Stolen Car" - Beth Orton

And, while we're at it, on my bedside table for a second go-round is Michael Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Separate Lies is what you’d expect from a Tom Wilkinson/Emily Watson flick: superb performances, stuffy flick - Asylum II: Gothic Boogaloo. I’m almost as tired of high-falutin’ scheissen like this as I am of low-falutin’ scheissen like Domino - but something like Good Night, and Good Luck. presents something of a different problem. It’s good, I guess, but it’s astonishingly lightweight – there’s almost no substance to it which is something of a shocker. You get what Clooney and co. are going after here: this attack on civil liberties and so on, but without any sort of context for its specific story, all it seems to be is an allegory that holds no particular rewards for its deciphering. It casts something of a pall on my optimism for other stuffy fall biopics like Capote and Walk the Line. After seeing the trailer for Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe for like the umpteenth time this weekend, too, I’m starting to hate it sight unseen.

Oh – and was sort of roundabout offered an interview with Dakota Fanning which I think I’m going to pretend that I didn’t see.

Here’s this Trench’s mystery pic. Easier than last time but not yet simple. The tally, remember:

Earnest – I
Captain – I

Good luck.


Elizabethtown is a spectacular failure. Really, this ain't no run-of-the-mill bad, you've really gotta have been trying to do something to flame out like this.

New Reviews: Serenity, Oliver Twist & Kings and Queen, Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, In Her Shoes


Paulo said...

Paulo loves you.


Nate said...

Yeah, I'm just not getting what anyone sees in that Narnia trailer. It's such an obvious (and cheap) fingers-crossed cash-in on Harry Potter/LOTR mania. I'll be astonished if it's simply bad.

Nice playlist, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I believe "Rattlesnakes" is actually by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions.

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah, shit - you're right. Why do I have Stranglers on the brain at all? Appreciate the correction.

Asokan said...

Uhm, the pic at the end is from Steven Soderbergh's surprisingly boring KAFKA (1991), though I guess I should revisit it to make sure that it still is boring after 10 years or so. Did I win anything?

I avoided watching DESPERATE HOUSWIVES, cause I never got the appeal of SEX IN THE CITY, so how should I be any more interested in the plight of aggressively sexual women who happen to be (or were) married?

Chad Evan said...

Can't even pretend to know what you're going through with your cinematic crisis, as I have neither the time nor the inclination to attend every movie that comes along the pike as you proffesional critics are obliged to, but as a former aspiring (and, I'm told and like to believe, promising) whose well has run dry, I can certainly sympathize with those fears. As little as it may mean coming from some guy posting on a blog, take it from me: you are the real deal, with an instantly recognizable prose style (although you may not recognize your stuff when it's thrown at you, know that I and others I know have some of your turns of phrase by heart)and mental agility that puts most mainstream critics to shame. If you do need a break from film criticism, I for one would love to read some of your literary criticism: don't know if Bill would pay for it, but I'd sure love to read what you think of the latest Cormac McCarthy, for example.

Anyway, for a relief from DVDs of crappy TV shows, may I recommend season two of the lamentably canceled Adult Swim show Home Movies--the first season is hit or miss, but the second is just dazzling in its inventiveness--funny, sad and visually innovative. I watched a disc after work last night, and I've still got a smile on my face thinking about it now.

Rachel said...

I gotta second the Home Movies recommendation- just terrific, terrific stuff. Speaking of Kafka! That ep with the Metamorphosis musical is classic.

Walter_Chaw said...

Congrats Asokan! You don't win anything yet, but you may if you keep tagging the mystery pics. Scroll down a little to the entry titled "Half-assed Contest" for the specifics. You're now in a three-way tie:

Earnest - I
The Captain - I
Asokan - I

And, yeah, it really wasn't very good a film was it? Pretty arresting image there, though, if I do say so.

Thanks for the attaboy, Chad - I do appreciate it. You'd be surprised (or not) how canted is the ratio of hatemail to "I like you" mail. Debilitating sometimes. Big, big fan of Cormac McCarthy's - aside from the stray James Ellroy here and again, the author of some of the few real works of genius in the last decade or so. No Country for Old Men isn't quite up to The Crossing snuff, but it's not a bad idea to maybe get back into the literary criticism. Might be a nice palette cleanser.

Always been a fan of squiggle vision. Did you ever catch "Dr. Katz"? The father of "Home Movies". Why'd they cancel it? (Why do they ever?). Did you ever see "Science Court", either? All the same creators, though I know that "Science Court" took a hit when Poundstone got convicted of child abuse a couple of years ago. Tough to sell a saturday morning educational kids' show when that happens.

sabine said...

Walter: With all the ever-same work you're doing I'd be surprised if you didn't feel empty and wrung out. Monotony dulls anybody's brain. And, as any artist could tell you, being exposed to too much trash influences you in a bad way. I don't think it clouds your judgement but on a deeper level somehow gets your psyche off-kilter because it leaves you aesthetically and emotionally drained.

As to not recognizing your own quotes: that doesn't seem a problem to me. Happens to me all the time. But when you reread your texts, do you still like what you've written? Are you still interested in your own opinion? And if not, would the fact that others are interested in it be enough motivation for you to carry on?

These are questions I have to ask myself from time to time - in fact, right now - in order to sort out if it's just a bad mood or more drastic changes are required. Not always easy to answer, so I sympathize.

Good luck.

Chad Evan said...

Yeah, the Kafka episode is dead brilliant--probably my favorite from season one, and an obvious precursor to the adventures of Starboy and the Captain of Outer Space in season two. The musical stuff in Home Movies just puts everything the Simpsons have done in the past, oh, five years to shame. If an innovative cartoon had to be put down, I wish that venerable old mare had been sent to the glue factory instead.

Had lots of recommendations for Dr. Katz, but have yet to see a single episode. Is it available on DVD? Never heard of Science Court.

As to the great Mr. McCarthy, I concede that No Country For Old Men, while incredibly gripping and occasionally brilliant, wasn't quite up to snuff. As brilliant as Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy are, I, being a Southerner and Faulknerite, find myself drawn more to his earlier, Tennessee set work. Ever read Suttreee? It's supposed to be the magnum opus of his Southern period, and it is incredibly rich and rewarding, but for my money I'll take the short, beautifully written and utterly shocking Child of God--if you haven't read it, go get it immediately. You could polish it off in an afternoon, and it's guaranteed to blow your mind.

Anonymous said...

You were thinking Stranglers because Tori Amos covered "Rattlesnakes" on the disc titled "Strange Little Girl" based on the Stranglers though... you don't strike me as someone who listens to Tori Amos...

... If it helps at all you are STILL the only movie reviewer I know that often quotes poetry in his reviews...


Anonymous said...

If it means anything, I would listen to you, Bill, or Travis on a "podcast" of some sort. The idea sounds interesting, but you're not afraid of any sort of response from the Hollywood mucketymucks if you criticize their bread and butter on iTunes?

Anonymous said...


Only 22 songs on your iPod the whole week? How does that work out? Then again, it seems like you have a lot on your plate right now.

shrug said...

Ah.. "Hoist That Rag". For some reason the only song on that album I could really get into. I should give the whole thing a spin again and see if things haven't changed for me. Walter I've been following you since epinions and you (and to an extent the other contributors to this site) happen to have become the only critic I really consistantly trust. Even when I disagree with what you have to say I can follow the why of your saying it and it has helped to illuminate the why of my own viewing inclinations.

I love the blog. I doubt I'd have ever gotten into Herzog if it weren't for your series on his stuff, and now the blog keeps leading me to knew things. First Lethem's "The Dissapointment Artist", then Yeats, now maybe McCarthy. I doubt I'll ever have much to add to the discussion, but here's my voice of encouragement to the Whole Damn Site, Walter and Bill and everyone who makes real contributions to the conversation.

Walter_Chaw said...

Good questions - I don't always like what I've written, but to this point at least, I seldom disagree with myself. I imagine the moment I begin to quarrel with myself in earnest is the moment to hang 'em up for good. I have to say that, very frankly, I'm well and truly sick of my own shit - but it is the belief that people still want to hear it that keeps me spewing it.

I have to say that I don't understand how someone does this job for twenty-plus years.

Dr. Katz, I fear, is in "rights" hell - the premise is that Dr. Katz counsels two or three comedians per episode in between dealing with his surly receptionist and live-at-home son. From what I understand, getting all these folks to sign over rights has been something of a nightmare. You can get bootlegs of the entire run on eBay - it's where I got mine - but they're of varying quality. Many were literally ported off VHS tapes, it looks like. There are a few out of print official VHS tapes floating around out there as well - but they're becoming price prohibitive. The voice of Ben is the same as the voice of the coach on "Home Movies", by the way - same animating and writing crew for the most part did post series.

"Science Court" may have only been around for a dozen episodes - it had scientific facts (like boiling point, rate of fall, etc) tried in "court". Too bad it's not so ridiculous a premise for a kiddie show anymore. Again, though, same creative team as "Home Movies."

Agreed, by the way, that it might be time to put "Simpsons" out to stud. They've earned it, but they're no racers anymore.

I think I've read all of McCarthy except for his plays - Suttree, I liked quite a lot - it's the one with the pig slaughter, right? Child of God is a nasty little read, isn't it? Don't want to spoil it for anyone, but spoilage became an issue for me. The prose, however, is like a shot right between the eyeballs. My favorites remain The Crossing and Blood Meridian (thought Cities on the Plain save the death scene, missed the flavor completely) - but, as you intimate, Chad, for a while there no one was writing Faulkner like McCarthy was writing Faulkner. That opening passage in The Crossing - of the herd of deer passing in the snow - I don't know that there's a day that goes by that I don't think about it.

Actually - sorta like Tori Amos. That cover CD was interesting, I thought - especially the Eminem cover. Creepy as hell. She did sort of an in-studio thing once with Leonard Cohen - it was "Silent All These Years", I think, but as a semi-accompanied introduction to it, Cohen read this poem:

I heard of a man
Who speaks words so beautifully
That women give themselves to him
When he speaks their name

If I am dumb beside you
As silence blossoms like tumors on our lips
It is because I heard A Man
Climb the steps outside our chamber door.

Or something like that.

No, I don't believe that Bill and I are afraid of what the studios will think of us tearing down critics. I'm more afraid of what looks I'll get in the critic commisary.

I've got a few thousand songs obsessively squirreled away on the ol' Ipod - these are just the 22 of the week. I find comfort in obsessive repetition: the OCD in me.

If you like "Hoist that Rag" - pick up the two albums by the Latin Playboys. You'd swear that Waits cribbed.

Thanks for the kind words - seems like an odd thing, but it's the kind of currency that spends when the sun doesn't rise.

In Her Shoes, by the way, is surprisingly good.

Anonymous said...

Walter ~ I sort of like Tori Amos too (understatement as I have met the woman twice). Her covering some of my all time favourites is part of why, I think. I always respect people with taste.

May have to check out In Her Shoes , but isn't it based on some Chick Lit novel?

Still trying to find time to go see Corpse Bride ...


Seattle Jeff said...


On Desperate Houswives, the wife and I enjoyed it as a satire for the first couple of episodes. Then it started taking itself seriously and strained credibility.

btw, whenever your job gets to you, maybe youshould temp in an offiece for a day. It may help get things back in perspective for you! LOL

Chad Evan said...

I'm grinning like a kid who found dad's stack of Playboys under the bed, as I just picked up the newly released first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Any of y'all planning to review it?

Gotta go, can squeeze in a few episodes before work.

B. Earnest said...

"I enjoyed it as a satire for the first couple of episodes. Then it started taking itself seriously and strained credibility."

That's sort of how I feel about Tori Amos.

Walter, you've got the chops to branch out into social criticism, a la Sarah Vowell. She was a music critic first, I believe. Dip your toes into art, politics, literature, music, even personal narrative. Get a Salon column, diversify the people you piss off.

Sean Fitzpatrick said...


I've read just about everything you've written on FilmFreak for the past 2 years or so and am overdue in telling you just how much you've added to my enjoyment and understaning of movies and film criticism in that time. Thanks to you I've seen many films I probably wouldn't even have heard of otherwise, avoided others (that honestly I probably wouldn't have watched anyway, but I do so enjoy your low-star cinematic eviserations), and gained a deeper appreciation of established favorites. Not that I always agree with you, but, in marked contrast to other critics, you challenge me to rethink and clarify my positions. In short: Thank you and keep up the good work.

I LOVE the idea of a podcast reviewing the reviewers! Please make that happen.

As for your well documented ongoing personal crisis/meltdown, I sympathize. I can't imagine being obligated to critically view Must Love Dogs and every other piece of cinematic dreck that comes down the pike. Still, I feel the nature of things practically dictates that the vast majority of all art, be it music, painting, literature, what have you, is simply just going to be shit. All the more so with an art form that by necissity intersects so squarely with commerce. It also almost goes without saying that popular audiences will eat this shit and ask for seconds (while talking, answering cell phones, and generally being coarse, dimwitted, and rude). It has always been this way and likely always well. Which doesn't necessarily mean we should just accept it while trying to enjoy the good amid the bad, rather than impotently fight a losing battle, but then again, maybe it does. At any rate, as a more-than-casual viewer, I am grateful to have a resource like FilmFreak that make cherry-picking the true gems relatively easy.

Since music has come up several times in this comment section, if you haven't heard the Arcade Fire yet, you must. I've seen them live several times in the past 6 months and if they aren't the best band in the world right now, I don't know who is. Seeing them live is simply jaw dropping. Also, Neutral Milk Hotel's Aeroplane Over the Sea was just re-released and is essential listening for everyone everywhere. (Sorry if these are extremely obvious recommendations, but there you go).

Thanks again,


P.S. Great addition to the team with Alex Jackson, I've enjoyed his personal site for some time as well. He seems to have a little trouble expressing his thoughts concisely, but what interesting ideas!

P.P.S. Have you seen Wild Blue Yonder yet? I'm going Friday and dizzy with anticipation.

Anonymous said...

b. earnest ~ I wholeheartedly agree that Walter could write GREAT things in art, politics, music, and basically anything he wants to.... I for one would read.


Seattle Jeff said...

On the music topic,

If a band spells their name repeatedly throughout a song, doesn't that preclude you from liking it.

I descovered a NY band that appealed to the glossy, inane side of me called Morningwood. (They're about to put out their first disc).

I thought their song "Nth Degree" very catchy. But then I heard "M-O-R, M-O-R-N-I-N-G...W-O-O-D".

Now, I feel strongly that I should hate them. Especially since I feel that they fooled me. They sounded good, but then, underheath it all, they sucked.

Seattle Jeff said...

I can't spel.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't exactly preclude you from liking them, but it might make you re-examine what you liked about them in the first place. The thing that chaps my ass about a special kind of musical elitist is that a lot of the garage rock they espouse is just as hollow, if not moreso, than "mainstream" fare. Seriously. If you're not one these folks, try spending a day, trapped, in a room with them, while they sit and talk about music. It's enough to not only make you hate music but engender an urge to gouge your own eyes out with pencils.

sabine said...

Walter: When you started out, did you expect to be doing this job for 20-plus years?

Jefferson said...

I'd read a Walter-penned political column. But I sense your leanings, and I'm not sure Bush has the strength any longer to withstand a good Chawdown. (He's weakening himself without any help on an almost daily basis.) Plus, I'd miss the movie criticism. As you've argued yourself, film commentary is a field that smart people are abandoning. We sorely need an honest critic who's as in love with language as he or she is with movies.

Jefferson said...

I'd read a Walter-penned political column. But I sense your leanings, and I'm not sure Bush has the strength any longer to withstand a good Chawdown. (He's weakening himself without any help on an almost daily basis.) Plus, I'd miss the movie criticism. As you've argued yourself, film commentary is a field that smart people are abandoning. We sorely need an honest critic who's as in love with language as he or she is with movies.

Jefferson said...

Doubled up, gorammit.

Walter_Chaw said...

What's Amos like in person? I mean, is she for real? I liked her best when she was singing about her miscarriage - that's some brave shit right there, and under-represented as hell in the popular conversation.

That might not work - I actually love clerical work.

Y'know - in writing about film I feel like I do write about politics, and music, and literature - and I do it about a medium that people are actually interested in reading and talking about. It's a shame that the reason that they're interested has something to do, probably, with the fact that film is so democratic a medium - but hell, it gets the word out there a little bit and I'm just needy enough to want an audience. Best explanation yet.

I love, I love, Sarah Vowell, by the way. Love her. Lukewarm on David Sedaris (though Amy is the shizzle) and dislike Barry and in trying to re-read that Eggars memoir, I wanted to light it on fire - but Vowell is the true fana.

Big fan of Neutral Milk Hotel and have put in a search on my peer-to-peer for Arcade Fire, thanks for the tip, always in search of new tunes. Whadda you think of Bright Eyes? Seems to be up your alley.

Haven't seen Wild Blue Yonder - don't even know what it is though something's tickling at the back of my head.

"Expected" is too strong a word. "Hoped" is closer to the mark. Ah, (relative) youth.

Nate said...

The Arcade Fire is incredible. Saw them live this year - one of the top two or three live experiences I've ever had.

Sean Fitzpatrick said...

Wild Blue Yonder is a new, apparently science fiction/fantasy/documentary film from Werner Herzog with Brad Dourif. It's playing at the Alamo Drafthouse's Fantastic Fest down here in Austin, Texas. Hard to imagine it won't be interesting at the very least. Went to Quentin Tarentino's festival here a few weeks ago as well, and while it was a treat to see him enthusiastically introuduce various old genre films (e.g. Sexploitation Night, Italian Crime Films of the 70s Night) that so obviously continue to inspire him, I found most hard to enjoy on anything other than an ironic level (which I don't enjoy doing as much as I used to).

I liked Bright Eyes quit a bit a few years back, and they have songs that are undeniably literate and powerful, but there is something about beautiful young frontman Conor's arch humourlessness that I find offputting, especially live. Crack a smile now and then for Pete's sake.

More on the music tip: My other favorite band of the past year is the Fiery Furnaces, especially the albums Blueberry Boat and EP (they also have a new record coming out later this month). Quirky and challanging love it or hate it music that I happen to love. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's first album is also superb, sounding a bit like Talking Heads crossed with Neurtral Milk Hotel (and how can you beat that?).

Nate said...

My other favorite band of the past year is the Fiery Furnaces, especially the albums Blueberry Boat and EP...Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's first album is also superb

Blueberry Boat is a truly amazing record. I never tire of listening to it. I agree about CYHSY as well.

Seattle Jeff said...

I just recently discovered The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Beatles.

God, I'm only 40 years behind.

Anonymous said...

Walter ~ Tori seems very genuine in person. She is tiny and has an unnerving habit of looking right into your eyes when you are talking. I liked her best during her bravest time too. Seems like she is lately watering down her bravery to get to the masses, but it isn't working. I like my bravery full strength and in my face. Plus the MUSICALITY of that pain was so strong. I am not one for "lite" music.

I like that you mix politics and literature into your movie reviews. I think it is perfectly reasonable to want an AUDIENCE for your writing as well. I am of the opinion, however, that you could gain an audience writing about whatever you want to write about. I honestly think you have the chops and the ability.

Anonymous said...

oops that last anonymous was me


James Allen said...

I'm late into this thread, but I was glad to see that "Home Movies" got a mention. Sharp and funny as all hell, especially the accerbic gym teacher. The episode where he overworked his chest to the point that he had boobs had me on the floor.

I liked "Dr. Katz" to a certain extent. Jonathan Katz himself is a very dryly funny stand-up (his HBO special from years back is great), and it transfers effectively to the show. The only weakness to me was that some shows seem to blow away in the breeze from their thinness; on the other hand, some are classics (my favorite is the one with David Mamet, of all people.)

And finally, "The Simpsons." I think most long time fans agree it's time for a mercy kill. The show has basically thrown all structure and character out the window in favor of non-stop and rather desperate premises and gags with pointless guest star cameos thrown in for flavoring. I think the writers pretty much know the show has said all it has to say and they are just throwing things against the wall, looking for anything that might stick. That it can still be good for a few chuckles just show how much people still like the characters, regardless of how much they've been altered from what they once were. (Go watch season 4 or 5 to see what I mean.)

As far as other short lived animated shows, I liked "The Critic" (particularly season 2). The best character, of course, is Duke Phillips (the riff on Ted Turner.) "All hail Duke! Duke is life!"

Seattle Jeff said...

On the animation topic, I'd guess there are a few fans out there of "The Tick"...

Anonymous said...

seattle jeff - I loved The Tick... and Dr Katz too...


Seattle Jeff said...


Rachel said...

God, I'm an animation dork....I can't stop thinking about how much I need the 2005 Animation Show on DVD. "Fallen Art", Tomek Baginski, man. He's the future of everything.

Sean Fitzpatrick said...

Nate, you have good taste. More great music: The New Pornographers, all three albums are terrific. Member/solo "alt-country" artist Neko Case will also knock your socks off live.

For the record, I too love Home Movies and think the Simpsons went to seed some years ago. Aqua Teen is pretty brilliant.

There was an amazing scene early in Blood Meridian describing an Indian attack that I've never been able to get out of my head, something about mounted clowns, death hilarious. Great stuff.

Bill C said...

Wow, somebody else has seen Fallen Art! Best thing I covered from the Worldwide Short Film Festival; might even do the unorthodox thing and put it on my top 10 of the year.

James Allen said...

I forgot about "The Tick." That's definitely one that can grow on you (or would that be "infest you"?)

Chad Evan said...

"...and all the horsemens' faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools."

Sean Fitzpatrick said...

Yes! And then the next paragraph is just something like: Oh my God he said. It works brilliantly. Thanks, I need to dig up that book...

dom said...

"Looking at the critics" is a great idea. Though, with so much pandering out there, it may be too big a job.

Always enjoy spending time at FFC. Your opinions, though not always sympatico with mine, are always a delight to read.


Anonymous said...

I don't get "Aqua Teen." Like, am I missing something? It just seems to traffic in surrealism. Then again, some part of me likes it better than crap like "12 Oz. Mouse," but I can't figure out what or why.

Seattle Jeff said...

I'm bummed to hear Crowe possibly bombed with ELizabethtown.

He must have shot his wad with "Almost Famous".

His wife must be turning his brain to mush by playing him too many "Heart" tunes.

errrr "Lovemonger" tunes.

Nate said...

The New Pornographers, all three albums are terrific. Member/solo "alt-country" artist Neko Case will also knock your socks off live.

I love the New Pornographers; just saw them live last week, actually. My socks were knocked clean off. I'm also a huge fan of A.C. Newman's solo stuff.

Alex Jackson said...

I'm a great admirer of Almost Famous, although I think that it would have worked better if the Patrick Fugit character was a budding homosexual and the rock star was bisexual and they slept together, and he had to compete with Penny Lane for his affections. I mean that would streamline the conflict more.

Anyway, I also liked Jerry Maguire. I think that I can perfectly concieve though just how Cameron Crowe can lay a giant egg. I can't wait to see it.

Nate said...

although I think that it would have worked better if the Patrick Fugit character was a budding homosexual and the rock star was bisexual and they slept together

Good point. Has Cameron Crowe ever had a gay aspect to any of his films, ever?

Bill C said...

Well, a character coming out was used as the punchline to the plane crash in Almost Famous...

God, I hate Elizabethtown.

Nate said...

Right, I knew there was a gay joke in there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

You and me both, Bill. As asinine as they get, that film. Never trust a film that starts off with voice-over narration talking about the difference between a failure and a fiasco. And if someone can tell me the reason for Drew to concoct his idiotic "suicycle" other than to either (a) obnoxiously prove how smart he is or (b) on screenwriting terms, make an audience laugh, I'll give you a cookie.

-- Ian

Anonymous said...

Oh, and you've just got to love the "we're all just substitute people" line. Perfectly philosophical nonsense for people who like to think they know what they're talking about.

-- Ian

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Fuck ! I wanted to like Elizabethtown because of Cameron Crowe despite my indifference to Orlando Bloom and 24 carat hatred for Kirsten Dunst. I LOVE Almost Famous. I sort of disagree with Alex on the whole homosexual-bisexual angle. That would've triviallized something much more uncomfortable, closeted homoerotic curiosity of a wimpy heterosexual teenage virgin. I like these complexities where he's just a fanboy trying to get attention of a hero who turns out to be a mere mortal. Maybe there is some sexual element in there but it persists better closeted then any other way, imo. What would make a rockstar fuck patric fugit ? it would've become one of those hot button issues and lost all it's innocent charm. It's like one of those Douglas Sirk films, more is said by not saying things explicitly. A mere suggestion of it works better.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alex Jackson said...

Of course, the great thing about homosexuality as it applies to teenage movies in particular is that it explicitly ties the formation of sexuality in with the formation of identity. Films about straight characters have more difficulty connecting the two.

Mostly, I was thinking in screenplay terms.

I think that it's more potent when fanboy adulation translates into sex and romantic infactuation. The conflict of the movie is supposed to be that he is unable to remain an objective journalist because he's "making friends" with the musicians. By having him fall in love with Penny Lane and having Russell use and dispose of her, he never really emerges himself in their world; there is always some modicum of distance. If Penny Lane stayed in the film, she should have been the rival.

Of course, Crowe wouldn't have been able to work in his "The Apartment" homage, but the "Apartment" homage never really gelled anyway; given that the Jack Lemmon character had his hands tied because the cad was his boss; not because he liked him.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Cameron Crowe for Say Anything and Almost Famous... I will probably see Elizabethtown anyways and hate it... sometimes I need to have a movie to really hate.


Walter_Chaw said...

So tell me – are Fiery Furnaces somehow related to Ruby? This is a good thing, mind, and a very positive comparison for me. Thanks for the recommend.

Planning on sliding into Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens this weekend – good pal Adam Nayman also recommended The Decemberists and, in so doing, I was reminded that he’s another of those critics that I read and trust to be even-handed about the flicks that he sees. He’s a big fan of the Dardenne brothers which, to me, says all there needs to be said about his good taste.

Sean F:
That’s right – I keep getting Wild Blue Yonder confused with this “straight” aviation documentary that a friend of mine told me about at a wedding in July. Herzog, man. I was curious about that QT festival, but, yeah, I can’t really get into those old exploitation flicks like I used to. Comes a point where you confess that you were in it for the cheap thrills and all the scholarship was just a smoke screen for that puerility. Did he screen Django by any chance? Now that right there’s a pretty excellent flick.

Never seen Bright Eyes live though a friend of mine out here is a huge fan and has been trying to get me to go for going on five years now – I wasn’t that jazzed about his last couple – but stuff like “If Winter Ends” still blows my skirts up.

Seattle J:
See – I still don’t get The Who - but love The Rolling Stones. The whole “Flowers” album slays me – and you gotta’ appreciate a tune (“Under My Thumb”) that Camille Paglia singled out as one of the greatest, and one of the most misogynistic, songs of all time. Hear hear!

Amos sounds like an interesting person. I don’t know how much she’s playing to the mainstream even now, but her subject matter definitely doesn’t seem as personal as it used to. That’s certainly her prerogative, though, and there’s the chance, too, that she’s actually just that much happier.

James A:
Good take on “The Simpsons” – the guest appearances used to be sort of cool when they were actually playing characters – but it’s long since dropped off into embarrassing self-regard in that respect. Love “The Critic” of course, vow to one day adopt “It STINKS” as my catch-all.

Prefer “The Tick” in comic book form. “Spoon!”

On the Elizabethtown fiasco: it’s just freaking awful. It’s uncommonly contrived and cloying – and I’m speaking here of the “revised” print that shaved twenty minutes off the flick (supposedly – I’ve heard reports that the Toronto print was actually a good deal longer than 135min): including the bit where the shoe is redeemed and Chuck complains about a fire in his wedding hall. Has anyone here seen the director’s cut of Almost Famous? Crowe doesn’t know when to quit. The Dunst character in Elizabethtown is horrific and I’m beginning to suspect that Crowe never had a father. It’s an unbelievably alien picture – completely detached. Nancy Wilson does the score, of course, and I think it’s banjos: perfect for the flick’s “laugh at the hicks” subplot.

Interesting thought about Fugit being a gay character – I think an element of sexual uncertainty definitely informs that character, but like a lot in Crowe, I don’t think it’s developed all that extensively nor with much insight. His characters never seem to have Oedipal Splits at all – did I just read this in something that Bill wrote about that Jim Carrey character in “In Living Color” that was still connected to his mother by his umbilical cord? That’s as good an analogy for Crowe and what’s wrong with his underdog royalty as I could ever muster. Agree, too, with H-Man’s take that whatever can be left in the subtext, should. Fugit, by the way, is a creepy kid.

Dittos on every slam of E-Town - makes me wonder if anyone liked any aspect of it. I have to say that there are images here and again that are compelling to me in that flick (I like Bloom dancing by himself and shaking his hand in the air, for instance) – but Sarandon’s eulogy should be put up there high in the pantheon of all-time bad decisions. I saw people burying their heads in their hands when they figured out what was about to happen the way people hide their eyes when someone’s about to get a machete to the throat in a slasher pic. Not a strong corroborator to Crowe & studio’s contention that the critics hate it, but audiences love it.

Walter_Chaw said...

Interesting take on sexuality issues and adolescence - I'd offer though that the problems I have with Crowe have a lot to do with his use of "surrogates" - as in having his "crush", sexual or otherwise, acted upon by Penny Layne and his hero - it's Crowe's alter-egos fucking each other and it strikes me as a little Woody Allen in its blinkered insularity.

For the record, I still like Say Anything. . . , even with the William Mahoney prison plot.

Good to have hate. Provides balance.

Anonymous said...

Gonna add my voice to the chorus of absolutely loving Almost Famous and Say Anything.

However, I have no difficulty believing Crowe capable of something this reportedly bad. I wasn't just disappointed by Vanilla Sky, I was left in a frothing, shrieking rage.


Anonymous said...

This has become the FFC indie rock block (says I, self-consciously). It's not a bad thing, per se, just as no one gets on my case for talking about it. So while we're sort of in the ballpark:

Anyone here like The Shins? I think their melodies and hooks are pretty amazing for indie rockers and that they can turn a phrase as well as anyone. Not sure if that's what you like about the Decemberists, Walter, but there might be some crossover appeal. Sadly, there is no shantytown motif to be found in the Shins' music (though there is sort of a country one), but it's good nonetheless. A couple recommended 'gateway' tracks for anyone who's not heard them and is semi-interested (otherwise feel free to skip):

"Kissing the Lipless," "So Says I," "Fighting in a Sack," "Gone for Good," "Caring Is Creepy," "New Slang," "Know Your Onion!"

I will say that their music is probably a bit less personal and/or a bit more artifical than either The Decemberists or Sufjan Stevens, but I like them nonetheless.

And speaking of artificial...

So Elizabethtown sucks, eh? Can't say I'm terribly surprised. And I do like some of Crowe's stuff. But the trailers were just packed to the gills with that cloyingly surreal bullcrap that the man is infamous for.

Seattle Jeff said...


My classic rock renaisance is directly related to my buddy cataloging and cross-referencing various critical rankings in a search of a complete scientific ranking of best songs ever.

He's got a top 2500.

In the spirit of being teachable, I've opened myself up to things I hadn't considered before. Having said that, I've merely dipped my toes in the water (I'm currently studying for the CPA and have limited time).

I can't beleive I previously discounted the Stones just because they were still around. "You Don't Always Get What You Want" and "Paint, It Black" are fine tunes. They are a towering band. (check out the Judd Apatow story about his meeting the Rolling Stones http://slate.msn.com/id/2126915/entry/2127048/?nav=ais )

The main flaw with the current rankings, though, is that most critics find it hard to seperate themselves from what they liked in puberty, so the 60's and 70's are a tad bit overly represented.

The whole teenage/childhood fandom thing is odd. Something you get geeked about as a youth can sometimes stick with you despite all objective logic. For example, I was an INXS fan as a teenager. My musical tastes have evolved tremendously since 1988, but somehow, despite all evidence, I still like them. What the hell is that about?

Youthful impresions also explain Star Wars original trilogy devotion to some extent.

Seattle Jeff said...

That's actually a good discussion topic:

What from your youth do you still dig, even though you feel you shouldn't?

Seattle Jeff said...

Oh, and for those of you who wisely skipped my long post up there, Judd Apatow had an awesome diary going in Slate.


Anonymous said...

Converging the topics of classic rock and Elizabethtown, just for the sake of discussion (and those who have seen E-town), however, can anyone explain the use of "Free Bird" in the film? It seems he understands how cliche it is to use the song in any event, function or object that demands a soundtrack, but doesn't it defeat that purpose to establish a previous connection to Lynyrd Skynyrd?

-- Ian

Anonymous said...

...(i.e. the movie band failing to open for Skynyrd some years before?)

-- Ian

Walter_Chaw said...

Just for the potential edification of anyone who might be curious and appropriate to nothing in particular - I didn't listen to the functions of my higher brain and went ahead and inquired after an interview with young Dakota Fanning. If, for no other reason, than for reasons of posterity: just to have on record a conversation between me and the once and future Fanning. After not hearing back from the local publicity machinery for a few days, I sent an email today. It said this:

Hi there -

Contacted you already about my interest in doing a Fanning interview on Monday or Tuesday and had not heard back. Wondered if there was a problem with info provided; would like to schedule a Monday interview before the weekend if possible.



First response:

Walter-Schedule is full. Thanks for your interest. M-

My reply:

Was the schedule also full when I inquired early this week?

Rhetorically, I'm curious as to why you're still soliciting interview requests for her on an update sent this afternoon? I know I'm nobody to you guys relative to Bob and Lisa, but I'd appreciate a swifter response in the future just out of professional courtesy.

Her reply:

Walter:Did I originally offer you a interview??

Her second, unprovoked reply, in which she begins to get patronizing:

Those interviews were offer (sic) to people dictated to me BY THE STUDIO. Had you been on that list, I would have contacted you directly. Since you were not, I did not, but I will make a note for the future. Thanks for bringing this to my attention .

My reply to the first response, not aware of the second:

Your company's update offered it to me, Michelle, the one sent out about four times a week instructs us to contact you if we want an interview with Fanning. Would you like me to forward it to you or would you rather get it from the next desk over?

Why do you even ask if you offered me an interview? Is days of total non-response followed by a curt brush-off the standard operating procedure should I request an interview with one of your clients on my own? I'm not asking that you show me any sort of preferential treatment, understand, I'm just looking for a little professionalism and a little courtesy.

Tell me I'm out of line for wanting that and believe me, I'll go away.

And her last word:


Calm down. I apologize for the unprofessional manner in which I handled your request.

Have a nice weekend.

Studios like Dreamworks spend tens of thousands of dollars in every single major market hiring local publicity companies like this to represent their commercial interests in any given area. Most PR folks that I've worked with try really hard for as long as they last (the turnover in this industry is unbelievable - I've outlasted dozens in just five years) - but every once in a while, you get a real keeper. I do wonder if Dreamworks would find this little exchange to be an example of money well spent. What I really like is how the story changes from the schedule being full to "you're not even invited to this party".

That didn't take long. Trust is a slippery, elusive thing - drop it once and damned if it doesn't slip away for good.

"Calm down" - wow. I think the only appropriate response is "fuck you" but, luckily, I have better sense than to bite the PR that feeds. Wankers.

Walter_Chaw said...

What you identify is also the reason that so many of the films on the AFI 100 list are from so limited a time period: how so many silent flicks were left off altogether. Richard Schickel writes a pretty good essay on it that's been collected in Matinee Idylls. Not a terrible read, all things considered - his work on Frank Capra is pretty tight.

There are more things than I'd like to mention that I still hold on to from youth. Depeche Mode for one, and Unidentified Flying Oddball for another.

Chad Evan said...

Depeche Mode ROCKS. Some of the most hilarious incidents of my life were scored to that music.

What's the name of the cheesy love song sung in a high-pitched voice?
"Though my views may be wrong, they may even be perverted..." For some reason, that line has always cracked me up.

Sean Fitzpatrick said...

Just returned from what, to my surprise, turned out to be the North American premier of Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder. Beautiful and haunting images, tender, sad, funny, I think hopeful. Real poetry. Dourif is great as well. You all are in for a treat. Can't wait to hear Walter's take on it.

To whet your appetite, from the official website:

Statement by Werner Herzog
'Astronauts lost in space, the secret Roswell object re-examined, an alien who tells us all about his home planet - the Wild Blue Yonder - where the atmosphere is composed of liquid helium and the sky frozen, is all part of my science-fiction fantasy.'

Walter_Chaw said...

I believe that little classic is called "Somebody" - one of the biggest cheers of their 101 live album is reserved for the last, tremulous, falsetto ring. I wore my double-cassette tape set through, let me tell you. Their live version of "Stripped" still kicks ass, though, I must say - and "Personal Jesus" is good. Hmm. . . I'm embarrassed now.

Can't wait. Two Herzogs in one year. . . how cool is that?

Walter_Chaw said...

Did you ever hear Husikesque's version of "Shake the Disease"?

Seattle Jeff said...

I always liked Depeche Mode's version of Route 66.

There was worse stuff to like in the '80's. Mostly all the stuff they play on '80's nostalgia radio.

Bill C said...

The 'Mode's the best; I remember reading that they're in constant contact about their lyrics with Stephen Hawking, of all people. "Ultra" is a vastly underrated album, and I've heard nothing but good things about the new one.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...


I saw "Undertow" again today and I think you probably should see it again. i think like me you under-rated it the first time you saw it but it blew me away after. i've seen it almost 5 times now and every time i find a new parallel visual or narrative allegory that i didn't notice last time around. it is much more complex film then the face value and surprisingly the things that would seem like "absurdities" that dgg likes to put in, are really not absurd, but highly thought out metaphors. brilliant stuff. maybe much more so then his earlier ones, even though i prefer "all the real girls" on a more visceral level.

the second film i really rediscovered this year after 2046. i love it when i find that artist was way ahead of me the first time i saw their film. i think that happens with most great art.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

plus, i think you missed the ball by a mile when you said in your review that "it's too sunny at its end". or maybe you didn't, i'm not sure what you meant by it. but jamie bell's character dies at the end, as symbolised by bursting of the green balloon. plus the film starts with grandpa ("squeal like a pig" guy) narrating "this is their story as it was told to me", clearly indicating that chris died at the end.

maybe you didn't but a lot of reviewers condemned this film for having a happy ending, which i find strangely unexplicable.

Walter_Chaw said...

I'll definitely give it another look.

And, by the way, Hooverphonic did that cover of the Depeche tune. Not that anyone's taking notes.

Seattle Jeff said...


Watched "Walk On the Wild Side" last night.

I liked it, but it did have it's drawbacks. I was a bit surprised by how moral it was. The lyrics to the ending music were basically "see what happens when you sin?"

However, my wife says (as I'm typing this) that it was a strong feminist film where the most passive female that needs taking care of gets knocked off. Plus the Jane Fonda character transforms from taking care of herself to helping others.

Other "Medium Cool" inspired viewings include "One, Two, Three" (Cagney en fuego indeed!) and "Hud" (What's not to like about Newman?)

Walter_Chaw said...

Never seen Walk on the Wild Side - mightily curious now though - it's available on DVD? I'm all for passive females getting knocked off, explaining my affection for early Dario Argento and John Carpenter.

Hud is amazingly bleak, isn't it? Just a beautiful film to look at above everything else. There was no more magnificent a bastard than Newman with his Greek God good looks and his little boy sneer. One, Two, Three - like a chop to the neck.

Seattle Jeff said...

Yep. Wild Side is on DVD.

I think I expected a bit more of a rebellious film from what I remember of Mordden's discussion of it. However, being made in 1962, it may have still had some 1950's residue.

Jane Fonda is good and Stanwyck is very good as an implied lesbian villian.

A funny note is that the chemistry between Laurence Hervey and Capucine is not all that great. Apparently, Capucine at one point mocked the idea of doing love scenes with Hervey saying he wasn't manly enough for her. He responded by saying that kissing her was like kissing the side of a beer bottle.

Good times!

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

Hey guys,

A question. Where can I buy cheaper DVDs on internet ? I usually buy in stores but it's just too expensive.

Nate said...

I'm generally happy with the Amazon marketplace. You can get some good deals there sometimes.

Walter_Chaw said...

Ah, kissing the side of a beer bottle, those were the days, huh? Good times. Good times. Just your mention of the name "Laurence Harvey" raises the hackles on my neck post-Domino. It's up there with an Uwe Boll production - one a'them flicks that has no idea how to be a flick.

Got Walk on the Wild Side on my freaky-ass queue.

Ditto on the Amazon Marketplace (just look up the titles on Amazon and 9 times outta 10 they'll give you the option to buy it used - go there) - also have used Overstock.com and, of course, eBay now and again. Seems like there are a lot of deep discount DVD places available - but beware of Asian imports and bootlegs. If someone's offering a new Criterion box set for $1.95, be suspicious.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...


i use amazon too. i was just thinking maybe u guys know any better place.

jonathan rosenbaum recently wrote an article about this site called superhappyfun.com that sells most films that never found release in US for 13 bucks each. pretty esoteric. u guys might like it.

Hollow Man Stuffed Man said...

p.s.s here's link for rosenbaum's article http://www.cinema-scope.com/cs21/col_rosenbaum_dvd.htm

Alex Jackson said...

Yeah, Superhappyfun has Quentin Tarantino's unfinished film "My Best Friend's Birthday".

An even better site is www.5minutestolive.com, which has The Dirk Diggler Story (with the original Bottle Rocket short) and the five-hour long Cannes workprint of Apocalypse Now.

Never got around to buying those, I'm afraid.

Chad Evan said...

Hey Walter,
Watched Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels after reading your rave from a few weeks back and was knocked out. What's your recomendation for a follow-up Sturges?

Walter_Chaw said...

Gotta get my mitts on that Apocalypse Now workprint. Zowie.

Follow up Sturges would have to go with The Lady Eve, Miracle of Morgan's Creek, The Great McGinty, and the pitch-black Unfaithfully Yours. The Sturges-scripted Remember the Night is excellent, too. Glad you liked it.

Alex Jackson said...

Actually, I looked and for one reason or another 5minutestoLive no longer carries the AN-5 hour workprint. It IS easily available elsewhere on the Internet however. Googled "Apocalypse Now, Cannes Workprint" and found a few places carrying it.

James Allen said...

Loved your story about the Fanning PR exchange. That and your junket essay are some of the best things I've read about the insane world that surround the film industry. No wonder you're getting burned out!

Someone brought up "Hud," a great film and a great cast. Newman's terrific, of course, but Patricia Neal (one of the more underrated actresses of her time) is excellent and Melvin Douglas is stellar as the despondant rancher. The look on his face as they are slaughtering his heard of cattle is brutal. He's doing what he has to do, but you know it's destroying him inside. A cinematic equivalent to getting a punch in the gut.

Walter_Chaw said...

That's a nice description of Hud, James, a punch in the gut. I'm a fan of all of Newman's '60s "H" films.

Agreed about Neal - she's steely for sure. A huge fan of cinematographer James Wong Howe: I've always wanted to program a festival of his work that would include Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Hard Way, Body and Soul, Hud and Seconds.

James Allen said...

"H" movies, eh? Let's see: Hombre, The Hustler, Harper (which I haven't seen, although I have seen The Drowning Pool), and... um... Cool Hand Luke? And didn't he play someone called Harry Frig? At least The Silver Chalice doesn't fall into this category.

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